"What Really is a 'Trained' Mentor?

A Discussion of Training & On-going Support for Mentors"

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Hi Barry,

We recently had our first New Staff Orientation and it went very well. We followed the advice you gave in the materials we bought on your web site. Now, I have many questions but one that is more important than any other. I was hoping you would be able to send me an answer to it soon. Thank you for your time and commitment to teachers.

The state DOE is providing Mentor Training Institutes across the state. They are three days with two follow-up meetings during the school year. Last year 14 of our district teachers were trained, they were each assigned to a mentee, they kept a log of their meetings, they attended monthly support meetings and after the two follow-up meetings were considered to be "trained mentors". They were NOT paid for the work they did because it was considered part of their training. This year they were able to apply for the $1000 stipend that was available to "trained mentors".

This past summer 5 more teachers at the high school attended a training institute for three days and they should attend two follow-up meetings during the school year. When it was time to match them up with a mentee, they refused when they found out they would not be eligible for the stipend until they completed the year-long "training".

My question...do you think this year of unpaid "training" is an unreasonable request? I have never actually seen a definition of what a 'fully trained mentor' should be like. The school district feels that the training process should include working with the mentee, the time log, support meetings, etc.

Your response would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely, M. Sargent


I feel your training model is a good one, including the follow up meetings and the idea of supporting a mentor's growth and improvement during the first year of mentoring. Of course, my statement (that it "is a good model") is a tentative one as I don't know what the three days of mentor training include. I am assuming that I'd like what you did if you have followed the advice in my materials which you bought.

Those who refused to serve as mentors after the initial three day training were either surprised by the discovery of no pay during year one, or were saboteurs who knew ahead of time but waited until they were told about the stipend to make a bigger "stink". Either way, you have a big problem.

Even when there is mistrust, the mentoring program can succeed, IF it is framed and openly marketed, discussed, and conducted as an effort to create an alternative culture to the prevailing one of mistrust and suspicion. That of course, requires higher level administrative understanding that changes are needed, so openly confronting the problems can occur.

The term "trained mentor" can mean many things. Some good, some not so good. For example, it can suggest someone who "knows it all" and is as good as one can get. Such an idea should be avoided however. The term "trained mentor" gets entangled with red flags and negative implications because, in part, staff development has for so long been only "training", and no follow up support, etc, has been provided, such as your approach attempts to do.

Perhaps the term should not be used as the threshold for entering service as a mentor. For example, allowing for some safe guards in an inclusive approach (see later on), I always advocate that persons who complete an INITIAL mentor training, be identified as "mentors" even if they are not assigned to work with a protege. There are several great reasons to do so, which I can detail if you'd like to know them.

I think you should:

1. Stick to your definition of a "trained mentor" but clarify expectations earlier, clarify why the definition is used, such as "workshops don't cause much change unless there is follow up support for implementation". That is not just the message of how trained mentors are created, it is also how the trained mentors MUST THEMSELVES WORK. (That is, mentors must support new teachers' implementation of the best practices they learn in training, so the mentors must MODEL best practices too.) It makes no sense to not "walk the talk".

2. Consider paying for the early three days of workshops, follow up meetings, and mentoring time spent "as training", even if the state approach does not. Here's why.

Waiting to pay the mentor stipends until the second year when the mentors are "trained" tastes of a somewhat "exclusive" approach to ensuring that mentors are the very best people possible. I certainly understand that desire, however, I have years of experience that has taught me this approach is to be avoided at all costs. It creates divisions (as you are seeing) and does not create the collaborative, trusting environment for professional growth we need in schools. Essentially that approach says that "some mentor candidates are not good enough". Certainly, a more "inclusive approach" requires some safe guards, for not every one should become a mentor. Again, if you got my program development materials, look in the mentor selection section for advice about what I am saying here. First of all, I would hope to only say that any experienced teacher should not become a mentor in a very few cases and as infrequently as possible because:

This is especially true if there is not substantial "Mentoring of mentors" (or MOM, as I call it). Few if any of your mentors are likely to have ever personally experienced receiving the kind of mentoring I am asserting is needed for a high impact on teaching and student learning. Further, if they have never experienced it themselves, how can they possibly provide it to others? They simply can not! That is why they need to BE mentored by a MOM as a part of their training (if possible) and that MOM experience must accomplish several specific things. Then, you can expect to stand back and expect the transformation of teaching and increase in student learning.

Done well, including powerful mentor training & follow up support, mentoring can gradually but significantly change a district. That transformation will be accelerated and its impact increased if it is coordinated with the other improvement initiatives in that district.

If you need help doing any of this, we should talk, at least in the phone, if not face-to-face. I have provided high impact mentoring and training for mentors of mentors to thousands of mentors all over the country and know what it takes. Further, the problems I infer from your comments, are likely just the surface and addressing them may be critical to your district, not just your mentor program. I urge you to let me help in specific ways, at least by giving me more specific questions to address.

Best regards,

Barry Sweeny, President
Best Practice Resources, Inc.

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