Mentoring Matters: Ideas for Students, Teachers, and You

January 2014, Volume 37, Issue 5

At-risk students who have a mentor in their lives are more likely to graduate high school and attend college than those who do not, according to a new study commissioned by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.

The study, which confirms that quality mentoring enriches young people’s lives, was released this month, National Mentoring Month. But mentoring isn’t just beneficial for youth: research has demonstrated that teachers and principals, too, benefit exponentially from mentoring.

Here are strategies to maximize mentoring for students, fellow educators, and yourself.

Mentoring for Students: Call on Community Members, Fellow Students

In 2012, there was no districtwide mentoring program for elementary schools in Minneola, Florida. So Minneola Elementary School made their own.

“Our Elementary Mentorship Program began as a partnership with a neighboring elementary school and our local community college,” writes Minneola Elementary assistant principal Sherry Watts in “Mentoring Makes a Difference.” “We didn’t have long to wait! From the first phone call, our program took off.”

Read Watts’s suggestions for starting a mentoring program here.

Fellow mentoring-minded school leader Ruby Larson took a different approach. At her school, Hillside Elementary in Omaha, Nebraska, she created a mentoring program that partnered special education students with high schoolers.

“Our simple idea paired elementary stu­dents with high school writing mentors. The third- through sixth-grade students receiving special education support in my building would send creative writing pieces by email to the high schoolers on a bi-weekly basis,” she writes in “A Wise Writing Program.”

The program gave younger students incentive to do their best work, and older students the opportunity to edit writing and provide positive feedback.

Mentoring for Teachers: Invest in Experts

When the faculty at Burrus Elementary School in Houston, Texas, wanted to transform the school’s mathematics program, they turned to mentor-coaches for support.

The school’s goal was to place a skilled teacher with strong mathematics knowledge in every classroom, supported by identified teacher leaders. In order for the school to reach this goal, principal Jesse Woods enlisted the support of the Rice University School Mathematics Project. The university staff mentored elementary teachers and identified, developed, and supported those who would become teacher leaders.

Carolyn White chronicled the initiative’s development in the September/October 2013 issue of Principal. Read more here.

Mentoring for New Principals: Get the Right Mindset

Research has indicated that mentoring is key to enhancing a principal’s career. Thirty-two states (so far) have legislative policies that support mentoring programs for new administrators. Once a new school leader has been partnered with a mentor, it’s important for he or she be an open, reflective protégé.

“Protégés need to feel comfortable assessing both the strengths and weaknesses of their leadership skills, reflecting on these attributes, and planning to make adjustments as needed,” writes Linda Searby in “Do You Have a Mentoring Mindset?,” part of the Charting Your Path series that focused on early career principals. In it, Searby, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Auburn University and a nationally certified mentor in the NAESP National Mentor Program, explores the top ten components of a healthy mentoring attitude.

Being a Mentor: Deepen the Relationship

NAESP’s National Mentor Training and Certification Program has helped countless veteran principals to become supportive mentors for new principals.

Fatima T. Lawson, principal of L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion School in St. Paul, Minnesota, is one such leader. She described her mentoring journey in the September/October 2011 issue of Principal.

“Mentors are like coaches. But instead of taking a referee approach, pointing out what is wrong or right, mentors assume a lifeguard approach to guiding and directing,” she writes. “Like lifeguards, mentors are stationed in one location where they have a bird’s-eye view of what is going on.”

Read her tips for strengthening your relationship with a mentee here.

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