Ethics and Mentoring

Mentoring usually means the pairing of an experienced individual within a profession and another individual who wants to learn more about their chosen profession. A healthy mentoring relationship is dynamic and flexible.

The mentor needs to be well aware of his institution’s code of conduct. The mentor should read and explore professional codes of ethics. For example the one by the American Psychological Association (see: APA Mentoring and ethics) and the one of their national teacher association. The mentor needs to continuously explore and reflect on his own ethical values and how they may influence decisions in his mentoring practice. The mentor needs to be aware of the changing landscape of accepted behaviours. The contracting or co-construction of normative guidelines, between a mentor and mentee is a powerful tool for reflecting together on values and boundaries, and to promote ethical thinking.

In most professions a set of values and ethics determine the ethical professional conduct, and become a part of the professional identity.

In the NAIP community of mentoring practitioners, we have a diverse group of people: some with academic background, teachers, individuals from the music industry, theatre, art and dance world, working within different universities and diverse cultural communities.

The mentor needs to take responsibility for the power he holds and never use it abusively over others more vulnerable. An open and clear reporting structure for any misuse of power must be in place.  


The  #metoo revelation as shed light on how widespread and deeply rooted the problem sexual harassment and misconduct is at all levels of our society and within many professional fields. There seem to be no exceptions. Within the film and music industry, in politics, the field of media, healthcare and education, thousands of stories of misuse of power have surfaced. Yet even professional fields with the most developed and elaborate code of professional ethics like the medical field, “the problem is a least as bad in medicine as elsewhere” (Reshma, 2018). So if a developed and well thought out code of ethics does not seem to prevent this deep routed pervasive behaviour, what can we as practitioners of mentoring do to address the issue? What can we learn from our experience and what tools are there that might help us create a safe and fruitful environment for learning, development and growth?

One might say that the practice of mentoring lies between teaching; where expertise is shared, and coaching; where the mentor facilitates the mentee in finding his own solutions. So ethics of teaching, mentoring and coaching all apply in the mentor mentee relationship within higher arts and music education. While there are well developed ethical standards of professional practice in the field of teaching and psychology , the rising field of coaching remains unregulated and codes of ethics are primarily self-imposed. Although coaching is not yet seen as a legitimate stand alone business, “several coaching bodies have issued codes of ethical practice which coaches can follow should they choose to” (Iordanou, I., Hawley and Iordanou, C. 2017).

Mentoring practitioners are working within the code of conduct set by their institution. Many arts institutions have recently taken action to set new codes of behaviour in the light of the #MeToo Revolution, and these are worth taking a look at. See for example Bullying, Harassment and Unwanted Sexual Attention Policy set by the Royal Court Theater in London.

However, a generalised code of ethics can not guarantee a solution of every ethical issue that may arise in the mentoring situation. A code of ethics is meant to serve as a guideline to moral thinking but cannot be customised due to the idiosyncrasy of communities of practitioners. But emphasis should be made on constant and continuous exploration of ethical values and concerns and how they may impact the mentoring-coaching relationship. (Iordanou, I., Hawley and Iordanou, C. 2017).

The mentor uses a variety of skills in his practice many of which derive from coaching practice. While the coaching practice may be a young and emerging profession and has still not has the same academic scrutiny as other older and more developed professional fields, its methods may have something to offer. The contracting that takes place at the beginning of a coaching relationship offers a platform for discussing ethics and values useful for mentoring relationships. The the code of ethics becomes a tool open for discussion and development.

Code of conduct is an agreement of rules of behaviour for a group or an organisation. Code of ethics is an agreement of ethical standards for a profession or a business as defined by the Collins English Dictionary.

Dilemmas - Mentoring the mentor

Here the reader finds a list of cases that came up from a field of practice by mentors in higher arts education. You will find no straight solutions for answers solving those dilemmas, but questions that may help the mentor. This is an example of what peer-mentoring might looks like, but perhaps this might help a mentee as well.


The student I’m mentoring has a huge conflict with a colleague of mine who happens to be a good friend. That colleague is going through a difficult time privately.

Mentoring questions:

  • How would you define loyalty in this case?

  • What would happen if you share private information about your colleague with the student?

  • Did you discuss the boundaries of the dialogic space, it’s topics and areas of conversation with the mentee at the start of the work?


The student I’m mentoring may have what looks like a psychiatric health problem. Her/his economic situation is very fragile and her/his minimalistic health insurance would not cover for any treatment.

Mentoring questions:

  • Does the school have a counsellor for students with such problems?

  • Does the school have any means to support students in frail economic circumstances?

  • How can the mentee be empowered to deal with these issues him/herself?

  • What would give the mentee agency?


My institution is overcrowded and cannot offer me a quiet and suitable room for mentoring. So I plan my mentoring sessions elsewhere, always in public space. Is this OK?

Mentoring questions:

  • Is a closed private studio with no windows in the school building more appropriate as a safe environment for mentoring than meeting in public space?

  • What is wrong about meeting in public space?

  • What can be wrong with meeting the student in a more private space?

  • What are the codes of conduct in your institution?

  • What narrative can legitimate your move to suggest moving to a public space?

A student playing an instrument that requires many hours of daily practice, expressed to me that she hopes to have a family with children and can still combine being a parent with a successful career as performing artist. She expects me to give her examples of other musicians in similar situations.

Mentoring questions:

  • Why should you be the one giving those examples?

  • What is the underlying question? Is this student asking for your consent to make a very important personal choice?

  • Would looking at ‘best cases and ‘worst cases’  be helpful?

  • What defines ‘a successful career’?


This student whose mentor I am is almost always late or does not appear at all for our sessions. What should I do?

Mentoring questions:

  • What was the agreement of your mentoring relation?

  • What meaning do you give to her/his behaviour?


When the weather gets nice, I often suggest the students I’m mentoring to go outside the building. Since we have a beautiful yard with big trees in the middle of the campus, we often end up sitting on the lawn. I am not sure if it is appropriate to see students and teachers in this more informal setting. And what do other teachers/colleagues think when they see me with students in the yard? What do they think about my work?

Mentoring questions:

  • We might ask the question of where the idea of separating students by age and closing the groups of in a classroom comes from?

  • What is the importance of your colleagues impressions seeing you sitting on the lawn with a student?

  • What narrative can legitimate your move to suggest moving outside the building?


A student feels unhappy in the school environment. My thoughts are that it will be better for the student that we meet outside the school. My dilemma is my awareness that this may not be appropriate, not correct of me to suggest a meeting outside the school.

Mentoring questions:

  • What is the school policy and why?

  • With so many examples of abuse, how would you define a safe environment for mentoring outside a school?


A student is very unstable emotionally with extremes in behavior. This affects the mentoring process a lot. It is my impression that the student needs professional help from another discipline. How do I address this?

Mentoring questions:

  • Have the boundaries and limits of your mentoring relationship been set in an agreement? If so, can you refer to those in a conversation?

  • Is there a student counselor in your institution that you can refer to?

  • What could happen if you confront your student with how you define your limits as a mentor?


The management of my school has specific expectations from mentoring. They expect me to use the mentoring sessions for fixing study problems and checking if students are still well on track with their individual study program:

Mentoring questions:

  • How do you define mentoring yourself?

  • What can you do to clarify the meaning of mentoring to the management?

  • What narrative can legitimate your not meeting those managerial expectations and commit to the more open undefined nature?


We educate students to become independent artists and the agents of their own learning agenda. Yet the industry is looking for obedient workers: shut up and sing!

Mentoring questions:

  • How did you become independent as an artist?

  • How do you see the values of the ‘industry’?


A clear problem from the mentee’s perspective could quickly get solved by instructions from me as the mentor but letting the mentee finding her/his own solution to the problem takes more time and may come too late. What to do?

Mentoring questions:

  • How do you see your responsibility for the mentoring process?

  • Is helping to fix/solving problems of the mentee contradictory to being a mentor?


Are there grounds for no longer being the mentor of a student?

Mentoring questions:

  • What are the principles and ethics of mentoring in your institution?

  • What is settled in the agreement for mentoring with the student?


Me-flection as opposed to reflection. How to deal with narcissistic aspects in the behavior of the student you are mentoring?

Mentoring questions:

  • Are there narcissistic elements in your own practice and if so, how do they appear?

  • As we are preaching student centered education, what is wrong with students totally focused to be the centre of their universe of learning?

  • How can your own understanding of narcissism help you to understand the behavior of the student?


As a mentor, you get personally involved with a student. What are the boundaries?

Mentoring questions:

  • How do you see your involvement is in the interest of your student?

  • What do you see as boundaries yourself?

  • What are the institutional boundaries and how do you relate to them?


The student is, as it appears, not wanting to see the truth about him/herself and does not want to act accordingly. What to do?

Mentoring questions:

  • Isn’t that what the core business of mentoring is about?

  • What should you not do?

  • What (or who) defines ‘truth’? Do you mean ‘reality’?

  • Who’s truth are we talking about?

  • What does the mentoring approach tell you to do?

  • What would be useful questions to challenge the student and possibly help him be more realistic about himself?


As a mentor, I sometimes feel that my shared exploration together with the mentee is a disguised way of following my personal agenda. I ask questions based on trying out my own research. It feels more like exploitation than exploration. I feel guilty. Is this bad mentoring?

Mentoring questions:

  • Why don’t you be clear about this in your communication with the mentee? Maybe it does not have to be an issue? You could perhaps ask for consent as well.


As a mentor, I get a lot of critical comments from my music education colleagues who are not mentors. They tell me mentoring is a waste of time and it keeps students from practising their instrument which is much more important they say. Are they right?

Mentoring questions:

  • In what way can you help your colleagues in becoming aware that in today’s professional environment practicing the instrument is only one aspect of professional practice and that there are many more roles to perform for the artist, and that mentoring is a good place to connect these roles and to create a shared coherent narrative that provides meaning and relevance for the mentee?  

Potential Traps in Mentor Relationships.

Following are some potential dangers that were identified and discussed at the working group meetings and with a visiting clinical psychologist, Guðbjörg Daníelsdóttir.

Guðbjörg stated that before talking about potential traps in mentor relationships, she wanted to say that she really liked the idea of mentoring.  She felt that there was really no better method for motivating art students’ ambitions. Also that such personal attention and caring environment is not found in many areas of education. She said that there was heart in mentoring that she was thankful for.  

She said however that this could be a slippery slope and mentoring needed to be entered in with great awareness.

We identified a few potential traps, that are based on personal experiences. Some are real examples, others are problems we could imagine based on the nature of the mentoring relationship.  In therapy it might be easier to set boundaries, since it is more of a one way relationship and self-disclosure of the therapist is usually very limited. The therapeutic relationship does usually take place within a professional setting and the goals are to work with defined problems following an evidence based protocol.  Still, some of the problems listed here could also apply to the relationship between therapist and client.

It is always important to set boundaries but sometimes it is hard to know where and how to do this.

Mentor’s potential traps:

  • Being too dominant, always knowing best.

  • Solving problems and saving the mentee instead of cultivating independence of the mentee.

  • Taking too much responsibility for the well-being and performance of the mentee.

  • Stepping over the boundaries between mentoring and therapy.

  • Taking ,,bad“ performance of the mentee personally, showing disappointment or anger because of too much personal involvement.

  • Being too personal, sharing his or her problems with the mentee and seeking advice.

  • Getting too involved in the personal problems of the mentee.

  • Falling in love with the mentee (Young, Cady & Foxon, 2006).

  • Showing jealousy when their mentees outshine them.

  • Always giving the mentee high grades, a favour to a friend.

  • Being narcissistic or having other personality issues that do make him or her unfit to understand or be considerate of the needs of the mentee.

Mentee’s potential traps:

  • Seeing the mentor as a guru who has all the ,,right“ answers.

  • Being overly dependent on the mentor, needing micromanagement.

  • Needing to please the mentor, being afraid of letting him/her down.

  • Being afraid of disagreeing with the mentor or asking advice from other teachers.

  • Being in a passive role of receiving wisdom from the mentor and not taking responsibility for his or her development.

  • Falling in love with the mentor.

  • Seeing the mentor as a therapist and wanting him to solve personal problems

Mentoring agreement

It is a matter for each institution to decide whether to use a template for a mentoring agreement or not. Many institutions already have such a template available. It can be useful to take a look at them and even to follow a template. Another way might be for the mentor and mentee to design a contract from scratch and check afterwards by looking a template to see if anything may be missing that the mentor and mentee find important.

There are many templates and formats available for drafting an agreement at the beginning of a mentoring relationship. A simple internet search will provide a range of available templates that can be explored. It may be worth taking a look at a few templates like these:

From the University of Toronto:

template mentoring agreement. - Student Life

From Washington State University:

Sample Mentoring Agreements

From UNSW Sydney:

Mentoring Plan Template