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Starting a Mentoring Program 
By Bob Rebach 

Maybe you’ve heard that providing a mentor to new instructors can strengthen and unify your staff and program. Or you might have heard that, with a mentor’s help, training and acclimating instructors new to your facility will be faster and smoother. Well, those things are true. So if at any time you’ve wondered how you can start a program at your facility, here are the steps to follow:

Decide why you want a mentor program. Your program can be formal or informal. A formal program has mandatory participation; an informal program is voluntary. Some flexibility is also possible; your program could be mandatory for some and voluntary for others.

Your program can focus on training just the newly hired, newly certified instructor, or it can be for any instructor new to your facility, regardless of experience. The program can also be used as a way for prospective instructors, of any experience level, to get a place on your substitutes list, as most clubs look to their subs when filling instructor openings. Whatever decision you make, it’s important to remember the goal of the program is to integrate new instructors into your program.

Before proceeding to the next step, it is import to make sure you have the backing and support of the club’s ownership or management. This is an essential ingredient for a successful program. If you’ve decided why you want a mentoring program, you probably have put enough time into the framework of your program to make a presentation of your idea. If you approach your owner or manager before you’ve completed the first step, you may get approval, but you may also get a lot of questions that you don’t have answer for yet.

Evaluate your instructors. Before you can start mentoring new instructors, you need to know what’s going on with your current instructors. Find out what’s going on in your classes. The time to weed out bad practices is before you start a mentoring program. What are the instructors doing and a saying to the members? If, as the program manager, you aren’t a certified Spinning® instructor, you should get certified so that you know how the program is supposed to be run.

Hopefully instructor evaluations are something you are already doing on a regular basis anyway, but if you aren’t, now is the time to start. Use the Spinning Instructor Performance Review to evaluate the important health, safety and motivational qualities that make a great instructor.

Create a program manual that spells out what is expected of your instructors. Cover the skills an instructor needs to master and policies specific to your facility. Include a schedule for mentor/mentee training and a timetable for completing the program. Everyone involved should know the objective of the program. Mentoring is not a replication of Spinning Instructor Orientation; rather it is a way to help the new instructor learn how to implement the program in actual classroom situations.

Pick your mentors. Being a mentor should be voluntary. Not everyone wants to mentor and not everyone does it well. Just because someone is experienced and knowledgeable does not mean that they will be a good mentor.

Who makes a good mentor? A mentor should be someone that a new instructor can relate to easily. Look for people who are effective at communicating with a number of different personality types. People who are generally open to helping others are better candidates than those who like to gripe and complain. The ideal mentor is someone who is well respected at your facility by members as well as other instructors.

While it should go without saying, I’ll say it anyway, mentors should be well versed in the Spinning program, especially in the area of contraindicated behavior. Mentors should also know club policy for disruptive members in class, such as late comers to class, talkers, members who wear mp3 players and anything else that might pop up. A mentor should not be the direct supervisor of their mentee.

Match mentor and mentee. Take into consideration factors such as age and experience when pairing people. It might be fine for the twenty-something person to mentor an entry-level employee. However, being paired with a twenty-something might be awkward for an experienced instructor new to your facility. The actual age difference of the employees might be irrelevant, but disparity in life experience could hinder the effectiveness of the relationship. Mentors should be mindful that the relationship is primarily for the mentee’s benefit. If the mentee is uncomfortable or doesn’t feel that the mentor is meeting their needs, an option to find a new mentor should be available.

How it might work. This is just one example of how a mentoring program can be implemented. The specifics of each clubs’ program will vary depending on the club’s needs.

A small club decides to start a mentor program that all new instructors hired will go through. The club will need only two or three mentors because they may only have one or two new instructors at any given time.

Mentees are told they must attend at least one class per week taught by their mentor. Mentor and mentee must meet after class for a question and answer session, and once during the week so the mentee can watch the mentor build a profile for the next week’s class. This meeting should include putting the music to the profile and could include how to use mixing software. In addition, the club requires mentees to take additional classes with other instructors to get more saddle time. The club decides that this observational period should last at least six weeks.

After the observational period, mentor and mentee co-teach one class a week for a month. With each class, the mentee takes over more and more. After each class, the mentor and mentee meet to discuss the class. During this time, the mentee should build the profile for the co-teaching classes with the supervision of the mentor. After a month of co-teaching, the mentor should have a feel for whether the mentee is ready to teach solo. If the mentee is ready, the mentor should sit in on the classes, but sit in the back of the room. When the mentor is satisfied that the mentee is ready, he or she must audition with the program director.

If the mentee isn’t ready to teach solo, there are a couple of intermediary steps the mentor can take. The mentor can put together a mock class, made up of instructors or experienced members. Another option is for the mentee to teach a class just for the mentor. This allows the mentor to address any issue during the course of the class. The last option is to return to co-teaching until the mentee feels they are ready to solo.

The mentor/mentee relationship will probably last beyond the structure of your program, but the program ends officially when the mentee becomes a solo instructor. At the end of the program, the mentor and mentee should fill out an evaluation of the program to gauge how the program fulfills the participants’ needs.

Bob Rebach is a STAR 3 instructor who has been teaching for over five years. He lives and teaches in New Jersey and he will happily respond to comments or question at SpinBob@optonline.net. Learn about finding a mentor and developing a mentoring program at your club by listening to Bob's interview on the Indoor Cycle Instructor Podcast.

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