How To Become A
Great Mentor

The mentor’s guide to facilitating effective learning relationships

Ready To Mentor?


“The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships (2nd Ed.),” by Lois J. Zachary, is an effective resource to frame how to serve as a mentor with #ICANHELP.

Zachary describes four predictable phases for mentoring:

  1. Preparing
  2. Negotiating
  3. Enabling growth
  4. Coming to closure

Let's go ahead and break down all four of these phases to help get a better grasp as to what they mean and how they will help you become the best mentor you can be.


In the preparation phase, research your student mentee (try LinkedIn), list your personal strengths and areas for improvement, and carefully consider your own bandwidth. Consider the following questions:

  • What are your goals as a mentor? Do you have set goals if you are participating in an established program?
  • How will you be prepared to support a student mentee?
  • Do you know your student mentee’s goals?
  • How can you and your studentmentee build a good rapport? Have a list of questions or topics to get started.


The negotiating phase centers around establishing your mentor/mentee relationship, creating learning goals, developing a plan to reach those goals. During the first meeting:

  • Discuss goals (make a to-do list together if not provided by #ICANHELP)
  • Define roles and expectations (communication, frequency of meetings, team responsibilities)
  • Create a safe space while also setting an expectation for challenge and support
  • Share your previous mentoring experiences
  • Ask your student mentees to articulate their career vision and plan
  • Discuss your student mentees’ preferred learning styles

In particular, the “Common Mentoring Ground Rules” chart (Zachary, p. 139) is a great place to start in terms of framing and setting expectations (see below).


  • Meetings will begin & end on time
  • We will manage our time well and use agendas to keep on task
  • We will put interruptions aside


  • Regular feedback will be an expectation

Role Expectations

  • Active participation from each of us
  • Each will keep a mentoring journal to reflect on our experiences
  • We will honor each other’s time, expertise, and experience


  • Our communication is open, candid, and direct
  • We will respect our differences and learn from them

Stumbling Blocks

  • If we come upon an obstacle, we will address it immediately


  • In the event our relationship doesn’t work out, we will have a closure conversation and use it as a learning opportunity
  • We will conclude our mentoring relationship at an agreed-upon time and use the time to reflect on our growth and learning

Enabling Growth

Enabling growth is considered the “work phase” of the relationship when most of the meetings occur. The mentor’s role is to “facilitate learning by establishing and maintaining an open and affirming learning climate and providing thoughtful, timely, candid and constructive feedback” (pg. 89). Consider the following elements:

  • Revisiting your goals and evaluate your progress
  • Offering feedback – are you comfortable with constructive feedback? The SBI Feedback Tool might help if this is a skill you would like to build.

Coming To A Close

The coming to closure phase is important as it is an opportunity for both you and the student mentee to recognize and celebrate what you have learned and how you have grown and developed. Consider these questions:

  • Would you consider your time together a success? Why or why not? How will you learn from this and apply it to future mentorship relationships?
  • Will you stay in touch? How often? Be honest about your own commitment ability.
  • Are there opportunities for you to offer feedback if you are part of an established program?

Managing Challenges and Potential Obstacles in Mentoring

 No matter how many things you have in common with another person, forming a trusted relationship takes time (especially with students). If your first few meetings are a little awkward, that’s completely normal as everyone is still feeling out and establishing boundaries and expectations for the mentor/mentee relationship. 

Keep in mind the scope and boundaries of the help you can offer your mentees. You aren’t expected to be a therapist or provide lessons or support outside of your identified areas of expertise. Have patience, give it some time, and be open and honest with your student mentees. 

But even with the best tools and intentions, you and your mentees might not click—and that’s ok. Sometimes, it’s just not a great match. (And sometimes, schedules change or unexpected roadblocks or life events come up, and you aren’t able to follow through on your commitment.) 

If that happens, connect with Executive Director Kim Karr to find the best way forward.

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