So You Want to be a Mentor

Not long ago I had the pleasure of partaking in another outstanding and informative sermon from Pastor Scott Brown at the Colts Neck, NJ, Reformed Church. The concept of shared knowledge was at the heart of his message to our flock. One of the primary...

As a New York Football Giant's fan since 1955, many have been the disappointments along the way. However, it has been my experience that the less you prepare, the more likely things are to go in a direction which is not in your best interest. Conversely, the harder you worker, the luckier you seem to be. That is how I approached my studies for promotion in the Newark Fire Department. When I chose to study hard, I succeeded. When I did not, well, there's a story for another time.

If you fail to take charge of the planning for your future, you will be blown about like the leaves which are covering my yard as I write these words. Bob Dylan spoke of this phenomenon when he sang the lyric which told my generation that, "…the answer my friend is blown' in the wind." It is my belief that he was suggesting that the future is an uncertain commodity at best. But if you fail to recognize this, you move forward at your own peril.

Maybe I am just getting a bit sentimental as I approach the day when I can sign up for Social Security and Medicare. Maybe I am looking to help the generations which will follow to learn from the mistakes I have made over the past several decades. Which ever it might be, I am here to say that a lot of future errors might be prevented by an honest sharing of past successes and failures.

One of the definitions of experience that I have studied tells us that the more we screw up the greater will be the experience we bring to bear on future matters. Of course this will only work if the error doesn't kill us and we are able to keep good notes of what happened. Either way, you need to set up a conscious mechanism for passing down the shared experience of your more senior members to your newer members. Let me suggest that if you and your department do not engage in some form of preparation for the coming future, you and your associates will be blown about the future much like the leaves which fall each year.

Far too many among us leave things to chance. Let me suggest that one of the best things you and your department can do to avoid the chaos of chance is to create a mentorship program. While some may choose to call it a coaching program, I leave the choice of the name to you and your department. The key is to match up your experienced veterans with your eager new folks.

Derived from the Greek word mythology, the word mentor means to act as an adviser, role model, counselor, tutor and/or teacher. It has been my experience that adults learn best when they can combine the theory found in books with a certain amount of practice in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. However, all new firefighting personnel will require support and guidance from their mentor.

Have you ever stopped to think how you got where you are today? I sure hope that you do not think you got where you are today all by your lonesome. Each of us is a product of our own endeavors and the efforts of the people around us who thought enough of us to share their wisdom and experience with us. It was these fine folks who saw us at work and the helped us to round off the rough edges of our own mistakes.

Think back to those people who cared about you. Did they ask questions of you? Did they encourage you to ask questions of them? You bet they did. They provided knowledge and then encouraged an interaction with you that would allow for the logical development of an understanding of the 'how and why' of performing your job within the fire department. As you learned more they saw that and provided more. They always seemed to encourage you to be inquisitive.

If you choose to become a mentor you will be assessed on the value of what you impart to others. But how can you know if your efforts are paying positive dividends? What are some of the ways in which effective mentoring can be measured or observed? Here are a few:

  • The mentor displays a sincere interest in student learning.
  • The mentor treats their student as an individual.
  • They recognize the firefighter's stage of learning.
  • They establish a learning environment.
  • They develop an understanding of the firefighter's learning needs.
  • Learning goals are developed with and for the new firefighter.
  • The mentor includes the new firefighter in the department team.
  • The mentor explains what is being done and why.
  • The mentor demonstrates the necessary techniques and skills.
  • They work to help the new firefighter to understand their role in the fire department.
  • They balance practical lessons with textbook knowledge.
  • The mentor assists the new firefighter in evaluating his or her learning experience.