The Power of Mentoring

Boost your skills while helping peers master essential skills on the job.

This article is part of a series focusing on The Principal Pipeline, brought to you with support from The Wallace Foundation.

November, 2016, Volume 40, Issue 3

Good principals are not born with leadership and management skills—they’ve likely had strong mentors and have been challenged to excel, the Wallace Foundation’s research has shown. And more states and school districts, aware of the challenges of the job, are creating mentorship opportunities for their new and early-career principals and assistant principals.

Having a mentor has never been more important, says Joe Mazza, a former principal who is now director of leadership and innovation development at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.

“There’s never been a greater need because the job is getting bigger and increasingly complex,” he says. “We’re looking at this as not just a one, two, or three-year thing but as career mentors.”

Finding a mentor also has never easier—there are online professional learning networks through social media such as Twitter and Voxer. These technologies allow new principals to have mentors locally, nationally and internationally, Mazza notes.

So how do you find a mentor who is compatible, understands your needs, and is easily accessible? Marcia Sidney-Reed, a National Distinguished Principal in Gardena, California, advises new principals to look for schools with similar demographics and high performance, then contact the principal.

“Copy genius! Do not re-invent the wheel,” she says. “Visit the school, ask questions, share ideas, embrace promising practices that will work at your school, ask the principal to be your mentor, and always send a thank you note.”

The Wallace Foundation is concerned, though, that too many mentor programs are not meeting their potential and act as “buddy systems” or simply have check-list items that don’t do enough to prepare principals. To that end, it has proposed the following guidelines for state and district-level mentorship programs:

  • High-quality training for mentors should be a requirement and should be provided by any state or district with mentoring.
  • States or districts that require mentoring should gather meaningful information about its efficacy: especially, how mentoring is or is not contributing to the development of leadership behaviors and dispositions that are needed to change the culture of schools toward improved teaching and learning.
  • To adequately support new principals as they develop from novices to self-assured leaders of change, mentoring should be provided for at least a year, and ideally two or more years.
  • State and local funding for principal mentoring should be sufficient to provide quality training, stipends commensurate with the importance and time requirements of the task, and a lengthy enough period of mentoring to provide new principals a meaningful professional induction.
  • Above all, the primary goal of mentoring should be clear and unambiguous: to provide new principals with the knowledge, skills and courage to become leaders of change who put teaching and learning first in their schools.

Are you ready to be a principal mentor? NAESP offers the National Mentor Training and Certification Program, which is a series of leadership classes and an internship. Principals who complete the certification often use their knowledge to design school district programs, work as consultants, or complete doctoral work. For more information, visit

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