The International Square Dance Magazine
                         

CALLERLAB VIEWPOINTS
By
Mike Seastrom

The Value of Mentoring

Mentoring has been part of our square dance activity since the dance began. Dances have been passed down from generation to generation and from place to place. Callers have passed on their little books and written dance material to future callers. Dance leaders have written job descriptions and helped each other lead clubs and associations, and “angels” have encouraged and helped newer dancers for many years.

Most of our square dance mentoring has been done without really thinking about it. It’s been just one person helping another. It’s also been done as a way of passing the torch and keeping things going. Mentoring also takes place in the business world, health professions, and even in church groups and service organizations. In recent years, mentoring has become more organized and understood by many experts to be a key to success for careers, corporations, and organizations all over the globe.

Maybe it’s time to really make an effort (in this cherished dance activity of ours) to put mentoring in “over-drive”. It’s time to organize it, teach it, and grow our activity as well as the number of our leaders, so we can really pass all this fun and fellowship on to future generations.

Each square dance club can develop a program where every new dancer or new dancer couple has one experienced club dancer or couple to support and guide them during their time in the new dancer program; and more importantly, as they make the transition from class to club. I know this has been done in successful clubs for many years.

I’m not personally aware of articles or written material outlining a program for successful new dancer mentoring, but I’ve seen material on how to be a good “angel”. If anyone is aware of written information or can put something down in writing about a new dancer mentoring program, I would be pleased to make it more available (either personally or through CALLERLAB) to any club or group running a new dancer program or workshop. Send the written information to mikecaller@aol.com or to callerlab@aol.com.

The United Square Dancers of America has written information about club activities and officer duties on their website, and they have been a terrific resource over the years. You can find this information on their website at www.usda.org.

CALLERLAB also has great information available for square dance clubs in the “Winning Ways” section on their website at www.callerlab.org. Callers have had this website as an amazing resource for a long time.

I know that personal mentoring of callers and dance leaders by their counterparts has taken place for many years. Many of us that have been around for a while have had a treasure of information passed on to us in the form of stories, challenges, and even requests to speak on panels and do seminars that made us just plain do the research to find the information that our mentors wanted us to know.

CALLERLAB has a terrific resource called “Mentoring Guidelines” prepared by many great minds on the Caller Training Committee. It is available for reading or downloading on the CALLERLAB website as noted above, and I strongly recommend all callers read and be knowledgeable about this valuable material on calling. It is a wonderful resource.

Many of us have mentored others in small ways and for short periods of time, while some have spent years helping others to be better at calling, cueing, or leading. This is the folk part of our activity that I hope we never lose. This unselfish sharing of our material and knowledge has always helped to make our activity better and has given so many of us some of the most cherished and touching memories. This is the stuff that keeps us being involved and coming back for more.

The mentoring that needs more organizing is in our clubs and organizations. The first place would be in every square dance club. Every club officer, board member, or person with a particular job should make finding and mentoring their replacement the third thing they do when they take over the job. The first would be to learn their job, the second thing is to do their job, and the third thing is to find and mentor the person or couple that will replace them.

One of the things that some of our best club leaders have failed miserably at over the years is to find and mentor their replacements. Some clubs have actually folded because no one will step up and run the club. It still happens today. If we made mentoring our replacement one of the most important tasks of our job, this would have a lot less chance of happening. If you’re a leader or have even the smallest job in your club, who are you mentoring?

The same thing could be said for jobs and positions in dancer and caller associations. Before the halfway point in your term is over, find and mentor your replacement. If we all made this a top priority in every position or job we were elected or appointed to, our organizations would run more smoothly and successfully. Every president or head of a group could make this challenge to his or her officers right now. Think how much more smoothly things would run. If there is more than one person or couple to mentor, find a job or task for each of them or have them be co-officers and share the job.

In a professional organization I belong to, I was asked several years ago to mentor a new member. I had a great time, learned a lot myself, and received so much personal satisfaction in helping a new doctor that it surprised me. It took very little of my time, but I know it helped the doctor I mentored, and we’ll stay good friends and colleagues for years to come.

The CALLERLAB Board of Governors has had a mentoring program for new Board members over the years and, although everyone mentors a little differently, the potential benefit can be very powerful and make a new member very effective very early in their tenure. This is a “win-win” for everyone.

If you’re a leader of a club or organization and you don’t currently have a mentoring program, seriously consider starting one. Establish some guidelines that are applicable for your group and build this program. It will strengthen your group and give immeasurable help to your members. It can also go a long way in creating bonds of respect and friendship between the participants.

If you have just taken a position of leadership in a group, are a new caller or are considering taking up calling, find a mentor. It’s important for a new caller to also attend a good caller’s school, but finding one or more mentors will be absolutely invaluable. Having more that one mentor is also a great benefit. Information, attitudes, and opinions vary, and having a different perspective can be more than helpful in your quest for knowledge.
Although mentoring has been with us for years, if it’s not currently a planned part of what your club or organization is doing, make it happen. Its value will go a long way in growing your group and our activity for years and years to come. Mentoring is also fun!

Fun set to music!