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Paul Young's Young @ Heart

Have You Got Enough Love
To Be a Mentor Principal?

Have you got what it takes to mentor the next generation of school leaders? If you're a principal who has benefited from the helping hand and heart of a skilled mentor, you've no doubt picked up skills that will support you as you grow great teachers and future principals.

If you ask teachers why they chose the teaching profession, their responses are likely to include the word love -- they love kids, they love teaching, they love the content they teach.

If you ask principals the same question about why they became principals, their most common responses focus on the love of children. They say they take on the responsibilities of leadership because they believe they can more effectively influence the lives of more kids from the principal's office than the classroom. They are even willing to work longer hours, make the difficult decisions, and deal with greater amounts of stress and conflict because of their passion for kids.

After taking on the job of principal, however, many young principals discover how the job can strain the relationships they used to enjoy with their teaching peers. As they make difficult decisions, principals are often forced to sacrifice personal relationships for their love of children and doing what they think best for those kids. When that first swirl of conflict surrounds them, many principals -- but especially new principals who are experiencing the chasm between teachers and themselves for the first time -- can begin to feel isolated, lonely and unloved.


Most first-year teachers endure the trials and tribulations of that year thanks to the support and love of a mentor teacher. Mentoring programs for new teachers have become commonplace. Most districts fund quality programs to ensure that teachers have adequate support as they learn and grow. Effective mentoring partnerships help young teachers survive -- and thrive.

Just as children respond positively when they are loved, and just as first-year teachers survive under the guidance of a caring mentor, so too principals need someone to act as a sounding board when things get tough. Without that support, new principals can feel disconnected. That isolation can exhaust a principal's passion and love for kids. It can lead to a loss of confidence, productivity, and hope. It can even force some to leave the profession.

When principals are supported by caring mentors in their first years on the job, they feel encouraged as they explore with their mentor multiple ways of solving problems and dealing with day-to-day frustrations. The principals are connected to a loving -- and sometimes tough-loving -- mentor who serves as a critical friend and confidant. Even though mentors must sometimes speak directly and frankly, their actions are always based on the care and support of the mentee.

The most effective mentors are responsible for teaching the power of love to their mentees. They teach it through their actions -- what they do, what they say, how they think, how they approach problems, how they act, and how they teach. They reach out to their mentees by maintaining proximity, making themselves accessible, and freely giving their time. They create multiple ways to stay close, even when separated by distance.They help reduce fear and anxiety. They become a force that enables new principals to adapt and discover explanations, alternatives, and solutions for the obstacles and challenges they face.

In many mentoring partnerships, the participants become best friends. They are bound forever by a sense of brotherhood.


The best part of all: Principals who are supported by a loving mentor are likely to continue the cycle. They will learn from their mentor how to mentor the teachers on their staffs. With experience, many will be motivated to expand those capacities by mentoring future school leaders.

But to be effective, most of all, mentors must possess the capacity to love -- children, their mentees, and the work of mentoring.

Are You a Principal in Need of a Mentor?

Obviously, its easier to pair beginning and experienced teachers in mentoring partnerships within a school because of the proximity. But what can you do if youre a new principal in need of a mentor in a remote area -- or even another country?

  • Contact the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and ask to be connected with a nationally certified mentor from the organizations Peer Assisted Leadership Services (PALS) program.
  • If you are a member of NAESP, you might take advantage of the organizations Principals Help Line.
  • Colleges, universities, and professional development centers can also be resources.
  • Many state education departments, state principal associations, or school districts sponsor mentoring programs and will help match you with a mentor who wants to work with you.
  • For additional resources, see the book Mentoring Principals: Frameworks, Agendas, Tips, and Case Stories for Mentors and Mentees, which I co-authored with two of the young principals I mentored.

    Once a mentor has been identified, use cell phones, email, and other technologies to bridge long distances. Budget time and money to meet together. Attend state and national conferences and enjoy quality face time with your mentor and other attendees with whom you can build professional relationships.

    Most important, always keep in mind that mentoring partnerships take time to develop and a mutual commitment from both participants. Professional associations exist to help facilitate connections, but then both participants must be committed to forming and strengthening their unique partnership. They must share a passion for learning and a love of the principalship. Together, they will change themselves and the world.

    If you are a principal who would like to become a mentor, click this link to learn more about NAESPs Peer Assisted Leadership Services (PALS) program or to learn how you might work through your state principal association in collaboration with NAESPs trainers to start a cohort of mentors in your area.

Article by Paul Young
Copyright © 2007 Education World®