Responsibilities of a Mentor

The issue of mentor involvement in robot design and construction has been beat to death, so that’s not what I’m asking here.

Instead, I want to know what CDers think about the duties of a mentor. What are their responsibilities when it comes to running the team? Chaperoning the team? Teaching the students? Who should spearhead fund raising efforts? Corporate relations? Public relations?

A recent event (that I think better left undisclosed) has made me wonder what everyone thinks of a mentor’s responsibility. Where does the balance lie between a mentor’s duty and a student’s? Where does the responsibility (edited from “blame”) fall when things are left undone?

The job of the Coach/Lead mentor is the same as any other CEO – make sure all the important things get done. The lead mentor is the plate-spinner-in-chief, the person who makes sure that someone is getting the job done. It takes time to build a team of adult volunteers and to integrate students into a program. The lead mentor identifies the absolute minimum things that HAVE TO get done, and makes sure they do get done, and encourages others to pursue their passions in doing the necessary and the nice-to-have. If no one wants to do the nice-to-have responsibilities, they simply don’t have to get done. On any youth robotics team, the things that MUST get done include building a working robot, getting the paperwork done, raising the money, finding a place to meet, directing the scheduling process, and making sure there is enough mature guidance to help the students do their best. EVERYTHING else is optional, and depends on the quantity and quality of mentors and students.

I could go on about this for a few dozen pages. Was there something that you were specifically interested in?

The mentor should make sure that he can communicate with all the members on the team. He/she also needs to know the proper way to delegate different duties to members.

Chaperoning the team?

The mentor is responsible for the safety of all the members traveling to the event. There have been times when me and another mentor stayed up with the kids. Let the kids have fun whether it is to stay up till 3 in the morning and play guiter hero or just stay up to hang out. When you can compromise with the kids, they are in much better mood at the event.

Teaching the students?

By the time build season rolls around, it is very hard to teach 50+ students the basics of mechanical, electrical and software. I believe that mentors should take the time to teach the kids before build season starts. Of course the mentor may have a full time job, college, family to take care of. That’s when the students come in where they help each other to learn different aspects. For example, for upcoming season, me and two other mentors have decided to design few things and then get together with the kids, teach them how to use cad, produce some off season products, have them work it and test it out; so by the time build season rolls around, we should be able to just stand over their shoulder and watch them do all the work. Of course we step in when they need help. Isn’t that the whole point of FIRST… to inspire students?

Who should spearhead fund raising efforts?

I believe that you need two members who is very well with communication and writing. There are many white papers on CD where there are very good examples and ways to fund raise. Teams should use these resources.

Corporate relations and public relations should be handles by the whole team. The only way any corporate is going to be by your side is when you are working together as a team. Same goes for public relations; the only way to attract public into FIRST is to go out there as a team and do something that catches their eye. It’s the teams’ job.

Where does the blame fall when things are left undone?

Why point any fingers. Yes I know, it happens a lot. But why not work together as a team to come up with a solution to fix it? Honestly, I don’t know how to answer this one.

Having a team that when from a fully mentor run team to a fully student run team, I beleive there is a middle ground. I think it is fine to let the students make many decisions but just like my job their are managers that need to approve. In this case it should be the mentors. They intern are held responsible by the school, the parents, and the sponsors.

I think this depends on the mentors. Honestly, Chaperoning is a complex issue since it can end up having insurance and legal ramifications. Some sponsors are willing to provide mentors, but do not want them to be responsible. That being said, I think every mentor has a responsibility to make sure the students are generally safe.

No where! In almost every situation I have been in, the “blame” can easily be spread around and serves no purpose. Besides, if important things are left undone, then the entire teams fails. My philosophy has always been: “It’s happened. Who cares who is to blame. How do we fix this so it doesn’t happen again?”

The lead mentor is responsible for it all. The trick is to delegate as much as possible and have effective communications with everyone.

The corporate analogy is appropriate. Treat the team as a company, not as a kingdom. You “hire” the best person for a particular job. All the employees are responsible for the success of the company. “Blame” is not GP, “Shared Responsibility” is what we teach.

No where! In almost every situation I have been in, the “blame” can easily be spread around and serves no purpose. Besides, if important things are left undone, then the entire teams fails. My philosophy has always been: “It’s happened. Who cares who is to blame. How do we fix this so it doesn’t happen again?”[/quote]

George is correct; problems, mistakes, omissions rarely benefit by identifying an individual rather than identifying the process that allowed it to happen. Rather than assign blame, it should be used as a learning experience to eliminate it for the future.

Mentor/student responsibility splits are team specific and even within a team may vary year-to-year as experienced mentors/students move on and the inexperienced fill their shoes.
If you just want specifics for our team here are our lead mentor duties Advisor Handbook or for the run-of-the-mill mentor: Mentor Handbook, our corresponding student officer duties Officer Handbook or generic student responsibilities: Student Handbook. Fundraising, travel, etc. have been taken over by our parent Booster Club: Parent Handbook, but responsibilities beyond requiring accounts and contracts to be through legal adults are shared with students.
Generally, duties are split based on interest with the thankless jobs ending up most often in the hands of whoever blinks first. Core duties are the ultimate responsibility of the lead mentor with delegation to students, mentors, and parents.

Other than that I’m going to take a different tack here just in case…

Has your teacher declined to assume some responsibilites that you all automatically expected them to assume?

We all must form a true appreciation for what teacher’s volunteer for (and sacrifice) as opposed to what they are required to do by appointment by a school board of education, or through the goodwill of their hearts. People will do more for you if you don’t take them for granted.

From a purely official standpoint only the advisors/mentors appointed to run the team by the school or chartering organization have specific official responsibilities. Those responsibilities address the administration’s concerns and are typically legal of course. Lawsuits and the Board of Education calls only the Lead advisor/mentor to task, not the students. Official responsibilities usually include: hold meetings covering a specified number of hours, insure student safety, and process paperwork.

Everything else is at the courtesy of the teacher, so you should be especially nice to them since they are usually volunteering their personal time and money from there on out. They usually accept and take on additional responsibilities, but those additional duties are on a purely volunteer basis. Usually safety training is assumed, however, with a club a teacher’s official responsibilities may only include a requirement to be present at meetings and the basic safety/welfare of the club students.

Chaperoning the team, teaching the students, spearheading fund raising efforts, corporate relations, public relations are strictly speaking all additional volunteer efforts that can be spread over many other helping hands. Typically, teachers do take on much of these duties through a personal sense of responsibility and a wish to see the team succeed, however, teams must understand and be properly appreciative that it is indeed a personal volunteer effort and is not required. Some teachers just may not be able to do all these things due to overloaded commitments, while another teacher may go way above and beyond their responsibilities by advancing or outright giving the team money to make critical purchases.

Chaperoning trips is often handled as a separate issue by the school administration, because teachers have to get substitutes to cover for them in classes that are missed. If a critical AP test is coming up, then someone else may have to be found to chaparone. There is also usually a chaperone/student ratio, e.g., 10/1, that requires the recruitment of additional teachers, so teacher contracts or districts have set fees they pay to recruit the necessary chaperones. Supervision and chaperoning of the predominately underage students is a legal responsibility, and is a firing offense if not done with due diligence.

I know some administrations struggle to get teacher’s, who have to volunteer to begin with, to dedicate the enormous amount of time that a FIRST team requires. A teacher may only reluctantly sign up to do the minimum necessary, and they may only end up a temporary place-holder while the team looks for a fresh, young, idealistic replacement. It’s much easier to lead the school fly fishing club, and the time and expense commitment is much more reasonable for a person who probably has their own life.

this is our “core values” statement , and coaches goals…
(taken in part from FLL)
As it has been stated in other posts here- it is dependant upon how your team was established?? what are the long term goals for the team… We have attempted to establish a team that will be here for the long haul (win or loose). It is a Student run team (if they drop the ball we are there to assist, pick it up and get them on track again.)

sometimes it works better than others…at the forfront is that fact we have the responsiblity to forster a morally and ethicaly sound program.

Core Values

We are a TEAM.

We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors.

We honor the spirit of friendly competition.

What we discover is more important than what we win.

We share our experiences with others.

We display gracious professionalism in everything we do.

We have fun.

My Promise as a Mentor/Coach/Volunteer:

The students come first. FOR15/TPP is about the students having fun and getting excited about science and technology. Everything my team does starts and ends with that principle.

The students do the work. This is their opportunity to learn and grow. The students on my team do all of the programming, research, problem solving, and building. Adults can help them find the answers, but cannot give them answers or make decisions.

FOR15/TPP communicates with the team via my primary email address, I am responsible for reading and following all aspects of FOR15/TPP guidelines and rules.

I will encourage my team members, other coaches, volunteers, parents and team supporters to develop and practice a set of FOR15 values that reflects FIRST’s goal to change culture in a positive way by inspiring others through our team’s actions and words.

There are teams that have a Mentor MOU (memorandum of understanding). Also ones for students and parents. (Mark has some great links for his team). I am trying to collect samples for NEMO.
This is all about communication and making sure all parties understand the expectations ahead of time.

I am very impressed. That is some detailed hard work that went into clearly defining your team organization and responsibilities. Its no wonder you folks are very successful every year.
You’ve given us some beefed up homework assignments to work on over the summer.
See you in NJ again next year?


First, I’d like to thank everyone here for responding. I’d also like to reiterate that the actual event that prompted this is not important, it only got me wondering.

Personally, I feel that the adults on a team have a few responsibilities.

They are responsible for the knowledge they have. If they know something that can help a (considerably less knowledgeable) student make a better robot, then they have a responsibility to teach the student. That’s just the definition of a mentor.

If a mentor is the the school’s official contact/head mentor/etc, he/she is responsible for dealing with the school. If there is a problem concerning the team, that mentor is responsible for being the school’s point of contact, advocating for his/her students, and taking responsibility of enforcement of school policies.

The buck stops at the adults. If something isn’t getting done, the adults need to step in, find out why, and determine a solution without putting anyone down or excluding anyone. In the end, any failure of the team falls on everyone who didn’t help, not the one person or group of people who tried and failed.

The adults are responsible for stepping back. Let the students learn, but guide them. Don’t leave them hanging, but don’t hand them a robot either. Let them be part of the process, but give them the guidance they need not only to succeed at building a robot, but to learn and gain from the experience.

This reminded me of one of Dave’s gems regarding the topic, blame.

After visiting our regional, one of our sponsors proposed banning mentors from the pits. He was annoyed by the number of teams he saw where a team of adults were crowded around a robot while the students stood back and watched. It would be a tad impractical to ban mentors from working at all during the build season, but student-only pits would ensure that the team knew enough about the inner workings of the robot to make any repairs. Also, working on the robot in the pits is one of the most exciting things about FIRST, and it’s an opportunity I hope as many students as possible can have.

That would be a huge safety issue. The mentors are there to watch over as much as teach. Parents and school boards would never let that happen anymore than they would send you off to the competition with no adult supervision at all.

I understand the reasoning…but he didnt think it it all the way through

I would certainly support limiting the pits to one or two mentors per team. That would ensure a certain mentor/student ratio just because one-two people are rarely enough to do everything that needs to be done…

Odds are there is a sponsoring organization that has a mentor in place to be sure the basics are done and a robot gets built and shipped. That might be a teacher (school run team) or an employee (sponsor run team).

For chaperoning, if it is a school run team then the school board / administration approved the travel and there was probably a lead person identified. That person has accountability for overall chaperoning and safety of the students. That person is probably also legally responsible for those students and their safety.

I believe in most areas you have mentioned it should be a combination of the mentor and student. Hoping to avoiding starting another mentor / student led team debate, it often takes an experienced person to help identify what needs done and help layout a plan. If things go well, there is a quick transition of workload and the students do most of the work.

There are also some rules of engagement that need to be followed and so general guideance may be required from a more experienced person.

My thinking regarding sponsors, parents, and guests that visit the team they are affiliated with is that this is an opportunity for the team to continue to help them deepen their understanding of FIRST as they see all the teams in action in the pits and on the field.

There are certainly other competitions out there where the emphasis is student-centric with the adult mentors stepping back while at the competitions. That isn’t FRC. If the guests have questions, concerns and/or frustrations, the members of the team should be prepared and ready with a clear explanation of what FIRST is about and what the goals and mission of FIRST are. The practiced elevator speeches come in handy as introductions, refreshers, and reminders as the venue comes to life for your guests. It’s one thing to be told about FIRST and the competition, it is quite another to experience it FIRST hand. The team members who are ready to help enlarge the scope and deepen the understanding of the FIRST experience for their sponsors and guests are the ones who can help lessen the confusion or misperceptions.

First of all, I should apologize for some of the lack of clarity in my last post. I’m typing with one hand (frisbee injury) and trying to use as few words as possible but I seem to have crossed the line between concise but clear and tersely obfuscated.
Our sponsor does not mean to leave students alone, totally unsupervised, in the pits, although that probably wouldn’t go as badly as some people are suggesting. He meant that he wanted to see students working on robots rather than mentors, especially during competitions and that he thought there should be a rule passed to that effect.

But perhaps it should be is my point and our sponsor’s.

This actually sparked a discussion with among our team/sponsor about our feelings regarding this aspect of FIRST. We all decided that we disagree with FIRST, or more specifically, CD’s most common interpretation of FIRST’s goals on this subject. We think students are inspired more by doing than by watching. If this weren’t the case, we could just replace FIRST with the Discovery channel.
And since subtlety never seems to go over around these parts, let me make it clear that I do, in fact, think FIRST is more valuable than tv, but that I feel that way because my team was largely (basically entirely) student driven so I didn’t spend my time “watching real engineers build a robot.”

Jane, I understand what you are saying but need to specify FRC, not FIRST.
In FLL, for example, the adult mentors do step back at the competition and having the students do the work is right up front in the FLL creed.

Each of the 4 programs in FIRST have different rules about mentor/student involvement.

Thank you for correcting me, Jenny.
You are absolutely right, I was careless.

I was at an FLL event this weekend and watched these amazing children and their machines. One had built (with the help of a mentor, I’m sure) a LEGO sleeve that he slipped his arm into. The end effector was a grabber and would have been perfect for picking up a miniature Trackball.

Thanks again,