Guest post by Kendrick Myers

Have you heard the story of Telemachus? Or maybe the story of Odysseus? Either way, if you research mentoring, you will find that many authors make references to Greek mythology that paint the picture of a mentor as a wise teacher, advisor, counselor, advocate, and defender.

Yet some educators and scholars would argue differently, referencing Bandura’s social learning theory as the framework for mentoring; a theory that suggests that individuals learn through observing the actions and behaviors of influential role models.

My First Experience with Mentoring

My initial experience with mentoring was an utter failure—the end. Okay, not quite the end. After my first year of teaching, one of my graduating seniors contacted me. He was a great kid and he wanted to talk about his future, the military, school—and me becoming his mentor. A pause loomed over our conversation, and he continued to explain that he just needed someone to come to for advice and encouragement.

Student being mentoredI apprehensively agreed, but not because of the advice and encouragement. It was the word mentor that I could not get over. Mentor? What did that really mean? What if I did not have all of the answers? What were the guidelines? I wasn’t sure and sort of afraid to ask. Over the years, we emailed and conversed. I am sure, at moments, that I gave some astounding advice. However, we did not meet as much as I thought we should, we never gave the relationship a formal ending, and I didn’t know then what I know now.

A Successful Mentoring Experience

Four years later I was blessed with a second opportunity with the Building Individual Capacity for Success (BICS) program at Opelika High School. This mentoring program was designed to reach at-risk youth, helping to mold them and develop their potential for leadership and success. The school was two years into the program and I started my first year as a member of the advisory committee. I met the students, learned about the program, and built relationships with some of the partners. The next year, I became the adviser. This time, the mentoring experience was quite different.

With the support of faculty members, Opelika administrators, and community members, we were able to build a wall of support and encouragement for the students. We used grant funds to create new experiences for our students—exposing them to colleges, conferences, and other cities. Auburn University helped facilitate tutoring sessions and each student was assigned a personal mentor from the advisory team. We even engaged our faculty in reaching at-risk students by participating in a summer book study of Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind. The results: Of the more than 30 student participants in the few years that I served as adviser, 93 percent of them graduated on time, and 100 percent of them are employed. But the question still is, what made it a successful program?

How to Build Successful Mentoring Programs

The key is the people. You build successful programs with very well-developed, relationship-oriented, purpose-driven people. However, the source of developing a successful mentoring program starts with knowing the purpose of building the program:

  • Ask: Who are you trying to help? What are you trying to accomplish? Why?
  • Identify potential solutions.
  • Ask: What can be done and when?
  • Identify which people can help with those solutions.
  • Identify your resources (local businesses, business owners, universities, or colleges).

Then, plan, plan, and plan some more.

What are some needs at your school or in your community? How can mentoring play a part in fulfilling that need?

Kendrick Myers is the assistant principal of Opelika High School in Opelika, AL, which serves 1,243 students in grades 9–12. He is the 2016 Alabama Assistant Principal of the Year and an avid #ALedchat participant on Twitter. Follow him @MyersMr.

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