A Solid Foundation for a Mentoring Relationship
Setting up an agreement that covers how a mentor and mentee will work together can help both get the most out of their collaboration.
The value of the mentor-mentee relationship, and how it benefits both parties, is indisputable. But what’s the best way to begin this partnership? Having some guidelines firmly in place can prevent misunderstandings down the road and serve to strengthen the relationship.
To start, mentors should discuss and create norms with mentees within the first two weeks of being paired. This dialog is important as it builds a professional foundation for their year-long collaboration and defines each one’s roles and responsibilities. Both educators should share preferences and beliefs because they’re creating a template for future interactions.
This discussion process is known as setting the agreement, and a Google document or even a single PowerPoint slide with all information included should be shared and signed off on once both parties have settled on norms.
3 Agreement Categories
1. Mentor-mentee interactions: The pair discusses the day and time that’s most convenient for their weekly meetings, as well as details like where, for how long, and cancellation procedures.
- Meet before or after school?
- On which day?
- In person (if so, where?) or online via Zoom?
- How long should meetings last?
- When and how to cancel a meeting?
By scheduling consistent, planned collaboration, mentors and mentees elevate their sessions to the important status they deserve. Sharing preferences and working out details is a straightforward way to begin the collaborative journey.
Next, the pair discusses unplanned or informal interactions that will likely occur. It’s not unusual for a mentee to experience challenges during the school day—an uncooperative student or a lesson that turns out to be ineffective—that cause them to seek out a mentor’s support.
Depending on personalities, school climate, and a host of other details, the pair will determine beforehand how to contact each other and when they’ll collaborate for unscheduled, informal interactions.
- Should the pair email, text, call, or stop into the other’s classroom?
- Can they interrupt an ongoing class?
- What are the best times and places for informal interactions?
- Will they interact only on weekdays or during weekends, too?
Sometimes mentoring pairs need to revisit their agreement during the school year. A teacher-mentor shared with me that her mentee often stopped into her classroom at the end of the day to share successes and challenges. Although the pair worked well together, the seasoned teacher was uncomfortable with the time of day these informal meetings took place.
After I suggested that the pair review their agreement, they settled on a morning block of time for the novice to stop in to share or reflect with her mentor when necessary. Both benefited from the updated agreement because the mentee felt supported, and the mentor appreciated the convenience of changing the time period from afternoon to morning.
2. A professional, reciprocal, goal-oriented relationship: Modern-day mentoring is learning focused with the goal of helping mentees develop a professional vision. Seasoned mentors strive to cultivate reflective thinking and offer questioning that promotes the mentees’ learning and development. Mentors who coach this way have shared with me that they believe a mentee’s reflection more definitively impacts professional growth than questioning does, because thinking about a lesson or instructional strategies can directly lead to change.
The goal of reflection for growth is the reason why the pair meets weekly, even when the mentee has no specific questions or concerns. New teachers can discuss with mentors any in-depth aspect of teaching that will promote learning and growth.
Both mentor and mentee benefit greatly from the mentoring process. I’ve seen numerous high-performing pairs with active, reciprocal learning as a consistent dynamic.
- Mentor and mentee attend and fully participate in weekly meetings
- Both participants understand the goal of developing the novice’s professional vision
- Mentee’s role is to reflect and continually grow professionally
- Both participate as teachers and learners
Sometimes first-year teachers are assigned a mentor but they don’t think they need support or they don’t want it. I encourage mentors in this challenging situation to first develop a collaborative partnership in which the mentor facilitates thinking rather than telling the mentee, “Here’s what I usually do….” As a positive professional relationship develops, mentees often come to realize the value of open discussion with an interested colleague.
3. Confidentiality and trust: Confidentiality and trust are the cornerstones of mentoring relationships. In the same way that students benefit from trusting teachers who are invested in them, mentees will share freely, without concern about repercussions, when they have trust in their mentors. Mentors don’t report mentees’ specific difficulties to school administrators or even to other teachers because mentor-mentee interactions, both formal and informal, are bound by confidentiality.
Discussions, suggestions, and all job-focused professional interactions are contained within the mentoring relationship. Gossip about personal or professional lives is toxic for the pair and should be strictly forbidden.
While mentees are bound by the confidentiality of professional discussions with mentors, they can reach out to administrators or other teachers for help. In addition to an assigned mentor, administrators and various teachers can help mentees if they need additional guidance.
For example, I know of a third-grade teacher-mentee who asked a kindergarten teacher about her hallway procedures, even though the kindergarten teacher wasn’t her assigned mentor. The novice and her mentor had developed a superb relationship, but this third-grade teacher noticed the quiet and efficient way the kindergarten students moved through the hallway, and she wanted to know more from that teacher. A mentee’s exchange with another teacher doesn’t reflect negatively on the official mentor-mentee pairing.
Being a mentor can be a rewarding experience. Having a clear agreement in place at the beginning of the mentor-mentee association builds a strong foundation that will help ensure a successful relationship that benefits both.