ERIC Identifier: ED457535
Publication Date: 2001-07-00
Author: Malone, Robert J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Principal Mentoring. ERIC Digest.
To help their new principals succeed, more school districts are capitalizing
on the expertise of their senior administrators by adding mentor programs to the
mix of practical training programs for beginning principals.
School boards and district officials recognize that formal preparation for
the principalship must include a practical component that can impart real-life
skills. This part of principal training is usually termed an apprenticeship or
internship, and its success, or lack of success, resides in myriad factors. The
effectiveness of this hands-on training has become more important as the growing
shortage of school leaders threatens the quality of education in the United
Ironically, education itself does not seem to be the limiting factor in the
principal shortage, since nearly half of the nation's public school teachers
have earned advanced degrees. But relatively few of these teachers-the natural
pool for future leaders-have expressed interest in becoming principals. This
lack of interest, combined with U.S. Department of Labor projections that 40
percent of the country's 93,200 principals are nearing retirement, highlights
the need to call on the graying generation of school leaders to become mentors
to those who will be entrusted with our schools (Blackman and Fenwick 2000).
This Digest examines the nature of mentorships and discusses how these
relationships can prepare principals for the next stage of their careers.
WHAT IS MENTORING?
Mentoring takes its name from Homer's
Odyssey. Ulysseus, before departing for Troy, entrusts his son to a wise friend,
Mentor. Mentor serves not only as a counselor to the prince during Ulysseus'
twenty-year absence, but also as guardian and guide. Most important, Mentor does
not replace Ulysseus in the parental role; rather, Mentor, with the help of the
goddess Athena, helps the young prince to understand and embrace the
difficulties that lie before him.
The task of the mentor, then, is to define a unique relationship with his or
her protege and fulfill a need unmet by any other relationship (Samier 2000).
The best mentors are teacher/sages who act to the best of their ability within
plain sight of the protege and who engage in a compassionate and mutual search
for wisdom (Bell 1996).
Although mentoring has existed for thousands of years, it is only in the last
thirty years that mentor-protege relationships have received increasing academic
and professional interest. Much of this research initially focused on "classical
mentoring," in which a protege, more by chance than by merit, found a mentor
willing to serve as guide and counselor. Although valuable in the relationships
that it fostered and the leaders that it produced, such mentoring tended toward
"like producing like," which meant that women and minorities frequently fell to
the wayside. Formalized mentoring programs helped correct these inequities, but
these artificial unions usually lacked organizational support and even
engendered resentment among mentors who had little or no say in choosing their
proteges (Samier 2000).
Increasing evidence suggests that matching an intern to the appropriate
school and to the right mentor are critical components of the intern's
education. Districts must therefore be ready to work closely with these programs
to ensure that their schools benefit from an appropriate match (Cordeiro and
Although advanced university education will continue to dominate preparatory
requirements, such training must be combined with in situ practice-of the right
length, at the right place, with the right mentor-to help new principals acquire
the practical knowledge and characteristic behaviors that typify successful
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF PRINCIPAL-MENTORING
Numerous school systems have begun principal-preparation programs
that produce effective leaders. For example, Albuquerque Public Schools' Extra
Support for Principals (ESP) program originated in 1994 when a group of
elementary, middle, and high school principals examined how best to develop a
support system for new principals. The resulting program features a coordinator
who examines beginning principals' backgrounds, asks them to supply a list of
experienced principals with whom they would like to work, and then matches them
with veteran leaders. Results indicate that new principals, as well as their
mentors, benefit significantly from ESP (Weingartner 2001).
Another program, established by the Southern Regional Education Board's
Leadership Academy, focuses on developing effective leadership styles that will
have a direct impact on schools. An important component of the academy is the
mentoring program, which assigns an external peer coach to each district team.
The coach, who is a skilled leader in education, provides technical assistance
and collects information from participants to help them develop as leaders
(Crews and Weakley 1996).
Many school systems such as Albuquerque's have looked within to establish
mentoring programs. The key to any approach is for educational leaders to
recognize the uniqueness of their circumstances and to establish a program that
reflects their community's needs.
For example, the shortage of qualified candidates for school-leadership
positions led Santa Cruz County to gather local experts to come up with a
solution to this problem. These gatherings, entitled "Growing Our Own," arose in
part from dissatisfaction over the traditional role played by assistant
principals, who were usually assigned a narrow range of responsibilities. Santa
Cruz educators decided to reinvent the principal/assistant-principal
relationship by establishing a mentor-apprentice agreement that committed the
parties to shared outcomes. This program emphasizes teamwork while pursuing the
stated goal of producing future school leaders who have the skills, attitudes,
behaviors, and courage to lead public schools (Bloom and Krovetz 2001).
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES IN FORMING MENTOR-PROTEGE
Artificially constructed mentor-protege relationships can
create difficulties. Researchers have long recognized that not all persons make
suitable mentors and that the best mentors display certain traits, such as their
ability to coach, to sponsor, and to serve as a role model. But even the most
accomplished mentors can fail to connect with a protege, resulting in a
neutral-effect relationship, at best.
Race and gender issues further complicate the formation of mentor-protege
relationships. Ninety-six percent of the nation's public-school superintendents,
over 80 percent of school-board presidents, and 60 percent of all principals are
white males, whereas more than 73 percent of all teachers (and future leaders)
are women (Blackman and Fenwick). Informal mentoring relationships could form
easily when most school leaders were white and male.
As recently as 1988, only 2 percent of principals were women, meaning that
principals who sought a role model did not have to contend with the
complications presented by race and gender (Blackman and Fenwick). In recent
years, the composition of the principalship has changed dramatically, with 35
percent of all principals now being women. Many of these women are younger
principals who need mentors but cannot rely on traditional avenues for forming
such relationships. This same challenge faces the 13 percent of principals who
belong to minority groups.
Clearly, school boards, district officials, and universities must work
together to help principals, those just beginning and those who have sat in the
principal's chair for a number of years, to draw on the accumulated wisdom from
which all can benefit.
HOW SHOULD MENTORS AND PROTEGES BE PAIRED?
unproductive mentor-protege assignments, various tools, such as the Mentor
Identification Instrument, have been developed that identify those individuals
who possess the needed skills and talents to nurture interns and proteges. By
distinguishing those best qualified to mentor, school systems can create an
effective mentoring program (Geismar and others 2000).
The decision to pair a mentor with a protege should take into consideration
the locations and characteristics of the schools in which the two principals are
or will be assigned. All districts have suffered through incompatibilities
between schools and principals, and since every district has distinct
opportunities and leadership needs, mentorships must be arranged in such a way
to meet these needs.
Urban school districts with high-poverty rates, for example, face particular
challenges, and it can be a daunting task to find the person best suited for
such positions. One tool that can help urban districts in both selection of new
principals and subsequent pairing with mentors is the Haberman Urban Principal
Selection Interview. This instrument operates on the belief that the most
successful principals are doers and thinkers, and that their career objectives
are built on core beliefs. The instrument therefore attempts to identify those
who can bring a combination of ideology and action to the principalship. These
individuals can then be paired with "Star Principals," those who have
demonstrated success in their schools and who exhibit similar characteristics,
so that the interns can observe these belief systems in operation (Haberman and
HOW LONG SHOULD A PRINCIPAL BE IN RELATIONSHIP WITH A
Formal mentoring programs such as apprenticeships and internships
vary widely in their duration. Some institutions require fewer than 165 hours,
whereas others dictate in excess of 632 hours of internship (Cordeiro and
Researchers are beginning to realize that mentor relationships should not be
limited to the early stages of a principal's training. Even established school
leaders can benefit from a mentor when trying to navigate the particularly
difficult problems that all principals encounter. This ongoing relationship not
only gives a leader an added perspective to any problem, it also prepares
principals to become a mentor in their own right, thus deepening the pool of
experienced persons who can advise future generations (Crow and Matthews 1998).
Bell, Chip R. Managers as Mentors: Building
Partnerships for Learning. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.,
Blackman, Mildred Collins, and Leslie T. Fenwick. "The Principalship."
Education Week on the Web (March 29, 2000): 2 pages.
Bloom, Gary, and Marty Krovetz. "A Step into the Principalship." Leadership
(January/February 2001): 12-13.
Cordeiro, Paula A., and Ellen Smith-Sloan. "Apprenticeships for
Administrative Interns: Learning To Talk Like a Principal." Paper Presented at
the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San
Francisco, April 18-22, 1995. 36 pages.
Crews, Alton C., and Sonya Weakley. Making Leadership Happen: The SREB Model
for Leadership Development. Atlanta: Southern Regional Education Board, 1996.
Crow, Gary M., and L. Joseph Matthews. Finding One's Way: How Mentoring Can
Lead to Dynamic Leadership. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press, 1998.
Geismar, Thomas J.; John D. Morris; and Mary G. Lieberman. "Selecting Mentors
as Principalship Interns." Journal of School Leadership 10 (May 2000): 233-47.
Haberman, Martin, and Vicky Dill. "Selecting Star Principals for Schools
Serving Children in Poverty." Instructional Leader 12, 1 (January 1999): 1-12.
Samier, Eugene. "Public Administration Mentorship: Conceptual and Pragmatic
Considerations." Journal of Educational Administration 38, 1 (2000): 83-101.
Weingartner, Carl J. "Albuquerque Principals Have ESP," Principal. A Product
of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management, College of Education,
University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, 97403-5207.