In order to gain more background on Mentoring, and improve for the next academic year, I interviewed a generous Mentor – working in the Education sector – on their own experience. I found the discussion very interesting and illuminating, and hope that others will also find some aspect to reflect on.
Jenny: How long have you been a Mentor?
Mentor: I gained the qualifications to practice officially over ten years ago. But, I do believe that some people are born Mentors.
Jenny: What attracted you to the profession?
Mentor: Short version: I stopped short of a PGCE when asked to manage a Learning Support Unit as Senior Learning Mentor.
Jenny: Why do you think we have Mentors?
Mentor: Ok, so, how would you have managed in life without someone saying ‘that’s really good, but what other things can YOU come up with?’ History is full of original ideas. And Mentors have been around for thousands of years. Different names have just been used for the people being mentored, such as a protégé or understudy.
Jenny: Which ideal qualities do you think a Mentor should possess?
Mentor: It is imperative to be non-judgemental, have good listening skills, the ability to guide, teaching skills to disseminate knowledge, ability to inspire, motivate, and a GSOH – an official term for a good sense of humour.
Jenny: What is the main objective when Mentoring?
Mentor: The main objective, through guidance, is for the Mentee to find their own right answers.
Jenny: Are there any routine questions you ask when Mentoring?
Mentor: How’re things going? I see this as a very important open question. This will determine what is foremost in affecting performance, giving a frame of mind; it can also be seen as a friendly opener.
Jenny: When is the best time for someone to begin seeing a Mentor?
Mentor: Anytime; Mentees should see their Mentors as an experienced friend, even if it’s just to bounce ideas off.
Jenny: What are the most enjoyable aspects of Mentoring?
Mentor: When a Mentee wants to see you because they’re really excited about something. When a Mentee just pops in to say ‘Hi’, because everything is going well! I never stop learning from the job and it never fails to surprise me.
Jenny: Could you list some of the possible pitfalls?
Mentor: Self-disclosure on a personal level, taking things personally, not analysing your own performance, believing Mentors are just a Counsellor. Mentors do practice some counselling, as they do coaching, but they are neither as a whole. The worst one in my experience is the wrong people going into this profession as their needs are greater than the Mentee’s. Not having a sense of humour as well.
Jenny: Would you say Mentoring is more like counselling, interviewing, coaching, teaching, or something else?
Mentor: Mentoring is part counselling, coaching, teaching, and befriending. A wide range of skills are required to relate to different people and their different personalities, skills, and situations. You can’t relate to a person on their wavelength, helping them with certain studies if you don’t use counselling skills to LISTEN to what they’re saying. Teaching skills pick up on HOW they learn best and relating to that information. Mentoring is teasing out of them alternative ideas, using your suave sophisticated personality, coaching them with their brilliant idea. It’s about that moment: see they knew it all the time!
Jenny: How best do you administer advice to a Mentee?
Mentor: Get a lot of background information. Listen very carefully to what they really want. Keep replies to facts whenever possible, relating back to what they’re in need of.
Jenny: Are there are general rules, processes, and/or principles to follow when Mentoring?
Mentor: I set up whole procedures for all Mentors to follow. This way there was continuity. Lots of necessary paperwork before, during, and afterwards. In addition, answering to the LEA, we have to produce quantitative measures from qualitative results.
Jenny: What advice would you offer new Mentors?
Mentor: Become a Mentee with your own Mentor. Ask questions, lots of them. Ask permission to sit in on other people’s sessions. Get basic qualifications; they’re there for a reason. If you don’t know something, say so; but always tell the Mentee that you will find out, and always follow up.
Jenny: How could experienced Mentors improve their skills?
Mentor: Read, talk to others, research. No two people and no two situations are the same. A Mentor never stops learning, but they need their own Mentors too!
Jenny: Have you personally learned anything from your own experience?
Mentor: Every single day. There are many types of hardship, but most people find they’re a lot stronger than they ever imagined. A lot more intelligent than they give themselves credit for, and a lot more loving than they like to show! Every person out there is trying to live their life in their own way, the only way they know.
Jenny: Thank you very much for your time. Keep up the good work!