by Linda Barrington
JEA Mentoring Committee chair
All too often, mentors tell me they have difficulty staying in contact with their mentees. This probably doesn’t happen when the mentor teaches in the same school or district. But JEA mentors are retired teachers who are working with mentees all over their state and sometimes across the country. Staying in contact is critical to a successful mentoring partnership wherever they are.
I asked my fellow JEA mentors what they do to maintain a successful connection with their mentees. Here are some of their suggestions for keeping in touch, especially when the mentee doesn’t respond to messages—phone calls, emails, texts.
Tip #1 – Provide resources
From the very first visit, bring something for the mentee. This establishes a pattern that the mentee will receive a benefit from a contact with the mentor. Kansas mentor Mary Anne Mc Cloud sometimes brings coffee and scones, but she is even more likely to arrive with critiqued copies of their newspaper or handouts, brochures or posters she picked up at the JEA/NSPA convention. “I take C-JET and the SPLC Report to those who are not yet members of JEA. I also share newspapers and yearbooks from other schools,” McCloud said.
Tip #2 – Schedule visits in advance
Before ending the visit with the mentee each time, schedule the next visit. Steve Slagle in California does this regularly. “I pretty much schedule one meeting a month and am willing to more if they feel they need my help. I try to encourage them that I am only a call, text, email away with lots of free time,” Slagle said.
Tip #3 – Provide value-added mentoring
When you do reach out to your mentee, offer more than a query about how things are going. Illinois mentor Stan Zoller said he uses relevant information from social media—tweets, Facebook postings, JEA listserv messages—to stimulate new ideas for his mentee. Katharine Swan in California uses a similar technique: “Whenever I feel a long time has passed, but also think there is no problem, I’ll send off an email with info that might be of value or a question for them,” Swan said.
Tip #4 – Vary your communication method
When you’re not getting a response, change the method and/or time of contact. If emails go unanswered, try a phone call. If phone messages aren’t returned, try a text. South Carolina mentor Marilyn Chapman tries repeated contacts: “I call both at home in the evening and at school after the last bell of the day to check in with my mentee and set up a good date for a meeting.”
As former teachers, mentors know that their mentees have a lot on their plates these days.
Oregon mentor Patty Turley acknowledges this: “Most public schools are dealing with reduced budget situations and more time-intensive instruction and testing. No wonder the mentees don’t reply,” she said. “I’m sure that each one knows, however, that mentor assistance is available if they really need it. Honoring that time crunch that they all experience and giving them choices in the scheduling of visits has always worked for me.”
One of Turley’s mentees, Liz Henderson, said she liked hearing from her mentor even if she couldn’t reply, because she knew Turley was thinking about her and cared. “I do really enjoy hearing from Patty all the time,” Henderson said.” I’m often swamped but she sends me emails when we don’t have time to talk face to face and they are very helpful and encouraging.”
Oregon mentor Bill Flechtner added that the nature of the JEA Mentoring Program is a factor in that the program is provided at no cost to the mentee and the school district. “Some advisers get overwhelmed and just don’t have the time or don’t want to take the time to communicate. Sometimes having this as a no-cost option to advisers works against us. They have nothing to lose by not continuing. They have no skin in the game, so to speak. And it’s not a required part of their employment as some mentoring programs are.”
Still, I want to be pro-active about my communication with my mentees. From now on I will do more to impress on my mentees that we have to stay in touch. I’m going to tell them their biggest responsibility as a mentee is asking for my help. If they know this from the beginning, it may improve our communication. And I will be a better mentor to them because of it.