A Little Mentor Problem

First, this is going to be our second year of competition. Last year was our rookie year, and because our head mentor was familiar with registering and beginning a FIRST team, he took on some of the responsibilities that we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish because of confusion and lack of knowledge. Nobody on our team had any experience with FIRST, so he took some necessary steps to get the ball rolling.
However, this year he stepped down from head mentor and is just a regular mentor, and we have a new head mentor. Our new head mentor is more than willing to let us students do some of the work that we didn’t do last year, especially since the school board is willing to work with us now and we have a little more experience. Our former head mentor, however, is still trying to take over some of these responsibilities. I know he means well, and he only wants to see us succeed, but how do we make it clear to him that we’re ready to take on these responsibilities? We’ve already tried to volunteer to do some of them, and he just says that it’s more of a job for a mentor. We don’t want to upset him, but we don’t want him to take on more than his fair share.

We can give you more guidance on the situation if you can provide details on the responsibilities you are talking about.

I agree with Sam, if we have more details we can be much more helpful. But lets try to keep this civilized, I don’t want to be a part of another mentor vs student lead team argument again. :stuck_out_tongue:

Resources abound. Did you encourage your mentors to attend GeorgiaFIRST’s Mentor Advisory Conference at nearby Kennesaw State University on Saturday, August 16?

Right now the biggest problems are communication and going to talk to people to ask for what we want. Our team has members from seven different high schools, so we can’t just put something in the morning announcements. We rely heavily on email. Last year I ended up emailing people a lot I the time, so this year when our head mentor said he didn’t want to do that, I volunteered since I had already been doing that. He gave me the information for the official email account and I began to correspond with team members about meetings. At the next meeting, our former head mentor asked if I had the list of new recruits and insisted I give it to our new head mentor so the contact list could be updated. I told him that the list was at home and it would be no trouble for me to update the contacts, and I was immediately informed that this was my a job for me, even though our new head mentor wasn’t involved last year and wouldn’t know who to remove from the list (seniors that graduated, people that moved, etc.).
In addition, a few of us have been trying to begin an FTC or FLL team at one of the county middle schools, so we would have a good feeder program. A big point that was made to me was that I had to ask the school principal, which I agreed with completely. When I said I could stop by any day after school to talk to him, our slightly overbearing mentor said that was a job for mentors. I was quick to agree that having someone older than me (I’m 17, a senior) would probably be in my best interest, but when I asked if I could be there since I have all the plans written down and I’m well versed in the benefits of beginning a program, I was told I might be invited. I understand the benefit of having an adult there, but I also feel that since us students are pushing for it we need to be there, in addition to we need to learn and practice defending what we want to someone who doesn’t know much about it.
These are kind of small problems, but I’m a little worried if they’re already trying to limit what we can do it will only get worse as the season progresses. I also understand that my immediate involvement may be clouding my judgement as to what’s really happening, but a few of my teammates have expressed similar concerns.

They signed up and went, and our new head mentor learned quite a bit. He’s also more lenient as to what we can do! Our old head mentor went, but he’s a little stubborn. This isn’t his first experience with an FRC team, but from what I understand the team he worked with previously wasn’t as willing to work, which led to their demise.

I think there are very few things in FIRST that a student cannot do, or at least, a student + mentor pair cannot do. I would classify none of the above situations as “mentor only,” and I’m a guy that usually favors heavy mentor involvement.

As far as resolutions go:

  • Talk to your head mentor. He/she is the head mentor for a reason and conflict resolution is number one on the list. He/she should be able to draw from their experience and training and help find a common ground.

  • Have this discussion with your former HM (in the presence of your current HM). Sometimes, mentors can do things that they think are right or things that they’ve done for a long time, and we have no idea that we’re doing anything wrong. Sometimes, having a frank discussion on this is all that’s needed for your former HM to realize what he’s doing.

  • Get a Third Party Involved. This is a bit of a messy option, but there are some excellent folks that you can turn to within FIRST, GA FIRST, and your community about this issue. I would really only exercise this if options 1 and 2 don’t pan out.

Good luck,

  • Sunny G.

While it’s generally a good idea to have a mentor doing the email, if you’re going to give someone–anyone–the responsibility, and they do their job well (key item here, I’m assuming that there were no issues), then to immediately “direct” them to hand the job over to someone else is tantamount to an insult. I’d also bring this up to the new head mentor–if he doesn’t mind your doing it, then the previous head mentor needs to back off.

I also think that someone (and in this case, definitely not a student, though maybe a group of students could be involved as observers/witnesses–this is best handled mentor-to-mentor or parent-to-mentor) may need to have a little chat with the previous head mentor on the following topic: “he could not ship as assistant where he had once been skipper” (to quote Robert Heinlein’s Starman Jones). Some people can gracefully resign to a lesser position in the same group; others cannot. Because there is no sure way of knowing, it’s generally acknowledged that it’s a really bad idea to assign someone who was once high in a group to lower in the same group, even if they volunteer.

Thank you for the advice! I’ll definitely talk to our head mentor this week, and if that doesn’t work out I’ll start working my way down the list.

This issue can be easily resolved by simply explaining to your new head mentor the situation. Two things could happen:

  1. The mentor agrees with you and you continue to have admin status (Though I would recommend training/teaching someone else as you stated below you are a senior)
  2. The mentor feels the old head mentor is right, and you make a list of all the members who need to be removed, and all the ones who need to be added. This can also be a good bonding experience as you can help your new lead mentor by teaching them how to do this.

Though I recommend keeping track of your alumni, and keeping them updated, don’t include everything but tell them about outreaches, competitions, etc.

This one is a touchy subject since atleast in my school district the principals will only schedule meetings with adults. As this will be a feeder program that will theoretically be mentored by “students” I do think that there should be a student representative there to show the support of the students. Unfortunately you are just going to have to play ball on this one state your case to you new head mentor and see how it goes

It is never a small problem when there is strife between the adults and students on a team. You all are a singular team, and should be working together as such. My best advice is to keep going to the new lead mentor. The old one stepped down and needs to relinquish the power associated with that status.

My last piece of advice (for now atleast) is to go to the students and mentors and ask to draft official team rules and a team hierarchy, define positions and jobs and who does those jobs (Students or Mentors). This allows for a clear set of rules that everyone is aware of and can reference.

When I was doing the communications last year, nobody ever complained about not knowing what was going on. I opened up different social media accounts to help make it more convenient, and I made are to send out multiple emails before one meeting just in case it had slipped someone’s mind. I was also generally able to get a response from everybody, and even if someone missed a meeting they generally knew what was happening. I was even specifically asked to email new team members about things because of my enthusiasm. That’s what made the entire comm. thing a little confusing.
And I definitely see the point about stepping down in a group. I hadn’t thought about that but it seems to explain a lot.

This bring up a bit of a touchy subject. I was told to organize a meeting for team leaders, and I made a list of who I had seen leading intro precious season and had it triple checked, and invited any of the people included to tell me if I forgot someone. My former head mentor disagreed and invited so many people that roughly half our team was invited. How do we go about defining positions when even team leaders aren’t clear?

You have stumbled upon one of the great mysteries of FIRST, congrats on encountering it so early on in your tenure as a team :smiley:

My best advice is split your team in general into groups, how many groups depend on the size of your team but for now lets call it 2 groups; Engineering and Non-engineering. Hold a general election for the students(I would recommend only letting returning students run and vote as new students don’t really know what these entail yet), and let the mentors hold a meeting and the students will elect 1 student lead for each group and the mentors will decide on who is the lead mentor for the two groups.

Your head/main mentor can not be the one in charge of either group, as he/she will be the one settling disputes.

The new student leads (or team captains) sit down with their opposite on the mentor side and decide what student leadership is needed down the line and what mentors are best suited to lead the groups. For Engineering: A mechanical, programming, field construction lead might be needed. For non-engineering: multimedia(pictures, reveal videos, etc), writing, and art leads might be needed.

These will be different for each team but having a clear hierarchy accomplishes two big things besides what was stated previously: The 2 lead students can help out everywhere needed while trusting there is somebody in charge of each smaller group should they get tied up. It also gives clear titles for college applications, or Honor Society requirements.

I have a large back log of team hierarchy stuff if you would like to continue the conversation via PM and get into more specifics about your team and how to solve issues if you don’t want them published for all of FIRST to see

We have a lot of leadership positions on our team. In fact, it’s possible for just about everyone to be a leader. However, that doesn’t mean they’re at every leadership meeting. Some of our positions:

  • Co-captain - two captains, in charge of everything
  • Deputy captain - a junior who is supposed to learn what the captains do while helping them lead the team. She almost always is a captain the following year, and helps to provide continuity from one year to the next.
  • Sub-team captains - in charge of each subteam. Organizes training, assigns tasks, etc.
  • Various other positions - for example, photographer, webmaster, FLL organizer, FTC organizer, etc

When we have our first meeting every summer, the mentors, co-captains and deputy captain are present. It’s up to the mentors to set expectations for the captains, and for the captains to set expectations for the mentors and the other team leaders.

What you need to do is figure out how your team needs to be run. Create a handbook and business plan, and clearly state the roles and responsibilities for everyone, both students and mentors. As part of this, you need to work with your mentors to ensure that you and the other student leaders get the training you need. There’s a lot that the previous head mentor did for your team last year that you want to transition to student roles… ask him to start walking students through those different tasks and helping them learn how to handle it successfully. Even if you’re sure you can handle something, including him in an advisory capacity can help him handle the fact that you can do it just as well as he can.

Just to add a quick bit from mentor perspective, occasionally in dealings with other professionals / administrators there are bits of information that won’t (I might say shouldn’t) be communicated to students.

Chief among these is usually financial information. If a meeting is going to be held and certain financial topics are going to be discussed, the other party may not want students present. It is usually the FIRST way to include the students in every aspect of the team, and conversely it is often the “professional world” way to bar students from some things. It doesn’t sound like all of your issues are because of something like this, but a portion of it (especially the meeting with principles part) could be coming from that.

Alternatively the other parties could have a . . . prejudice against including students in “upper level” talks. Most people in FIRST disagree with this (as do I) but your mentor may be excluding you in order to help the team.

Again, it sounds like you have some other issues that everyone else is answering, I just thought I would give some alternate opinions.

This is right on the money. Similar to your stubborn former Head Coach there are stubborn Administrators in schools. Depending on the environment there or what mentors feel the environment is will determine if students should be present. Mentors and Coaches do not want to make those unfamiliar with the culture of FIRST uncomfortable as this could be a negative and make them decide not to participate/help.

I just want to mention I am a firm believer students are able to do anything and came from a team/school that thought that as well. As students we were given free reign to go find sponsors without adults present. We were given cash from a mentor and sent to the store to purchase items alone. On a monthly basis, excluding my freshman year, I would ask our secretary for a print out of our teams account through the school. Heck, I even filled out reimbursement paperwork and submitted it to the school, as a student, so adults could get money back for supplies/tools they purchased.

Speaking as a head coach - I do not go out of my way to shoulder extra responsibility, especially if it means taking work away from enthusiastic students.

I think that there must be a good reason why your mentor is doing what they are doing. They stepped down as head mentor, but are now trying to do more work? That is a big non-sequitur.

It does sound like your biggest issue is communication - have a frank conversation with this coach. Ask them ‘why’ they are doing what they are doing. DO NOT ‘have a conversation with yourself.’ That is to say, don’t try to imagine or assume someone else’s intentions, reasoning, etc. This almost always leads to overreactions and unneeded stress.

It sounds like there is a lot more going on than you see and/or realize. Just remember that these are the biggest tests of your character and by the sounds of it you are doing a good job!

Every mentor will tell you transitions are part of life. One thing that has helped me over the years is to remember that each side is doing what they see as “the right thing to do”. However irrational it may seem. Just continue to be appreciative of the time they spend mentoring you and your team.

Having been part of teams that have had similar issues, make sure that you and teammates take a few seconds and tell your mentors thank you for everything they do. This helps remind people why they are there (you the students and not the robot).

I really recommend that you sit down with the new and former head mentors, at the same time, and ask “What can I do to best help the team?” The answer may surprise you.

Thank y’all all so much for the advice and different perspectives. I’ll definitely be using some of it this week to solve this, and I’ll be keeping all of the different views and possible reasons in mind.