Designing A Mentoring Contract or Agreement

By Barry Sweeny, 2002

The ideas in this article are built on other articles titledDesigning A Mentoring Job Description”, and “Designing A Mentoring Application. If you have not already done so, I suggest you read them first before reading this one.

There are three issues to raise concerning Mentoring Contracts:

1. The Various Approaches to Developing a Mentor Contract
2. TheLabel “Contract”
3. The Use of A Mentoring “Oath”


1. APPROACHES

“Contracts” are documents that formalize what we agree to do, usually because they require the signatures of each of the parties to the agreement. Here are some suggestions for approaches:

A. The typical approach is a “mentor contract” which defines what mentors agree to do. Usually, these expectations are a simple restatement of the mentoring roles and tasks or job description. I think this is often too one sided, as if the mentors have no expectations of the program or district, and as if the mentoring relationship is NOT a partnership, which it must be.

B. A better approach is a ìmentorING “contract” defining what BOTH the mentor and the PROGRAM will do.

C. The best method is based on a wider definition of ìmentoringî and is a contract in which the program coordinator, mentor and PROTÉGÉ agree what they will do together and what each will do separately.


2. Regarding the label “contract”, my preference is not to use the word “contract” within a mentoring program, unless it refers to the employee’s collective bargaining contract. In other words, I would reserve that word to mean only one thing across the whole organization. If there are unions within your organization, you DO NOT want them getting worried about your program effecting “working conditions”.

Therefore, in organizations where “THE contract” is a union contract, a better term is “agreement”.

  • In part because it is a different term with a meaning that will not be confused with another different document, and…
  • In part because it sounds less institutional and more relationship-based.

3. Rather than use a mentoring contract or agreement alone, I would also suggest using a mentoring “Oath.

An oath is a promise and a sacred commitment.

A “Mentoring Oath” can be defined to include all parties to the mentoring process by making the language general enough to apply to all the parties. The mentor and protégé state the oath together as they must work together to each contribute to the growth of the other person, AND to ensure that they are an effective mentoring pair or team.

Thementor program leader also should take the oath and do so in front of the mentors and proteges. The oath applies to the coordinator since that person plays the role of Mentor of Mentors, and is responsible for the on-going training and support of the mentor. This suggests that the Mentor of Mentors should know and model the same mentoring roles and tasks and use the same mentoring strategies as do the mentors. That’s true, for how else would the mentors learn to be effective mentors, but through the example of the program leader(s)?

There is one other reason why I like the “oath” approach. Such an approach answers a question that few of us have every considered, but which I consider pretty important.

Let’s assume that you agree that your work is a “profession”. That suggests (and I agree) that mentoring is also a “profession” because it’s all about helping someone learn to do that work effectively.

My question is, “If what you do is a profession, what do the members of that profession PROFESS?”

In other words, is your profession like other professions who take an oath to clarify what they profess to be true, their ideals. I believe that mentoring should be based on such a profession of those ideals to which we aspire. Interesting idea, isn’t it? To write such an oath for mentoring would require some careful thinking about what your profession’s ideals are and about the ideal roles and tasks toward which we agree to work.

If your program has high expectations for the results of mentoring, defining and using documents such as mentoring job descriptions, agreements, and/or oaths will be an important way to clarify and focus on how to attain those expectations. Designing such documents is a complex but very critical and rewarding process. Its success may impact your entire program’s effectiveness because these documents set expectations for program participants. I hope this paper has given you what you need to get started. Good luck with your program.