Developing a Culture of Change through Mentoring

by Carol Riley


Dr. Carol Riley, National Association of Elementary School Principals, IMA board of directors

Dr. Carol Riley, National Association of Elementary School Principals, IMA board of directors

If the change process is accepted freely and fully in a mentoring relationship, it can determine the rate and success of the mentees’ growth and development.

Understanding change theory is critical to a successful mentoring process. it applies to not only mentors, who must have a core understanding of personal change in adults, but also to the mentees, who must embrace change professionally and personally. Mentees will then be able to apply the characteristics of change to develop a strong positive culture in their organization.

So What is Theory of Change?

In our context of developing a culture of mentoring, it refers to a pathway of steps to advance short or long term goals, for example, to expand a mentees’ thinking or to move an organization to improve through a complex web of activities.

The NAESP Mentor Program coaches reflect on change in their Professional Learning Community as well as on the personal commitment that mentors must have to understand this theory as it applies to organizational development. They agree that great leaders find the best way to encourage discussion, reflection, and a deeper level of thinking begins with a simple common message. One approach for introducing the concept of change is through the use of a short video called Change is Good…You Go First which can accessed through www.beliefnet.com website. The NAESP coaches identified discussion points for embracing change individually and organizationally through the mentoring process.

The website states, “Inspiring your team to embrace change is what Change is Good…You Go First is all about. Authors, Mac Anderson and Tom Feltenstein, explain that either we manage change or it manages us. However, in the long run, sameness is the fast track to mediocrity. And mediocre companies won’t survive. Change is Good…You Go First offers leaders ways to inspire change at their organizations”.

Characteristics of Successful Implementation of the Change Process

  1. Establish a common understanding of change between the mentor and mentee. Begin with an open and free exchange about personal perceptions of ‘change’. What beliefs must someone embrace to be open to change? What      does it mean to each member of a team? Is there a common language that everyone can use? Coach Tina Acker from Portland, Oregon plans on achieving a common language by using the video, Change is Good, to generate ideas and a common vision for her staff. Ms. Acker believes that it is important to develop a clear understanding of the concept of change. She states, “I am looking forward to exploring change with my staff. We are currently facing a few changes that will not be easy. We must come together as a team to implement change.” All organizations go through periods of small continuous changes and then periods of extreme change that require a common language and strong personal beliefs.
  2. Gain a collective commitment. Coach Stephanie Daugherty from Indiana states that learning together and engaging in a common goal are important to effectively implement change in an organization. The leader must have ‘buy-in’ from all stakeholders to create a culture of shared leadership. The quality of being dedicated to a cause, in this case, change, can make the difference between success and mediocrity in instituting improvements. Sticking to the vision and staying connected are the keys as shared by Coach Myra Bugbee from Florida.
  3. Wisdom comes from listening, not speaking. When engaging staff in the change process, a leader must articulate by their body language, eye contact, and other listening skills their commitment to the process. Listen and silent have the same letters as New York Coach Rachelle Salerno reminds us. Encouraging informal leadership, keeping focused, developing an open culture to accept all opinions, and staying positive can be achieved with listening and responding with an inspirational attitude. The video shares that the more ideas you get, the better the selected course of action will be. NAESP Board of Director and Coach Melissa Patschke describes the climate as inclusive and open minded with a mentee continuously developing their observational skills. Practicing scenarios with a mentee that require intentional listening and interpretation of interactions amongst and between team members help to build leadership.
  4. Build a deep relationship around the moral purpose. A mentor serves their mentee well at one level by encouraging them to create a circle of professional friends and colleagues to build a ‘circle of support’. Another level is to clearly identify a moral purpose to which each mentee and each organization member commits themselves. What does the our organization stand for? Is there a connectedness that is felt by each conversation and action supporting the common vision? Is there follow-through to goal setting and decision-making that clearly represents the purpose of why each person comes to work each day? Professional relationships that are built on common ground are long lasting and become institutionalized in developing a positive culture.
  5. Model the change as a leader. As an organizational leader a mentee demonstrates the characteristics that contribute to the change process. A mentor can help the mentee model reflection and feedback, share ideas that work well, and encourage collaboration that develops a mentality of change in the organization’s culture. Do not forget to celebrate accomplishments! Coach Kathleen Sciarappa from New Hampshire states, “A leader must champion all the gifts the staff brings. There are hundreds, if not  thousands, of approaches and the leader honors all because the organization grows as ALL ideas are explored.”

Mentors, who are immersed in their own learning, work together to ensure they stay current on the theory and practice of mentoring, and have a grounded knowledge of adult learning will successfully develop mentees, who understand and embrace change for a culture for continuous improvement.