Bridgette Fincher- Masters in Educational Technology and Leadership. 2006

 

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Action Research Project

 

The Mentoring Process

Who to Pick?

February: I was dithering between two people to mentor at my school. One was the art teacher, who I had already had formed a relationship predicated on discussions and perceptions of a novice teacher towards a veteran one. The other one was my principal. One of the major issues with the school is the fact that the principal has very little training in organizational dynamics…from things as simple as how to run meetings efficiently, how to prepare agendas to how to open clear communication lines. When I had to weigh things, I knew that I could be more effective in the long run if I started with my principal although, most definitely it would have to be presented in an informal fashion and gently. Luckily, I have her trust already and she has come to me to ask questions about key situations. Being able to discuss things is a viable option. The problem is that she is often random abstract, some things come out left field and leave me a bit flat footed. I have to be very careful to pre-think a variety of options and look to be very long range in my outlook….and watching for how she wants me to support her. 

The Mentoring Plan

One of the key aspects to my ARP is the development of community within this new school. The initial context in regards to the development of an intranet, however as time has gone on, the focus expanded to the development of procedures and use of values clarification for key problem areas that need to be hashed out as a group (Parent involvement in the classes or procedures for speaking with children respectfully for example). This was a result of an indicated need both from the faculty and my principal and emerged in the form of a structured training format in organizational systems.  

One of the things that I bring to the party is three years of training, and application, the school-site council model of community building when I was working at the American School in Japan. Known as the cadre system, is used effectively in the Eugene, Oregon school district. A variety of faculty at ASIJ were from Eugene and knew the model to be a successful one. Bill Kentta- an administrator and consultant from that district, facilitated the development of the model at my old school over the next years until it became the norm in our organizational structures. Key features we integrated were the training in group-decision making, conflict resolution using the consensus model, and a stress on building group culture.  

My decision to mentor my principal came from a confluence of items. Prior to the start up of my ARP, I had already been designated chair of the school’s Arkansas Consolidated School Improvement Plan group, basically the accreditation body of the state department of education, for this auditing year. This meant that I was working closely with my principal even prior to the ARP to get the school’s documentation and strategic plan in shape before we were audited in February. A level of trust and a good working relationship had already established before the start up of this particular class. As this year has progress, I have asked her lots of questions about characteristics of high needs populations, standardized testing and the mysteries of decisions made at the district and state level while she was asking me how I was seeing this particular school running and how it compared to the schools I had come from. They were conversations in defining culture for each of us. It was an easy jump “Well, have you thought about…?”, types of conversations. 

The formal part of the mentoring process actually is embedded in the extended ARP. One area of challenge for my principal has is that she finds it very difficult to run an efficient and effective meeting. All the organizational aspects of sending out an agenda, sticking to topic, pacing, the use of a recorder or gatekeeper seem difficult for her to use consistently or effectively. Seemingly, she hasn’t received training in facilitation either. In our conversations, we talked about my training when were talking about my ARP, we both concurred that using this training would be a win/win in a lot of ways if I were to conduct a series of training sessions for the staff and to help the conversations. The tricky part of the mentoring process here is that the pronouns are “we” rather than “you”. The mentoring process is in the form of a collective rather than a one way delivery of information which, given that she is my boss and a first year principal, seems to be a more effective way to get things done. It is a convoluted balance. Being a first year anything is a trial by fire. Emotions run high and most days, I suspect, seem to be fraught with reactive thought rather than proactive. Just getting through the day probably is the real name of the game. Thus, my tack has been to be supportive listener. To ask things circuitously, and to model without being overly explicit about why I am doing it. She is an intelligent woman. By keeping things light, she can determine the course and pace of the conversations in a supportive environment. Somehow, and I am not sure exactly why, it helps the fact that I will not be there next year…she is more open to express exactly what she is thinking. From my end, although the ARP is the catalysis…it is really all about service. Can I make a positive contribution? Make some aspect better than when I came? Needless to say, a formal agreement like outlined by Zachary is not going to work. However, an informal one, as often exemplified in Peddley is.   

Regarding the training sessions, we plan to meet prior to a scheduled faculty meeting, which is projected to be three formal contacts a month, give or take. The general idea is to debrief the last meeting at that time as well. The short-term “we” mentor objectives are: to get the normative items that need to be clarified by the faculty done in such a way that all stakeholders are involved and invested with the end result; to model the one type of organizational development for my principal so that she can have something to work off of and apply on her own; and to provide an open avenue for continued conversations to occur.   

   

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