Mentor Conduct Policy
The success and growth of The GEAR Alliance ("GEAR") and Up-A-Creek Robotics ("UACR") depends on the wisdom, talent and energy of its adult mentors, and their contributions are valued and greatly appreciated.
The role of the mentor is to not only provide essential technical expertise, but to also instruct students in collaboration, teamwork, and work ethic. Mentors teach these valuable lessons both directly and by modeling professional behavior themselves. The goal of this program is to encourage students to pursue STEM careers. Although building robots and winning competitions is great fun, it really is much “more than robots”.
Being identified as a mentor carries a variety of responsibilities. Official classification as a mentor is subject to the approval of the GEAR Board of Directors (BoD) or a GEAR-designated sub-committee. There are two mentor classifications, each with specific requirements:
- Be a high school graduate
- Be at least 18 years old if an FRC Team 1619 alumnus
- Be at least 21 years old if not an FRC Team 1619 alumnus
- Attends official meetings at least once every calendar month between September and April (inclusive)
- While attending team meetings, directly interacts with two or more students in an “obvious mentor-student relationship"
- Be fully registered with FIRST as a Team 1619 mentor with a passed background check
- Submit a fully executed Consent & Release Agreement
- Sign this Mentor Conduct Policy
- Read, understand, and abide by the FIRST Mentoring Guide and FIRST Youth Protection Program. Everything in that guide is incorporated into this policy by reference.
- Meets all requirements of a Junior Mentor
- Be at least 23 years old
The differentiation between the two mentor types is to help manage the responsibilities and maturing process as someone transitions from academia with student peers into a role of mentoring students. Unless otherwise indicated:
- "Mentor" refers specifically to a Mentor as defined above
- "Junior Mentor" refers specifically to a Junior Mentor as defined above
- "mentor" refers to both Junior Mentors and Mentors
"Mentor" at the beginning of a sentence or in a title refers to both Junior Mentors and Mentors unless indicated otherwise.
Ultimately, mentors should be guided by the practice of Gracious Professionalism:
Gracious Professionalism is part of the ethos of FIRST. It's a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.
With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended.
In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.
One important tenet in education is that if instruction is to be effective, students must first have a connection and positive relationship with the instructor. Students must feel safe, respected and valued before they can begin to learn. It is the responsibility of the mentor to initiate and form these relationships, memorize each student’s name, find something about them that provides for common connections, greet them, and provide for their safety.
As a student-centered organization, it is a mentor's role to create leadership and learning opportunities for students. It is not easy, particularly in the heat of competition, when so many competent mentors are available and willing to solve problems. Students must be allowed to make decisions, try new things and fail.
Mentors are both teachers and collaborators both with students and other mentors. Everyone should be treated with respect at all times. Behavior should model professional work environments (best practices), while ensuring that adult/student boundaries are not blurred.
Some professional work environments are quite negative, competitive and often filled with coarse and obscene language, and is not the behavior mentors should model, even if it can exist in the “real world”. The GEAR facility (and all locations where there are GEAR or FIRST-related events) should be open, welcoming, comforting, friendly, non-intimidating, and non-threatening. Safety is paramount at all times, and mentors must model safe behavior and ensure others do the same.
Mentor Engagement With Students
The following outlines how mentors are expected to engage and teach students:
- Foster an environment of learning and teaching by actively engaging students, and not merely doing the work without students and/or unproductively socializing with others.
- Provide students assignments/opportunities with sufficient detail, including due dates where applicable, to help them be successful.
- Make a concerted effort to involve students in each (team-related) task. Only consider working independently if there are no students available with which to work.
- Guide and direct students to perform tasks without “ordering” them or using a raised voice.
- Only building, fixing, or otherwise working on the robot in the following situations:
- Showing (i.e., teaching) one or more students how to perform the task.
- An action to be performed may not be safely performed by a student.
- After one or more students attempt to perform an action and still cannot complete the action (e.g., a part is stuck).
- Any time a threat to person or property requires immediate action or attention.
- Recognize that socialization is part of what makes the team, and ultimately a STEM career, seem attractive to students. Be patient with age-appropriate “silly” behavior if it is safe and helps students form connections with each other.
- When meeting with students offsite in the context of a team-related activity, the location should be family-friendly (erring on the conservative side). For instance, a bowling alley or restaurant would be acceptable, while a bar or other location that primarily serves alcohol would not.
Mentors are role models within the team and team ambassadors in the community and beyond. As such, mentors must:
- Represent the team in a positive and professional manner.
- Be a good example for appropriate student behavior.
- Treat all students fairly.
- Not have “favorites” when assigning work to students.
- Look for opportunities for growth in less skilled students and encourage highly skilled students to lead and teach.
- Respect others during meetings, including not talking when others are.
- Not use profanity, obscene gestures, or offensive language at any FIRST event, the GEAR facility, any GEAR event or activity, or in the presence of any student or parent.
- Not tell or share inappropriate jokes, stories or comments with students (also, do not “highlight” an inappropriate interpretation of a comment).
- Not touch a student, parent or mentor in an inappropriate way.
- Honor the commitment of parents by being welcoming, communicating frequently, honoring curfews, and releasing students on-time.
- Recognize that conflicts between mentors are inevitable and a valuable part of organization growth. Assume “positive intent” from fellow mentors and strive to respectfully resolve any conflicts that may arise (not in the presence of students).
- Protect and respect the team’s facility, tools, and equipment resources, including keeping them clean and organized.
- Be a good steward of team funds.
- Not consume alcohol or be inebriated in the presence of students.
- Not smoke, vape, or consume drugs (or be impaired by them) in the presence of students or at or in the immediate vicinity of any team-managed facility at any time.
Mentor Communication With Students
The following refers to anything related to the team (“team business”). Mentors are certainly free to communicate with students about non-team business on their own, but it is not in the context of GEAR and/or UACR and not in the context of a mentor/student relationship.
Mentors should communicate with students face to face only:
- During team meeting hours.
- At a GEAR facility or on site at a team-sanctioned activity.
- At competitions (including tangentially related facilities such as hotels and restaurants).
- At community service events.
- At any other team-sanctioned event.
Non-face to face communication must only be via the team Slack account or team-owned email accounts between 6:00 am and 10:00 pm, and if a student initiates contact with a mentor outside the above times and/or methods, the mentor can indicate to the student that a response will come during one of the above times and/or methods. Exceptions:
- Bona fide emergencies.
- Slack is clearly not available.
- Time is of the essence.
Open Slack communication is encouraged, with channels and group DMs (three or more people) being the primary routes. 1:1 DMs should be limited, but may be the appropriate route for certain communication, such as working on very specific tasks/questions or providing guidance/correction. All Slack content/data, including all communications via private channels and DMs, is subject to review by the GEAR Board.
For in-person communication between mentors and students, mentors must never be one-on-one with a student in a location where other people can not make visual contact. Specifically, one of the following minimum conditions must be met:
- 1 student + 1 Mentor + 1 Junior Mentor
- 1 student + 1 Mentor + 1 adult
- 2 students + 1 Mentor
The above minimum conditions apply when in a vehicle, as well.
The aforementioned in-person communication rule is for everyone’s safety and protection, and violating that rule has serious consequences:
- First time: mentor issued a written warning.
- Second time: mentor is dismissed from the team.
All data/content in communication systems managed by the team are subject to review by the GEAR Board. Example systems include, but are not limited to,
- Team Google accounts, including Gmail and Drive
- Team Slack accounts, including private channels and direct messages
- Team Instagram accounts, including private images
- Team Twitter accounts, including direct messages
- Team forms, including written documents and online sign-ups
Mandating Student Activities
The following are currently the only mandatory activities for a student in UACR:
Any other activity that will be designated as Mandatory must:
- Be approved by the GEAR BoD (or a GEAR-designated sub-committee).
- Be announced at the Student/Parent meeting at the start of the year. Additionally:
- Include the details, including dates, if applicable.
- Include the consequences for missing the activity. The consequences should be relevant and appropriate for the activity being missed.
Assigning Student Activities
To help balance efficient decision-making, activity-planning, task execution, coordinating large group logistics, preventing duplicated efforts, and maintaining alignment within the team, note that:
- Activities within the scope of a student’s sub-team can be assigned by any of the mentors or student leads for that sub-team, provided they are aligned and do not conflict with direction provided by GEAR and UACR leadership.
- Activities that would expand beyond a single sub-team must first be approved and agreed to by the other sub-teams that would be affected, and align and do not conflict with direction provided by GEAR and UACR leadership.
- Activities that would cover a majority of team members or otherwise have team-wide scope must be coordinated/approved by the student team leadership board and Lead Mentor (in consultation with others as needed), and align and do not conflict with direction provided by GEAR.
There are times when a subset of the team may want to get together outside of the normal/typical meeting hours and activities at other sites (not GEAR facility). There are two types of these extra-curricular activities, both of which are voluntary/optional on the part of the student:
A GEAR-sanctioned extra-curricular activity:
- Falls under the rules of UACR (including this Mentor Conduct Policy).
- Is covered under the Consent & Release Agreement that each student must have signed at the start of the season.
- Is attended by at least one UACR Mentor.
If someone proposes an extra-curricular activity that is meant to be GEAR-sanctioned, it must first be approved by the GEAR BoD (or a GEAR-designated sub-committee) before it can be announced. Anyone can propose such an activity, including mentors, students, and third-parties that are approved by GEAR.
A non-sanctioned extra-curricular activity:
- Is entirely unrelated to GEAR or UACR.
- Has no relationship between the event, and GEAR or UACR.
- Can be advertised or announced on a UACR official channel, including Slack (on the #random channel) or at a team meeting, with the requirement that the announcement must explicitly indicate the event is non-sanctioned.
Team members classifying an activity as non-sanctioned that otherwise would be reasonably construed as a GEAR-sanctioned extra-curricular activity to avoid the GEAR BoD not approving it is not permitted (Example: A sub-team wanting to meet socially at a bowling alley).
Regarding typical activities not considered extra-curricular:
- If they are social in nature, they must be open to all team members.
- If they are primarily relevant to only part of the team (e.g., a particular sub-team's purpose), they can be limited to the respective sub-team members.
- Generally speaking, mentors should work to plan activities to be at GEAR facility.
The security of the team members, property, and GEAR facility is imperative, and mentors are expected to:
- Consent to periodic background checks.
- Not let anyone borrow or otherwise use his/her personal key card to access the GEAR facility.
- Immediately notify the mentor in charge of GEAR facility access if the key card is lost (replacement cost is $10).
- Ensure all GEAR facility entrances are closed/locked and all non-automatic lights are turned off if the last mentor to leave.
- Not wedge or prop open any external doors at the GEAR facility.
- Let at least one other mentor know when leaving the GEAR facility.
The above Mentor Conduct Policy describes what is expected of a mentor for GEAR/UACR. By signing below, you are agreeing to abide by the policy described herein.