Counsel for Collegial Mentoring

Some tips for a successful mentoring experience, courtesy of the Florida Superintendent Mentoring Program, a program sponsored by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, and retired superintendents who have had successful mentoring assignments in recent years:

  • Make sure you have time and motivation. Some situations are complex, meaning the new superintendent will need extensive support over time.
  • Determine whether you want a formal or informal mentorship. Informal relationships are not structured or recognized in an official way. They often are spontaneous relationships. Formal mentorships are sanctioned by an organization and may have parameters both parties must agree to.
  • Don’t tell your newly assigned mentee, “Just call me when you need me.” The superintendent will be too busy to call unless it’s a crisis, and a relationship will be less likely to form. Instead, schedule a face-to-face meeting with no firm agenda. You and your mentee will have plenty to discuss.
  • Find time to socialize. Sometimes it’s nice to talk about family and other common interests, rather than talk shop. Encourage your superintendent to have a balanced life outside of work.
  • Accept your mentee’s differences. Just because a superintendent has a different leadership or communication style, it does not mean a mentoring relationship is doomed. Look for ways to let your mentee know you respect her work even though she approaches the job differently than you did.
  • Accept that the superintendency changes over time. What worked for you 10 years ago might not work for your mentee today. Try to help your protégé find solutions based on the current climate.
  • Respect confidentiality. Outside of the pairing, don’t talk about your mentee or the mentee’s school district. Some superintendents worry that they are admitting weakness just by having a mentor, so don’t broadcast the relationship.
  • Be honest. If you think your mentee is becoming too dependent or abusing the relationship, address the problem early. Encourage your mentee to do the same.
  • Be flexible. A mentee may call every week for a three months and then go six months without calling. Reach out informally to remind your mentee that you are available, but remember that the job is different every day.
  • Let the relationship evolve. As your mentee gains experience, allow your role to shift accordingly. Your mentee may have fewer questions but still value your friendship.