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Creating a Mentorship Program: Key Elements to Consider Before Starting

We understand that becoming a mentor is not a rite of passage for all educators. But too often, we are in the minority in that understanding.

Effective mentoring does not mean simply asking a veteran teacher to teach a new teacher "how they do it." Educators bring individuality to instruction. We cannot ask our newest educators to teach exactly like their peers.

To make sure we’re giving new educators the best mentors, we must match them with teachers who fit their needs. Mentors and mentees shouldn't be selected because they are located "right next door," like Mrs. Convenient. 

Mentoring is a process for educator improvement, not a blind dating service. 

We need to find a way to select mentors using expectations and criteria based on more than just experience or past educator evaluation scores.

Yes, mentors must be "good teachers" and effective at providing instruction to students. However, mentoring is about delivering personal and instructional support to adults and supporting their needs—not forcing them to do it the way their mentors did. 

When you clearly define a mentor program and selection process, you give a mentor’s role and activities structure and purpose, and you set both mentor and mentee up for better success.

Grow a Farm System of Mentors: Considerations to explore before starting a mentorship program

Too often in the classroom, it can feel like teachers are alone or working in a vacuum. This makes mentors more crucial than ever. Matching educators with the right mentor, who is motivated to support and grow talent, can eliminate that loneliness

But mentorship is not always welcomed with open arms. Teachers may see mentoring as "just one more thing" they must do and find it burdensome.

They may choose to do it merely for the stipend or believe they should be appointed because they have seniority, without putting in the time, effort, and commitment required to forge an impactful mentor/mentee relationship.

We also have seen the best possible mentors feel that they are not worthy of this honor or responsibility. 

Leaders must step up and lead forward. They must create a buzz and be clear about the requirements in collaborations. Consider the following strategies for starting your own mentoring farm system.

Develop a powerful slate of potential mentors.

Take charge of the mentor acquisition process by creating and executing a protocol.

Start with your target. Define the expectations of mentors in your school/district. Be upfront about the duties of mentors. Share the value of the position to raise the bar and make it more "exclusive."

Instead of asking, "Who wants to be a mentor?" flip the narrative and talk about interviewing to create a mentor pool. 

Create a buzz.

Building excitement around an idea is a sure way to increase staff room chatter. Put out flyers, a promo commercial, or a funny JibJab calling all interested mentors.

In your promotion, layout your vision, goals, and the process of becoming a mentor. Share the importance and design a structure to pique interest.

Put out an all-call to invite those who want to volunteer, but may feel they can't due to more senior staff always being selected. They will appreciate the opportunity and the safe space to step up and volunteer.

Ask why.

Host an open lunch, breakfast, or after-school get-together for all interested candidates and spend time chatting to identify natural interests and factors that made them want to join the mentor pool.

Having conversations in a casual setting relaxes people and allows them to open up. Identifying one's motivation and what they find satisfying will help you determine the best fit for a mentee, and even whether you want the person in your mentor pool.

Set up the application process.

Create a fun and creative way of gathering candidates with digital tools like Flipgrid or Google Forms, which you can send to interested educators.

Send a personal invitation.

If you know of a talented staff mentor or potential mentor, reach out to them. A personal touch like a handwritten letter or a visit to see them before school shows you value them as educators.

This personal touch could be the nudge to increase their interest.

 Pop the question.

Asking direct questions in a formal setting will give you insight into the skills and background of potential mentors. Ask questions to learn about the person's experience beyond what you may know.

Moving Forward

Systemic change occurs when the age-old systems are questioned and set aside in favor of newer ways of thinking. In the world of mentoring in education, traditional matchmaking no longer serves its purpose.

If they want to develop meaningful professional relationships and long, meaningful careers, administrators and school leaders need to work together to create custom, supportive mentoring systems.

Starting the process with careful selection and solid first steps is a robust blueprint for success. 

It is now up to you to create a mentor pool and a steady stream of teacher leaders and modern mentors.

One goal of a modern mentor is to turn their mentees’ potential into powerful skills. Modern mentors explain their struggles and difficulties to their mentees and then show how they overcame them.

How can that happen? It starts with choosing quality mentors rather than just veteran teachers looking for the annual stipend.

If a district and leaders value mentoring and take it seriously, they can build a successful mentoring program and attract committed teachers.

The teacher leaders will become modern mentors who understand the complex and challenging nature of classroom teaching.

Our role as leaders is to develop a mentor program that supports and provides new teachers with a modern mentor to guide them.

This mentor cannot just be the teacher next door.

They must be a skilled educator who has been vetted and then trained in a mentor program.

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