Get the Most Out of Your Mentor

10 steps new principals can take to get the most out of mentoring relationships.

By Linda J. Searby
February 2016, Volume 39, Issue 6

As a new principal, recognizing your need for a mentor is not an admission of weakness, but rather a sign of strength. It demonstrates your commitment to continuous improvement of yourself and your leadership abilities. It also shows a desire to be quickly socialized into the leadership culture and to be as effective as you can be at the technical side of your job. Here are 10 tips to get you in the mentoring mindset:

Tip 1: Take initiative. Busy mentor principals want you to initiate communication. They appreciate a self-starter who is committed to regular meetings and takes the mentoring seriously. Be intentional about keeping regular communication with the mentor and show him or her you are action-oriented.

Tip 2: Be a learner. Mentors recognize when a protégé is passionate about learning how to be a better leader. Exhibit curiosity and ask probing questions. There are usually no quick fixes to problems, and mentors are wary of new principals who want them. Keep that continual “I want to know” learning orientation.

Tip 3: Be open. Being open involves seeking feedback and accepting it graciously. Admitting with humility that you don’t know everything and that you really want advice shows that you value the wisdom and experience of your mentor. It has been said that “If you are unteachable, you are who you will be.”

Tip 4: Be knowledgeable. This is not contradicting Tip 3, which admonishes you to admit that you don’t know everything. You likely were promoted to the principalship because you possess a good grasp of leadership concepts. Discussions with your mentor will often center on your understanding of these concepts and your own continuous professional development.

Tip 5: Be bifocal. A bifocal perspective allows you to see the big picture (your vision for your school) and to prioritize the short-term goals to achieve the vision. Know the value of proactive planning as opposed to reactionary behavior. Pay attention to the details, but take the time to step back and “go to the balcony” to reflect on the impact of your leadership behaviors.

Tip 6: Be a communicator. Keep the lines of communication open with your mentor. As issues arise, use phone calls, emails, and text messages to connect between scheduled meetings. Good communication also requires active listening during mentoring sessions. If either you or your mentor is doing all the talking during a meeting, the learning is likely going to be derailed.

Tip 7: Be relational. Relational savvy is the ability to build relationships with others. As such, you should develop good people skills and take opportunities to network, be sensitive to others in social situations, and be appropriately confident but not arrogant.

Tip 8: Be reflective. Place great value on knowing yourself. Take advantage of opportunities to gain more self-knowledge through personality inventories, leadership audits, and other self-understanding instruments. Be transparent and share your private reflections out loud with your mentor. Humbly admit your mistakes and learn from them.

Tip 9: Be ethical. It goes without saying that trust has to be built in a mentoring relationship. Trust is earned through being honest, keeping confidences, and doing what you say you will do.

Tip 10: Be positive. Keep a positive outlook and demonstrate to your mentor that you welcome your mentoring sessions—in fact, that you really look forward to them. Show appreciation to your mentor through words and tokens of gratitude.

Linda J. Searby is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Auburn University and a nationally certified mentor in the NAESP National Mentor Program.

*Read the full article, “Do You Have a Mentoring Mindset,” from the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of Principal magazine.

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