Principal Mentoring – Why We Need It
It has been a year of training and monthly cohort meeting and visits as a principal mentor. Using the model from NAESP, I was trained in the summer of 2014 in Tennessee during the annual NAESP National Mentor Training and Certification Program. (You can read my blog here about why veteran principals should seriously take this course and give back to the profession.)
In Webster’s dictionary, mentoring is defined as, “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.” In a report titled “Preparing School Leaders for a Changing World: Lessons from Exemplary Leadership Development Programs”, (Darling-Hammond, Linda, et. al., 2007, Stanford University) highlights the challenge of recruiting strong candidates to lead schools, concerns about principal development programs, and a critique on in-service programs for principal development. A conclusion from the report sites that these in-service programs for principals offer high quality learning opportunities for principals and that one of the three characteristics that school districts offer is: “Collegial learning networks, such as principals’ networks, study groups, and mentoring or peer coaching, that offer communities of practice and sources of ongoing support for problem solving.” (pg 146)
This report also highlights utilizing the ISLLC standards for principals. And this leads us to our journey.
The NAESP Principal Mentor Program is structured around six mentor competencies:
Competency One: An effective mentor sets high expectations for self-development in high quality professional growth opportunities.
Competency Two: An effective mentor has knowledge of and utilizes mentoring and coaching best practices.
Competency Three: An effective mentor is active in instructional leadership.
Competency Four: An effective mentor respects confidentiality and a code of ethics in the mentor protégé relationship.
Competency Five: An effective mentor contributes to the body of knowledge as it pertains to principal and administrative mentoring.
Competency Six: An effective mentor fosters a culture that promotes formal and informal mentoring relationships.
From there, we utilized Leading Learning Communities: Standards for What Principals should Know and Be Able To Do, all based around ISLCC standards. Very simply:
Standard 1: Lead student and adult learning
Standard 2: Lead diverse communities
Standard 3: Lead 21st century learning
Standard 4: Lead continuous improvement
Standard 5: Lead using knowledge and data
Standard 6: Lead parent, family, and community engagement
After the three day training from the NAESP program, I ventured to find, what the program calls. a “protege”. I actually found two, one who is an elementary principal and one who is an aspiring principal or as I will term a “lead learner.” The protege and the mentor develop a plan during the course of the mentoring program and focus on the standards above. For the principal protege, we focused on Standard Four and for the aspiring principal, we focused to work around Standard One and Standard Two.
Throughout the year, we would chat via email, google documents, phone calls, visits, and the uses of social media apps such as Twitter, Facebook Messenger and Voxer, we have been able to communicate. There were times when I would call to check in with the elementary principal and we would discuss school culture as a new principal and some hurdles to get through to develop trust. The area where I as a mentor would have to remember is that I needed to be in the role of a coach, where I could steer both proteges to find the answer. With the aspiring principal, we would chat about instruction and evaluation. I was able to give feedback on an evaluation as well as focus efforts on a new implementation program of peer evaluation that is in the works at the district. Even in the coursework that this protege was working on, she invited various principals to comment on the roles of the principal and any advice for new principals. She gathered this information via Voxer, a program and app that can be used on your phone to actually talk live to a person or a group of people as well as record your voice or answer on the stream so others can listen. (For those who want to learn how to use Voxer, visit Joe Mazza’s blog here!)
Throughout the year long program, mentors would be scheduled to “chat” with their mentor coach. These chats were very confidential so that we could discuss standard areas and celebrations and challenges as we worked through our mentor/protege relationships and maybe some hiccups. What was amazing was how our cohort shared knowledge and expertise throughout the year. As noted, these chats were strictly confidential as we were working together through the challenges and pitfalls of our mentoring experience. We also were able to discuss best practices and share resources throughout the year, referencing articles, books, workshops, as well as increase our efficacy as leaders.
I feel the most challenging aspect of the program for me was the clock hours as well as making the time to meet. I am still a practicing leader running a building of over 500 students and 40 staff. It was a challenge and still is a challenge to be available for a protege, but it was well worth the dialogue, the coaching and as well as giving back to our profession. In these times of accountability, navigating assessments and the common core, as well as steering our youth to be productive citizens, our aspiring and novice principals need us to help give them a guiding hand, a voice to rely on as well as the council and knowledge that we will be there for them to help them become the best instructional leaders for their staff and for their children.
In reflection with a protege, she appreciates having the frank conversations and level of trust that has been developed. As we all know, it’s always about relationships, and to be able to bounce ideas and share challenges as well as celebrations with a confidant is always powerful to float ideas for planning. Also, having a view from, “outside the district” gives an opportunity of thought and ideas shared for both the mentor and the protege.
In the end, whether you are an aspiring principal, and new principal, or even a veteran principal, we all need mentors and confidants in our professional practice, someone we trust and who we can share not only our challenges, but also our successes. If you are interested in seeking out training or becoming a mentor, check out the NAESP National Mentoring Program by clicking this link here.