Summary

·         Engaging in a positive and productive relationship with a mentor can be a rewarding and effective personal development tool

·         For the mentoring relationship to be successful, there needs to be clear roles and responsibilities and a working partnership of collaboration

·         The GROW model can help focus mentoring conversations

·         The FIVE-STEP improvement model is a useful tool to bring about change through mentoring

Introduction

In this follow up article to ‘Experience shared – Developing your team through effective mentoring’ Steve Burnage explores the professional development potential of a productive and focused mentoring relationship from the perspective of the mentee.

Working with a mentor can further your own professional development or the knowledge, skills and understanding required for your current role or possibly a new one in many ways - A mentor can guide you, take you under their wing and teach you new skills.

A key feature that helps mentoring relationships succeed and be satisfying for both parties is when both the mentor and the person being mentored take an active role in developing the relationship. In the article ‘Experience shared’ we met Safia – a team member well placed to gain a lot from a positive mentoring relationship.

Safia is a new member of the team. She is eager to do a good job and, with careful guidance, completes all tasks to the best of her ability. She doesn’t have a breadth of skills, knowledge or experience yet but she is eager to please. Safia has LOW CAPABILTY but HIGH COMMITMENT

So, what can Safia do to ensure that she gets the best from a professional relationship with her mentor?

10 top tips for a positive and productive mentoring relationship

  1. Be clear on why you want a mentor and why you are meeting.
    Define what type of help you’re looking for in a mentor. Are you looking for someone with similar skills or someone with a very different skill set who can mentor you? Are you looking for someone more senior to you who can advise you on the next steps up the career ladder or someone who is working at a similar level in school but, perhaps, with a different skill set?

Being clear on why you want a mentor will help you focus on the outcomes you desire and will ensure that both you, and the mentor benefit from a productive relationship and don’t waste each other’s time.

  1. Establish goals for the relationship.
    Discuss and agree upon the goals of the relationship and what you, personally, are doing to make it a successful venture. Review these goals from time to time to be sure the relationship is working; if not, adjust and refocus.

In setting your goals, you might consider using the ‘GROW’ model:

GROW stands for:

  • Goal.

  • Current Reality.

  • Options (or Obstacles).

  • Will (or Way Forward).

The model was originally developed in the 1980s by business coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine, and Sir John Whitmore.

A good way of thinking about the GROW Model is to think about how you'd plan a journey. First, you decide where you are going (the goal), and establish where you currently are (your current reality).

You then explore various routes (the options) to your destination. In the final step, establishing the will, you ensure that you're committed to making the journey, and are prepared for the obstacles that you could meet on the way.

There is a GROW template attached to this article that can be used as a planning template for a mentoring session.

Of course, there are other models that can to help you set goals in preparation for your conversations with your mentor, but the GROW model is perhaps the simplest and is very effective.

  1. Be pro-active in choosing a mentor.
    Once you decide on the type of mentor you need, be proactive in identifying the best person for the role. Some schools assume that your line manager will automatically be your mentor. Whilst this can work, it often works better if your chosen mentor is someone other than your direct supervisor. Often, if the desired outcome of your mentoring is general career or personal development, a colleague from a completely different area of school life can bring a fresh and interesting perspective to something that might be all too familiar to you. A stranger often causes us to question and ask ‘why’ when we haven’t asked ‘why’ before.

  2. Establish communication methods and frequency of contact from the beginning.
    Talk with your mentor to determine the lines of communication that will work for both of you. Will you meet face to face or communicate mainly through e-mail and the telephone? Make sure you meet/talk enough to suit both of you.

  3. Manage expectations and build trust.
    Mentoring takes time and implies sacrifices for both the person being mentored and the mentor. Be respectful of your mentor’s time and avoid any trust-breaking behaviours such as cancelling appointments or not following through on any action points that you agree with your mentor.


 

  1. Define Roles and Responsibilities

Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of both the mentor and the mentee. Typically, a mentee is more receptive to feedback if he or she feels like an active participant in the relationship. Questions to consider include:

  • What will the role of the mentor be?

  • What types of mentoring will be most effective?

  • What are the responsibilities of the mentee and mentor? For example, the mentee may be required to attend specific training given by the mentor or complete a certain number of mutually determined goals during the mentoring period.

  1. Acquire mentoring skills and competencies.
    Not only will you learn new skills and gain new knowledge from your mentor but you will also learn an awful lot about the art of mentoring itself. Who knows, you may soon be mentoring too. Pay attention to great skills that you notice in your mentors; these skills include listening, guidance, recommendations and shared learning. When you receive feedback from your mentor, don’t be defensive, they are just being a ‘critical friend’ because they care. Listen, digest apply what you have learned.

  2. Be respectful of your mentor’s time.
    Do not overburden your mentor by demanding too much time or too much help. A real skill in an effective mentoring relationship is establishing what ‘too much’ means. This can take time so don’t worry if you don’t get it right from the start. Understand that the moment you decide you need help and support might not be the best time for them, so be patient.

  3. Express your gratitude.
    Your mentor is likely to give a lot more than you do in the relationship in terms of time and expertise. Be sure to express regularly that you value and appreciate your mentor’s guidance.

  4. Vary the activities you do together.
    There are numerous activities you can do with your mentor, such as talking about your past experiences, goals, plans, and skill development and attending meetings, conferences, and other events. You can also shadow your mentor at school or exchange and discuss written materials like your CV or a school document one of you has written.

The mentoring partnership: Collaborate to Solve Problems

Perhaps the best outcome from Safia building a positive working relationship with her mentor is that it can quickly foster a true sense of collaboration, build strong learning partnerships and lead to active, creative and productive teams both within school and beyond.

Safia can work with her mentor to be collaborative in solving problems. A good mentor will enable her to identify concerns and potential solutions; and they will encourage her to take risks and do things differently by implementing creative solutions.

Safia can encourage her mentor to work collaboratively to:

·         Identify the specific concern.

·         Brainstorm possible solutions. The mentor can offer ideas, but you need to choose your plan to put into action.

·         Select a plan to try, and discuss desired outcomes.

·         Implement the plan. The mentor should be supportive and encouraging, and reinforce successful completion of the plan.

·         Assess the outcome together. The mentor and mentee should be reflective and discuss the effectiveness of the activity and adjust as needed.

·         Try another solution, if needed. It is important for mentors to remember that there are many ways to address an issue and that the mentor's way may not be the most effective solution for the mentee.

·         Celebrate successful results.

 

Again, a template for this model is attached to this article. A simpler way of looking at this collaborative mentoring process can be summarised as a five-step improvement model:

The benefits of working with a mentor

There are many benefits to successful mentoring relationships.

  • You can learn and grow under the mentor's guidance.

  • You can experiment with creative solutions to problems within a safe and supportive environment.

  • You become stronger and more intentional in their own professional practice.

Conclusion

Mentoring is an effective method of helping less experienced individuals like Safia develop and progress in her profession. The keys to establishing a successful mentoring relationship include creating a relationship of trust, clearly defining roles and responsibilities, establishing short and long-term goals, using open and supportive communication, and collaboratively solving problems.