July 7, 2022

The Importance of Mentors (081)

The Importance of Mentors (081)

On today’s episode, Kim and Jim talks about what it takes to be a mentor to another beekeeper, and therefore what you can look for in a good mentor. As a mentor, you have to develop good communication between you and your mentee. That means...

On today’s episode, Kim and Jim talks about what it takes to be a mentor to another beekeeper, and therefore what you can look for in a good mentor.

As a mentor, you have to develop good communication between you and your mentee. That means communication both ways – them to you, you to them. Establish guidelines for times, locations, and other requirements that you both respect.

Go into the relationship knowing that constructive criticism is necessary. Not only for mistakes, but for chances to learn something new they didn’t see, or know about.

Understand that not all students learn at the same speed. Some will get it right the first time, some – will take a few more tries. Be prepared to let your mentee make decisions, and then, follow through on those decisions to see if they were good, bad or ugly.  Discuss afterwards what worked and what did not. Then… why. Use that experience, good and bad to help them grow as beekeepers.

Everyone has mentors or should!

We hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please follow or subscribe today and leave a comment. We'd love to hear from you!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 81 – The Importance of Mentors


Jim Tew: Hey, Kim. Have you ever actually been a mentor for a beginning beekeeper?

Kim Flottum: Boy, if you mean a one-on-one, no. I have done one-on-ones one time or maybe two times with people just starting out, but I have never had the time to stick with them. I know that being a mentor is not just easy.

Jim: Well, it's not. I was wondering if you and I can talk about some things that shouldn't surprise anybody, should it? Can we talk about something that we've never really done before, mentor one-on-one? Are you up for it?

Kim: Sure.

Jim: All right. Hi, I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: And I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: Coming to you today from Honey Bee Obscura Podcast, where, about once a week, we talk about something that usually we know something about. Today may not be one of those days.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges with managing honeybees in today's world and engaging in informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, longtimers and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Jim: Kim, I looked it up. What's the difference between a mentor and a teacher? You've already touched on it. You want to take it? You go. What's the difference between a mentor and a teacher?

Kim: No, I don't because I'm not a teacher and I'm not a mentor. I've done a little bit of both over the years. I've actually done a lot of both over the years, but I'm not qualified to call myself a teacher, I don't think.

Jim: Well, that just cut this discussion short. Thanks for everybody for tuning in. Next week we'll have a little bit longer discussion. [laughs] I, obviously, have spent decades and decades and decades in universities and state extension programs, so I have definitely been a teacher. Now, one could argue, "Well, were you a good teacher?" That may be a different discussion for a different day, but if I did any mentoring, I did it from afar because it was just not enough of me to individually address numerous brand new students.

In that case, I had to provide fact sheets, videos, web pages. I had to somehow extend myself, not arrogantly, but I had to reach out in that way more than the direct person-to-person contact.

Kim: My experience is a little bit different. I have been in charge of associations, big and small, that had mentoring groups, I'd say that supported and sponsored mentoring groups, and I worked with the mentors. Every once in a while, they have a meeting and, "How's it going?" and "What's the biggest problem you've got?" and "What do you need to do it better?" and all sorts of things. My input, from that perspective, is that what do mentors do and what kind of problems do they run into and what kind of advice do they give to other mentors? That's what I'm here to think about today, is what advice can we give mentors because I've gotten a lot of advice from mentors on how to do that.

Jim: What would be some of those fundamental advice points?

Kim: Well, invariably, the first one you always hear is make some rules. If you're going to be a mentor and you're working with a student, you've got to establish some boundaries. "When can you call me? When can I come over? When can you come over?" those sorts of things, so that you don't begin to dominate my life and/or get in the way of my life, because if I'm in the middle of something and you show up at my backdoor at 7:30 at night with your bee suit on, I'm going to have a problem with that probably. Communication and establishing rules is, I think, probably at the top of the pile that I've heard from other mentors.

Jim: Kim, I am strictly listening and responding to you, and when you were saying this, I was thinking this, what if you reverse that, what is it from the student's perspective? What can the mentor expect of the student? When should the student say, "Oh, wow, I'm not sure we're going to be a good fit because I don't want to work bees night and day and meet you on Sunday morning"? It would have to work both ways. This rule thing has to work both ways. They have to decide what they expect of each other. Right or wrong?

Kim: That's exactly right. That way, from square one, you're both on the same page. Miscommunications almost never happen when you both know what to expect.

Jim: Tell me how you would think, how would you suggest that a student beekeeper finds a mentor? Because what if they're top-bar hive? What if they're people like you, eight-frame equipment? Does a student know what kind of mentor to search for or do they just happenstance find a mentor who tells them that they should be keeping their bees in expanded polystyrene? You see where I'm going? How much does the student control their destiny?

Kim: Often not very well because they don't know what they need to know. They don't know the questions they need to ask. Many beginning beekeepers don't know that there's more than one kind of beehive out there just for starters. My advice is always, if you're looking for a mentor, work with a local association that may or may not have a formal mentor program, but, at least, if you start with the officers, they'll have an idea of who might work because they know the members and they can give you three or four people to talk with to see if that might work. Then, hopefully, you can steer them in the direction of what kinds of questions to ask, like what kind of equipment to use, how many hives you have, where do you have your hives, are you able to come to my house or am I going to have to come to your house? All sorts of things.

Jim: I think those are good comments, and solid because, once again, Kim, as you were talking, you were stimulating questions, at least from me. Hey, listeners, if you got questions for Kim, primarily Kim on this, let us hear from you because this is a peculiar topic. A mentor is a very personal thing. I looked it up, Kim. A mentor is an experienced individual who helps another person specifically, whereas a teacher is a qualified individual who teaches a group of people at one time.

This mentors-trainee thing is a very personal experience. I can see where you'd want to go to the groups and get advice on who does this well, who's calm, who's patient, who will help you and loan you equipment, and do all these things that you're going to ask of a mentor.

Kim: Well, you've brought up something. You said patient. An issue with new beekeepers from mentors occasionally arises where the mentor tends to criticize as opposed to suggesting alternative--

Jim: You mean negative criticism, not like critiquing-

Kim: Correct.

Jim: -but criticizing? All right, okay. That's a happy mentor.

Kim: [laughs] And an unhappy student most of the time. If you're going to be a mentor, one of the things to keep in mind is to not criticize. If the student is doing something that you know is going to cause a problem, either immediately or down the road, a short period of time, you're going to suggest an alternative, and almost in the same breath, you're going to say something positive about what they just did. The back half of that comment is going to be, "You might want to think about this, but what you just did was really good in how you did it. You've lifted the frame just exactly right," that sort of thing.

Jim: Kim, can we take a break and let me catch my breath and organize my thoughts? We'll hear from our sponsor at this point.

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Jim: I was wondering also, Kim, who mentors a mentor?

Kim: Well, that's why we're here today, is what do you need to know to be a good mentor? We've mentioned communication and we've mentioned constructive criticism. I think another thing that mentors need is, well, I call it empathy. It's understanding how the student you're working with is progressing. You're going to have people that pick up everything you do the first time you do it and they don't come back to you after a couple of weeks and you're going to have people that are going to want to be with you all season long.

You got to understand that some people are just more inclined to read all the books, and to go to all the classes, and to attend all the meetings, and pick up things, where other people, they got more in their life and they're not as fast. You got to be able to put the student you're working with in a position that, "Okay, this guy's going to be slow and I can see that, that's okay. I just got to remember that he isn't going to pick all this up in the next 20 minutes."

Jim: It'd be okay for me to say that some mentor-student relationships just are not successful. They didn't fit. They didn't work out. In that case, the student primarily would have to decide if they want to try something different if, during that interval, they've seen something else, met someone else, go a different way. What we're trying to say here is if you follow these basic protocols, these basic characteristics, that relationship has a pretty good chance of being a good one. Right or wrong?

Kim: Yes, it does. I guess maybe I could put it this way. A way to test that is to let the student make most of the decisions and then follow up on what was the result of that decision. If it was a good decision, then you give him a "At it, boy," pat on the back, and if it was a decision that was less than successful, then your job is to show why it was less than successful as opposed just, "That was a stupid mistake." You have to show them and you have to incorporate bee biology, beekeeping equipment, weather, and season, and all of the things that made that decision not work as well as the mentee thought it might.

Jim: Yes. Everybody has a swarm story, everybody has a queen story. You accumulate these things that define who you are as a beekeeper, and those people who've had a meaningful relationship with a mentor, that becomes a part of their beekeeping psyche. I've been around beekeepers time and again who would find endless reasons to bring up some pleasant memory they've got from when they were being mentored by some bald-headed old guy, looking a lot like you, Kim, who gave them advice and steered them into the world of beekeeping, and then 25, 30 years later, they still have tender memories about that person. I hear these beekeepers all the time.

Kim: Yes. That's probably the most positive experience you can ever have, is to work with somebody like that, who's just uplifting, positive, and resourceful during all your interactions. That brings me maybe to the last thing here, is you got to be a good role model. If you're going to be teaching people, you have to be somewhat successful yourself. These days and times, keeping bees alive is harder than it was 50 years ago, but you got to practice what you preach, A, and B, then you've got to make sure that what you do is right for you and pass that information along to the mentee.

Jim: That's probably the best point that you brought up. You really need to know what you're doing and you need to practice what you preach and set a good example.

Kim: Yes.

Jim: That's a great point. Okay. That means I'm probably never going to be a mentor, Kim. You've set the bar so high here, but I do understand what you're saying. Do you have a mentor at all? Have you ever had one? I've got one I want to tell you about, but what about you, do you have anybody that you could call a mentor in your personal beekeeping journey?

Kim: Not someone who met all of these criteria. They just took me out to a bee yard and said, "Do this," and that's how I learned. They didn't have time to let me make mistakes. I was working for USDA at the time. They had a job to do and I was the person who had to get the job done. That's where I learned it. I didn't have any trouble with that. I was used to being taught, like you said, but as far as a mentor, nobody that I could work with like this.

Jim: Well, there is the option like mine, where you have a mentor you really didn't ask for. Mine was my uncle. Long gone. He was a watch repairman. How many people... when they got out of the army, you had a disease and the army trained them to repair watches, and so he got into beekeeping. He's the one who introduced me to beekeeping. Whether or not I wanted him to be my mentor, he was since he was my uncle, and now I have good memories about it.

He was a stern taskmaster. He liked to rebore the holes for the eyelets because he wanted them dead straight. He used a tri square to lay them out. We couldn't use the holes that the Root company or Dadant whomever, or Betterbee put in our end bars . No, we had to cut our own. Then we had to wire them just exactly right. After a while, you think, "Is this fun or not? I feel like I'm a little bit enslaved here and not able to follow my own pathway here." That was my mentor. Good memories, but he was the uncle. He would probably have gotten some good memories anyway.

Kim: Well, if you're going to be a mentor or are thinking about it, I guess we hit most of the points; good communication, constructive criticism, and empathy. Let your student make some of the decisions and be a positive role model. If you can do all of those things consistently--

Jim: Yes. I sound negative, I don't mean to, but probably, mentors and students should always be certain they're good for each other. Every student shouldn't expect every mentor to agree to the job and every mentor shouldn't take on every student. Be sure the fit is right based on the characteristics you pointed out.

Kim: Yes.

Jim: As we close this, are you going to take up mentoring people? Can they call you and ask you to mentor them?

Kim: Well, probably, the biggest problem with that is that one of the points I said was to be a good role model. [laughs]

Jim: There goes that, huh? I wonder, what's the chances of being a Zoom mentor? Yes. Take your phone out to your beehive and show me what you're doing. I'll be a Zoom mentor. All right.

Kim: Well, there's a thought.

Jim: We're wandering too far off the subject here, Kim. People help each other. The primary way beekeepers learn is from other beekeepers. People like me, I love your magazine, the magazine you had for years, but ultimately, when all is said and done, at some point, you got to be in a bee yard with bees flying all around and a smoker gagging you. That's when you really learn and that's when it's good to have someone there at your elbow.

Kim: Exactly. Perfectly said.

Jim: Thank you for talking to me. If anybody's still listening at this point, tell us who your mentor was and what they meant to you. We'd love to hear about it.

Kim: Yes, that'd be good. We could talk about things that people sent in. Mistakes that mentors made or good things that mentors did for them. That'd be good to do. Good idea.

Jim: I'm sure it's all good, Kim. It's all good. I'm telling you bye. It's almost time for a big holiday here, so hanging out with my family and not mentor bees for a while.

Kim: All right. I'll see you next time.

Jim: All the best.

[00:19:04] [END OF AUDIO]