FAHA: Communication between mentors

Maintaining relations between the team leadership is vital to a functional team. What do you suggest this FIRST-A-Holic in this situation?

Hi Everyone,

I am mentoring a rookie team this year, and I am having some trouble with a teacher who is also in charge of the class.

Background: I am a team alumni and he is a teacher. I don't want to disclose any more.

The problem:
I'll put modesty aside for a second and say that I'm an active person - when I am in a group I like to take the reigns.
Couple that with the fact that I have more experience with FIRST than he does (I've competed and he just heard of the program), I can program and do gear calculations and that the kids look up to me a bit - and you get a pretty nasty situation.

The other day we were working on the practice robot and for 4 hours he had no input at all. maybe two lines.
Now don't get me wrong I worship mentors who let students do all the work but he really didn't contribute anything (I can't understand why because I'm 90% positive he has loads to contribute).

after that day I talked to him about the next meeting because we needed to notify the team by e-mail.
we agreed I would e-mail the team regarding the next meeting.

when I e-mailed the team I didn't just tell them when the next meeting was.
I made it a bit more informative than that... I added a bit of info about the kickoff event and such.

when I talked to him today he said that he thinks that from now on mails like that should come from him, not me.

that really hurt.

I mean come on... what is this like some sort of contest?

does he think I'm threatening his position as a leader? if so why is that bothering him?
does he think I want his job?
does he think they will fire him because of me?

I want it to be clear to him that I intend on being a full time mentor - because that's what I signed up for and that's what I'm capable of. not some sort of fall back meeting supervisor.

I'm looking for your input on this.
Can you relate to the teacher and maybe try and help me understand his position?
I want to talk to him and make him understand my point here.

I feel that this is a joint venture and that we should be taking the reigns together but right now I feel like he's not picking them up and not only that - he's criticizing me because I am picking them up!
someone has got to take the lead and if he isn't stepping up to the plate than I will - but the thing is: this plate has room enough for two!

thanks for listening and I hope you can help me...

-Frustrated FIRSTer


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Maybe he simply meant that as a member of the school’s faculty, he should be responsible for disseminating information regarding meetings and such.

To be perfectly honest, I’d pass off all the logistical issues to him and take charge of the technical side of things, if I were you.

You have the experience in the technical things, as you have prior FIRST experience, while he has the experience in the logistics/behind the scenes stuff, as a teacher. You guys should be able to head up each group, and learn about the other from each other.

It’s essential that you establish who is responsible for what up front. If you do so, and someone drops the ball and fails to do what they said they did, nobody can criticize you for stepping up and taking care of business.

Beyond that, you should make it clear to him that you’re not trying to step on his toes, nor are you trying to replace him.

If you are a college student, age may be an issue. You will find that it’s often hard to gain respect at first, as you are so close in age to the students.

There’s a lot of issues at play here. It’s difficult to say what the teacher is thinking, since we only have your side of the story.

I’ve worked with or been around quite a few teacher sponsors throughout all of my FIRST and other robotics experience and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. My guess is that this teacher you’re working with doesn’t want to end up as just a figurehead sponsor who doesn’t really run the team. Robotics is cool, and it’s probably something he wants to be a big part of. I’m guessing that’s why he reacted the way he did to your email.

I’m kind of like you, I’m the lead mentor for the current team that I’m with, and I like to lead the team. Our sponsor is different though in that he really doesn’t have a big leadership role in the team, but he does have a good spirit about robotics, and is good at recruiting new members and stuff because of it.

Sometimes, however, I do wish that I was not left with so much of the responsibility to organize the logistics for every single team event that we have. This season I’m going to be solely in charge of coordinating kickoff, two full day training workshops (programming and CAD), every single team meeting, the team building location, all the tools, construction of our practice course, helping out three new rookie teams that have just started up, and not to mention being the primary mentor for building the actual robot. (Wow, now that I list all that out it’s kinda daunting…). Plus I’m a 3rd year student in college, so I’ll be managing schoolwork at the same time.

So, I understand how you like to lead everything, because I’m the same way, but you should use his interest in leading to your advantage. Try and meet with the sponsor regularly and discuss the details for everything, and ultimate, try and delegate the administrative stuff to him, because, you really don’t want to be worrying about that anyways. “Mentor” this teacher along the way extensively since you have the FIRST experience, but if you delegate and let him do it, it’ll ultimately relieve you of some of the stuff you really don’t need to do, AND it will ensure team sustainability in the long run if you can get the sponsor doing a lot of the work.

Hope that helps, just remember, communicate as much as possible with the teacher, that’s the best way to help clear things up.

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days. Two things have come to mind.
Respect for different styles of mentoring.
The importance of communication.

If I read this correctly, you are a young mentor for the team and a take charge kind of person. You have a lot of information, experience, and knowledge that you can share with the students and with the teacher. How you do that will be helpful or will cause obstacles, blocks in communication.

Time spent with the teacher discussing the different roles and outlining your goals, individually and together, would be time well spent. You are quickly moving into Kick Off and build season. This year can be looked at as a year of growth and development as a team, learning how to work together and to communicate with each other. Mentors should have times that they meet together and discuss different aspects of the process, esp. if there are areas that require some attention.

Teachers spend a lot of time listening as well as sharing knowledge. Good teachers offer opportunities for development and learning. If this is the teacher’s first year in FIRST, there is going to be a huge learning curve involved and will require patience on your part.

Learning to work together as a team takes time. Bringing in new mentors, new students, new parents takes a lot of work, it doesn’t happen ‘automagically.’ The students will see you working together as mentors with common goals and as role models. That is why it is important that you learn to communicate with each other and to respect each other’s mentoring styles, having defined your roles within the team.

All the best in 2008,

The most important thing you can do is sit down with him and express your feelings in a positive way. Do it NOW. Do not wait. If you have these feelings now things will only escalate.

He may feel threatened by your expertise. You may be over reacting. You will not know until you talk things out.

Don’t let things just happen. Having a discussion about job responsibilities and who does what is healthy.

Starting the season off with these pent up emotions is not healthy for anyone. The kids will read right through and possible problems between mentors.

Dear Frustrated FIRSTer,
You are dealing with a brand new set of rules with this rookie teacher. This relationship requires some understanding and compromise. Don’t take offense to everything he might do or say. Give him the leeway you would any rookie. You can let him know what other teams do in similar situations. You can discuss what might need to be in an email and even offer to compose it and send it to him for his approval. As the experienced mentor you may know what works, but this person may need to figure it out. When he sees you as less of a hindrance and more of a help, things may go more smoothly.
All mentors should keep the students in mind. If it isn’t good for the students, it simply is not the right thing to do. Your interaction will affect the students, so that kind of puts a different spin on things. Keep your eye on the prize, if he doesn’t do things your way but the students still have a good time then it might be just fine.