The 5 Key Mentoring Strategies

© 2010, Barry Sweeny

The Key strategiesHere are some very basic but KEY, significant mentoring best practices that seem to be needed all through the mentoring process, regardless of the protege’s stage of development. These were prepared for you by a team of very experienced mentors.



  • Address protege concerns by assessing and then meeting the learner’s needs
  • Define an excellence/desired result, such as
    • In education – effective teaching model and strategies;
    • For students – the best study skills and studying strategies;
    • In the workplace -best practices or job competencies.
  • Ask reflective questions of the learner to guide toward a comparison of current versus desired practices
  • Ask reflective questions of the learner to guide toward setting a goal for improvement (closing gap between actual and desired practices).
  • Provide a low-risk, positive, and supportive learning environment
  • Provide support and encouragement for the learner’s growth effort
  • Ask reflective questions to prompt watching progress toward goal & adjustment of plans


  • Use the learner development model (like the CBAM) to assess the stage of development/ concern that the protege is on. Adapt the focus of the mentoring to target those issues/needs.
  • Present a “menu” of typical needs of novice learners to the protege. Ask which of these are a need for the protege & then aim mentoring at those targets.
  • If you are not aware of any protege needs, consider if you have been a good listener. Perhaps, ask the protege if you have been a good listener, or when the protege has felt you did.
  • Candidly present concern that, “I am not doing a good job as a mentor” and seek ways in which the mentor can be more helpful to protege.


A. PRE conference: (sequence is not important)

  1. The learner’s intentions for the task, activity, project;
  2. The topic about which the learner wants to learn & the focus for data collection by the mentor during observation later;
  3. The tool to be used to collect the data – agree what it will look like when the mentor presents the collected data to the protege at the post conference;
  4. The role of the coach in data collection, where to stand or sit, length of observation time, what mentor should do if a problem arises, etc.

B. Observation: Data collection – on selected topic only, since that is where the learner is open to information (and for other topics that may not be so.)

C. POST Conference: (sequence is important)

  1. Learner recalls & describes how the activity, lesson, project went (data set #1)
  2. Coach presents the data collected during observation (data set #2)
  3. Coach facilitates analysis by protege by asking reflective questions to prompt comparison of the two sets of data & the learner’s perception compared against the original intentions of the protege for the activity observed.The goal is to identify a gap and any pattern that can be interpreted by the protege.
  4. Coach asks reflective questions to prompt planning improvements for the activity and the protege’s performance.
  5. Coach seeks to improve his / her own coaching, so asks the protege for coaching on the coach’s coaching. The basic concept is for the protege to give the coach descriptive, non-evaluative feed back about when the coach provided the data to the proteg – Was the coach descriptive and non-evaluative in providing the data and in prompting the protege to analyze the data for what it is saying about the protege’s performance.


  • Only offer feed back when invited to do so, or when you know there is openness to learning and improvement. Do not assume this to be true.
  • Provide feed back which is neutral and descriptive. Let the learner do the “evaluation”.
  • Mentors do not analyze the data for the protege. That robs proteges of the opportunity to discover, learn and feel motivated to improve.
  • Ask the protege reflective questions to prompt the protege to interpret patterns in the data.If patterns are not evident, it may be more data needs to be collected to find one.
  • Mentors know that the protege may not respond when prompted to change something that the mentor has suggested. Mentors also know they will be uncomfortable suggesting a change more than 2-3 times, so the mentor must watch the protege for readiness to learn and only give suggestions then.


  • Invite protege feed back about what has been most helpful and what would be more helpful.
  • Demonstrate a willingness to learn yourself and improve your mentoring.
  • Attend mentor support groups and listen to what other mentors are learning.
  • Keep a reflective journal. Record what you are learning, your questions, and ideas. Ask your Mentor Program Coordinator to read it and help you reflect on it and set goals snd plan how to improve.
  • If you don’t have a Mentor Program Director seek an experienced mentor to be a mentor for you.
  • Use the Internet to locate a “e-mentor”, someone who can be a mentor to you, who has interests like yours, and skills in the area in which you want to grow. Use e-mail and the phone for this mentoring.