Mentor Recruitment and Quality Control

Hi everyone,

I got a few requests to start a new thread in response to my post in the Young Leaders in FIRST thread, especially this part:

In managing a team, I think it is important to clearly define the role of each mentor, and to distribute the responsibilities evenly and according to the amount of work each mentor is capable of taking on. This makes it easier for a new mentor to walk into the system and still feel comfortable. They can be clearly told what they are supposed to do (people need guidance in a new surrounding!), and they are aware of what everyone else is doing and what their responsibilities are.

There were too many instances on my old team where an important job never got done because everyone assumed that someone else was doing it or had it taken care of. If there were some better communication about how everything was being handled, those situations would have been avoided.

Sometimes, it’s hard to define a team philosophy and get all of the mentors to adhere to it. You may get a new mentor who doesn’t exhibit gracious professionalism, or doesn’t believe in following the rules, or who treats students badly, or who favors their own child. Maybe they are irresponsible at handling team organization, or lack the ability to teach new skills. What do you do in that situation?

First, I think that the existing mentors need to make it clear to the potential mentor what qualities are necessary for the job (and what qualities make one a poor candidate for the job). They also need to train new mentors - explaining and demonstrating the proper teaching methods.

In starting FLL teams, my mother and I have held workshops for parents and other potential mentors. We not only teach them about how to build and program Lego robots - we also try to teach them how to teach. In some cases, this has been very successful, but in others, my mother and I are frustrated because we have gotten a few low quality mentors. What’s harder is the fact that they are trying - but just aren’t good at it. We can’t just say “You are a bad mentor and you have to give your job to someone else” - but we don’t know what else to do.

There are people out there who are natural teachers, and they will make the best technical mentors. What a team needs to do is find a way to attract the natural teachers, and avoid the bad teachers. However, there is no real method for doing this, and alot of teams are forced to rely on the luck of the draw. My FRC team was very fortunate to attract several mentors who are excellent teachers - but not every team is. My FRC team still needs more good teachers in order to distribute the teaching burden. I still don’t know the proper steps a team needs to take to overcome this, and if anyone does - I would appreciate your advice.
So here it is:

  • What problems has your team had with mentorship?

  • How does your team ensure that it has good quality mentors?

  • How does it cope (or not cope) with having bad mentors?

  • How does your team encourage new mentors to join?

  • Does your team train your mentors to be better teachers?

  • How does your team ensure that new mentors understand what their role on the team should be?

In answering these questions, please don’t choose to “air too much dirty laundry”. **
Please present your problems in a general sense, without naming names.** :slight_smile:

Thank you,
Jaine

Some NEMO stuff on the subject of mentors that might help: A Mentor Is… and Recruiting and Retaining Mentors.

If your team organization model allows for it, treat the team like a business. Define your goals; determine what types of “employees” you are looking for to successfully meet those goals; advertise (recruit) people with those skillsets or those looking to learn those skills; interview likely candidates. Have a performance appraisal system in place so that each employee’s strengths and weaknesses can be discussed in a nonconfrontational setting. Is there something the team can do to help the person succeed? And have consequences in place for if it’s just not working out. Do you keep an employee who is clearly alienating all the other employees and who doesn’t want to change? I know this sounds extreme, but most students in FIRST will be in the workplace in 4-8 years. And most companies have some sort of system like this in place, so why not adopt this model?

I just want to support and reinforce what Kathie posted above.

To carry the analogy between a FIRST team and a business one step further: successful businesses recognize that hiring (aka human resources) decisions are the most important ones that they make. A common rule-of-thumb says that hiring the wrong person for a job will have a negative financial impact on the business that is at least three times that person’s yearly compensation (pay). So even the smallest businesses consider hiring and promotion decisions very carefully, often involving the president of the company (or of the operating division, in the case of a very large business) in the final decision to hire even one engineer.

The decision to take on any new team member is always important. The decision maker(s) must understand a prospective new member’s capabilities, work habits, communication skills, etc. very well before taking the new member onto the team and assigning the new member responsibilities.

Some sort of a written contract or memorandum of understanding is another suggestion.

Jaine:
I’m looking at a lot of your questions from the perspective that sometimes there aren’t easy answers. There is a lot of gray, rather than the black and white that many of us like.
Our mentors come in different packages: engineers, teachers, NEMS, parents who fill in as needed. We have mentors who have been with teams for many years, mentors who are just starting out, and we have college mentors. Within that, we may have many volunteer mentors. Within that, we have mentors who have comfortable set-ups for the teams: shops, materials, budgets and we have mentors who catch as catch can, often dipping into their own wallets.

To me, a mentor is always maturing, developing, and learning. It isn’t just the students who go through developmental processes. And the team program goes through these processes as well.

So I look at all of this plus other things when I look at your questions.
One thing that I can say is that our team is working on defining the different mentors’ roles this year and also working on keeping communication a priority. Things can bog down quickly with poor communication on a team. Good communication helps when personalities and approaches vary. And, sometimes there are tough calls to make that have to be made when other methods have failed.

  • What problems has your team had with mentorship?
    Most teams seem to have the problem of having a scarcity of mentors. For us the policy has been that we allow each mentor to do what they do best for the team and we respect their talents. In some cases it has been a challenge to find a niche for the various adults. But we generally try hard to find places for everyone to fit in.

  • How does your team ensure that it has good quality mentors?

We develop mentors just like we develop the students. Exposure to a progressive series of experiences is important. And somehow, as the head coach, I act as the quality control for the various subsets

  • How does it cope (or not cope) with having bad mentors?
    In the past we have had some personalities that " didnt get with the program". If they didnt respond to a direct talk they generally found it was time to leave.

  • How does your team encourage new mentors to join?
    My job is to develop situations where new mentors can be successful and find a niche to participate along with the students. They need to see the fun of FIRST and catch the enthusiasm the kids have. Our team has been expanding into new project areas with the inclusion of more and more mentors. The can-do attitude is refreshing to many of them.
    Our graduate mentors are active participants in FIRST world activities and we try to keep them close.

  • Does your team train your mentors to be better teachers?
    The team certainly does- students putting demands on the expertise of adults trains them quite effectively. We all learn from each other and come away better for it.

  • How does your team ensure that new mentors understand what their role on the team should be?
    New mentors arent just thrust into a position. We work together for a while and I gradually put more and more responsibility in their hands. I look for their interests and strengths and try to capitalize on them for the benefit of the team. We have a team leadership council of students that work closely with the adults so we all know we can rely on each other. Irresponsibility is not tolerated.

    The mentors on team 25 are just as much a part of the team as the students. We all work together as a unit in our respective roles and we all are very proud of the team’s accomplishments. And the adults learn as much as the kids because the team exposes them to experiences they otherwise wouldnt ever have. And we have a lot of fun!

Does that answer it?

WC :cool: