Mentor Support For Protege Growth Portfolios

By Barry Sweeny, 2003


What’s Needed for Reflection, Learning & Performance Improvement?

As powerful as is reflection on one’s own professional practices, there are a few elements which are needed to make that reflective process a significant and useful support for real professional learning and improvement of performance. The elements include:

  • Structured, frequent time to reflect, usually made so by a commitment to do the reflection within…
  • A collaborative, trusting relationship with a colleague or mentor, which creates….
  • Accountability people choose for themselves, to help themselves implement their good intentions, and…
  • Reflection on “stuff” not just on experiences. “Stuff” are the artifacts of the work and processes which relate to one’s professional growth goals.

Reflection on “stuff” not just on experiences

The first THREE of these elements can be accomplished in many diverse ways, such as journals, on-going e-mail discussions, structured and facilitated support groups, and other reflective venues. But the LAST ELEMENT, requires some kind of structure such as a personal Professional Growth Portfolio to collect, organize, and provide access to or display the stuff which is evidence of professional development activities and growth.

The Professional Growth Portfolio is a highly personal, long-term, job-embedded, time-intensive process. That is why it is frequently not a tool that is used (time is precious), and that is why, when it IS done, it can be viewed as “one more thing I have to do”, and a compliance, rather than effective tool for support of professional growth. When that happens, the process needs to be stopped and rethought to make it worth doing. This author’s view is that if such a portfolio process cannot be implemented so those who must do it ALSO see it as useful for their own growth, then it should not be done at all.

The Mentor’s Role in the Portfolio Process

The missing link in many professional portfolio process often is the lack of a facilitator who values the process themselves, and can help the protege learn to do the process in a way that makes it “worth the time”. This is the critical role of the mentor.

The web page “How Mentoring is the Critical “Bridge” for Successful Development of People” explains research which tells us WHY without a mentor’s follow up support in the workplace, the protege’s use of a professional growth portfolio:

  • May be perceived as and even be a contrived, useless process
  • May not lead to actual professional growth, and…
  • Is not likely to result in improved protege job performance.

Follow Up, Follow Up and Follow Up + Successful implementationIt’s part of the mentor’s job to be sure the protege’s use of a professional growth portfolio actually DOES result in personal insights, learning, growth, and improvement in the protege’s performance and work.

As crucial as is this principle of mentor facilitation of the reflection on work and professional development artifacts, there is one BIG potential flaw. The mentor’s ability to facilitate such processes for the protege (bridge theory and practice), and to ensure that those processes are not done just to comply, but actually lead to professional growth, ALL DEPEND ON the mentor’s OWN EXPERIENCE with these same professional growth activities.

The point is, if the mentor has never experienced finding value in keeping and reflecting on a PD portfolio themselves, how can the mentor effectively lead the process for the protege and produce a different, more positive result?! It’s not very likely.

The real question is, “What do mentors need to experience & learn to do so they can facilitate their proteges learning it?”

Here are some suggestions for the professional growth portfolio which address this question.

The “Save Your Stuff” Professional Growth Portfolio Process

1. When the portfolio process is introduced, proteges are told that their mentors will help them to:

  1. Set professional growth goals
  2. Develop an action plan to achieve those goals
  3. Accomplish their action plan and achieve their goals
  4. Revise those goals and the plan as appropriate

Proteges are also told that they are to save stuff that relates to their work on those professional growth goals. Anything can be saved which would show what they did and what they accomplished. The stuff can be saved in a box, big envelop, drawer, or any other convenient container. At the end of the year, the mentor will help the protege make effective use of the items that were saved.

At no time is a “portfolio” discussed or that word used. It is just “save your stuff”.

2. At the initial mentor training, mentors complete three self-assessments to reflect on themselves as mentors compared to the characteristics of an ideal mentor. Then mentors write growth goals and an implementation plan. Mentors are also asked to ìsave any stuffí that relates to their work on these mentor growth goals.

This is critical, not only so mentors HAVE these goals and plans for their own improvement, but also so they have personally EXPERIENCED the process through which they are later expected to lead their protege. At that later time, when it is appropriate, mentors are given guidance for their role in helping proteges learn how to reflect on their work performance, the relevant models of excellence, data, and artifacts. Finally, mentors review the schedule and activities found on the web page titled Protege Professional Growth Goals & Plans & Mentor Support.

3. During the year,mentors meet periodically with the Mentor of Mentors (MoM) who teaches mentors how to reflect on their own work performance and their mentoring behaviors, update their mentoring growth goals, & collect artifacts related to those goals.

4. At the final mentor support group meeting of the year, mentors are led to reflect on the “stuff” they saved all year that is related to their mentor growth goals. Reflections are capture in individual writing. Revised professional growth goals are developed, along with a revised action plan.

Mentors then discuss in small and large groups, and then individually plan specifically how they will lead their own proteges through the same process. Questions are answered and advice offered for making the process an effective, useful one.

5. After the end-of-year mentor planning meeting, the mentor and protege meet to review the protegeís professional growth goals, action plan, and the artifacts saved by the protege. The mentor’s facilitation process leads proteges through:

  • Reflection on the artifacts as evidence of growth
  • Comparison of actual to desired practices as described by professional or the organization’s competencies
  • Goal setting or revision, and…
  • Action planning or revision of the original action plan to implement the revised goals.

Only at the end of that process does the mentor explain that what they just did was use the artifacts in a “portfolio” as a prompt for reflection.

The mentoring pair also discuss how, during the next work year, the protege will keep adding to and reflecting on the portfolio, and setting and working toward professional growth goals.

Mentors will implement their growth goals and plans, but may decide whether to continue their own portfolio as well.

6. What should or could be kept in the portfolios?

Essentially, the answer to this flows from the several aspects of the person’s mentoring and work responsibilities and experience, and their goals for learning in that context. Due to that, the answer changes, especially depending on whether it relates to the protege or to the mentor. See the charts below for suggested portfolio contents for persons in each role.


A. Their professional growth goals for improvement as a employee and as a protege

B. What they are learned as proteges about working with and benefiting from mentors

C. The applications in their workplace of the learning from working with their mentors

D. The protegesí discoveries about effective work strategies

E. Learning about any of these things gained from interactions with other employees


A. Their professional growth goals for improvement as a mentor

B. What they are learned as mentors about working with their proteges

C. What they have learned from interaction with the Mentor of Mentors

A. Their professional growth goals for improvement as an employee

C. The applications in their workplace of the learning from working as mentors

D. The mentorsí discoveries about effective work strategies

E. Learning about any of these things gained from interactions with other mentors