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Volume 24, Number 1
January/February 2008

A Guide on the Side

Mentors help new leaders prepare for life in the principal's office


For Terrence Carter, the principal of Clara Barton Elementary School in Chicago, Jarvis Sanford made it a little less lonely at the top.

Sanford is the principal of Dodge Renaissance Academy in Chicago, which bills itself as a laboratory school for the training of future school leaders. Before becoming principal at Barton, Carter spent a year as a “principal-in-residence,” or apprentice principal, at Dodge, where he implemented a literacy curriculum, helped draw up the budget, and participated in meetings with teachers, among other activities. He also met regularly with Sanford to reflect on the principalship. Now, three years later, the two continue to talk frequently about issues that arise in their schools.

“The mentoring I received gave me the fortitude to know what I am doing and if it is correct or not,” Carter says. “I’m a better principal because of that experience.”

Carter’s experience is becoming more and more common. While mentoring for novice teachers has been a growing trend for over 20 years, mentoring for preservice and in-service principals is a relatively new idea. According to a 2007 study by The Wallace Foundation, Getting Principal Mentoring Right: Lessons from the Field, mentoring programs for principals were rare as recently as 2000. Now about half the states have adopted mentoring requirements for new principals. Many alternative principal-preparation programs emphasize mentorship experiences, and a number of professional organizations, such as the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, have initiated programs to train experienced principals to serve as mentors for their novice colleagues.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

L. Darling-Hammond, M. LaPointe, D. Meyerson, and M. Orr. Preparing School Leaders for a Changing World: Lessons from Exemplary Leadership Development Programs. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, Stanford Educational Leadership Institute, 2007.

A. Levine. Educating School Leaders. New York: The Education Schools Project, 2005.

Southern Regional Education Board. Good Principals Aren’t Born—They’re Mentored. Atlanta: Southern Regional Education Board, 2007.

The Wallace Foundation. Getting Principal Mentoring Right: Lessons from the Field. New York: Author, 2007.