A gift of a rose or a mug is a nice way to break the ice with new principals, says Carl Weingartner, coordinator of Albuquerque's Extra Support for Principals program.
The following list is based on research and our experience at the Extra Support for Principals (ESP) program in Albuquerque, New Mexico, including collaboration with other school districts from across the nation.
Be Low Key in Your Approach
When accepting the responsibility as a mentor, approach the new principal in a low-key manner. The first contact is very important. Being an experienced principal could be intimidating if one goes in too strong.
Always be Positive and Supportive
The ability of the protégé to grow is dependent on self-esteem, which is not at risk when asking for advice. Almost always, your desire to "suggest" meets your needs more than the protégé's. If you really question a practice, ask questions to reveal the thinking behind the decision.
Celebrate the Appointment
Being appointed a principal for the first time is a big honor. Most new principals will be pleased and proud of their appointment. During your first contact with your protégé, let him/her know how happy you are about the appointment. Some little congratulatory gesture, such as a card of congratulations or a rose, might be a good way to start off your first meeting. This can go a long way in setting the tone of your mentorship.
Let the Protégé Determine How Much Help You Can Be
Your success as a mentor is dependent on the new principal's readiness and openness for learning. If you offer advice before the right time, it probably can't be understood or used by the protégé. Remember, you'll only be able to offer an idea once or twice before it begins to become uncomfortable. Wait until the need is felt by the protégé.
Be Willing to Back Off
You'll make mistakes of timing or approach when your ideas may be very good. Be open about asking for feedback when that happens and learn from it. Don't create an impression of pushiness because that won't be perceived as meeting a need of the new principal.
Don't Take Rejection of Ideas Personally
More often than not, rejection relates to readiness to learn and is a valuable clue about the protégé.
Continually Reinforce the Confidential Nature of the Relationship
Thank your protégé for the confidence and personal sharing. These are signs of a deepening relationship and trust, which a mentor must earn.
Recognize the Need for Time Outside of School
Plan some social times and allow for the protégé's other areas of life. Don't overdose on help.
Be There for Them
Assure them that your main objective is to be there to support them, not to help them run their school.
Collaborate with Other Mentoring Teams
Often, mentoring teams may be working in the same feeder group or school cluster. This would be an excellent opportunity for two or more mentoring teams to meet on occasion to share ideas about cluster goals and objectives, issues, and successes.
Mentors Gain from the Experience
Very often as a mentor, you can look forward to a positive learning experience as well. A new principal comes to the table with a lot of creativity and enthusiasm. Mentors often gain as much from the experience as do the protégés.
Offer to Support Administrative Efforts with the Protégé
In doing so, be careful not to assume the responsibilities that belong to the evaluator. The mentor program should not be part of any evaluation process. Mentors support, supervisors evaluate!
Be Careful About Discussing the Protégé with Administrators
Even the perception that this has happened can "close doors" with protégés. Just let the administrator know the discussion makes you uncomfortable and ask to conduct it with the protégé present.
Plan Ahead So You Are Available During Busy Times
Busy times for your protégé will come at just the time you are busiest, too. So, get that work done ahead of time so you can say "yes" and collaborate when the opportunity arises.
Motivate Protégés to Think for Themselves
Use questions to promote higher level thinking by the protégés and to reveal to them the underlying reasons for decisions. Take the time to discuss these reasons. This process can help rejuvenate the mentor's thinking skills as well.
Plan Ways to Spend Time Together
Plan lunch "getaways" -- formal or spontaneous -- and joint work sessions. All of these allow for greater sharing and building of trust.
Former principal Carl Weingartner leads the Albuquerque Public Schools’ principal mentorship program, Extra Support for Principals (ESP).