My Experience with the Mentor Program

Dr. Anthony Simones, second from left, with Lee Ann Barnhardt, third from left. Photo by Margaret Allen.

by Dr. Anthony Simones

When I accepted the job as Manager of Judicial Education and Programming for the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator, one of my first actions was to join the National Association of State Judicial Educators (NASJE). As a new member, one of the first inquiries directed my way was whether I wanted a mentor. My immediate reaction was to say, “No thanks, you can assign a mentor to somebody who needs one.” After all, I had been a professor of constitutional law and government for two decades, and served as a mentor for dozens, if not hundreds, of people.

Dr. Anthony Simones, second from left, with Lee Ann Barnhardt, third from left. Photo by Margaret Allen.
Dr. Anthony Simones, second from left, with Lee Ann Barnhardt, third from left. Photo by Margaret Allen.

Then I remembered that even though I had known success in other arenas, I was new to the field of judicial education. Even if I had been experienced in judicial education, I would have been wise to bear in mind I was new to this specific position and could benefit greatly from regular conversations and consultations with someone in a similar job for some time. Finally, I recalled the wisdom of Horace: people “cease to think when they think they know it all.” I agreed to be assigned a mentor.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I had the extraordinarily good fortune to have Lee Ann Barnhardt of North Dakota assigned as my mentor – a bundle of energy, experience, and enthusiasm. From the beginning, she was a beacon in an environment frequently fraught with uncertainty. Lee Ann taught me about the profession of which I had become a part and what I needed to do to transcend adequacy and enter the sphere of excellence. She revealed what was expected of me. She educated me about the work of those who’d come before me, pointed me in the right direction for information, and explained how I could benefit from my predecessors to avoid reinventing the wheel. She answered my questions and listened to my concerns, serving as an effective sounding board when I needed one most. She told me about her experiences, passed along wisdom she had gained, and spared me from making some of the mistakes she had made. She made suggestions about what I should say and do that impressed and amazed the people at my agency.

Lee Ann was able to be that most valuable of advisers – the objective expert. She was someone who had no stake in the outcomes of the situations I encountered in Missouri and no history with the individuals with whom I was interacting. She was able to look at my situations with complete objectivity and provide input based upon logic and experience. As much as I appreciated her suggestions when I did not know what to do, I more often appreciated Lee Ann when her guidance served to confirm my hunches. If someone as impressive as Lee Ann confirmed my instincts, then I knew I was on the right path. Armed with the confidence I derived from our relationship, I found myself trusting my judgment and making the proper call time after time.

Would I have known success without Lee Ann Barnhardt as my mentor? Perhaps, but I submit
it would have been hit-or-miss, as I would not have had constant access to a source of expertise and experience. I would not have known a welcoming and reassuring voice was always just at the other end of the phone line. I would not have realized that someone who had experienced great success in my field was there for me and cared about my success. Lee Ann made me feel like I was a valuable, and valued, member of an important field. She helped me believe I had made the right choice by changing careers and taking this job.

I can say this. Without Lee Ann, I would not be on the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Judicial Educators in my fourth year as a judicial educator. She taught me how to excel in this profession. She inspired me to push myself and not settle for the back bench that is so comfortable to those who are new to a field. She expressed her confidence in my ability to follow in her footsteps and assume a leadership role. I consider her a good friend as well as a colleague, and one of the greatest thrills of my new career was when she asked me to facilitate a session with her at last year’s conference.

I cannot guarantee you will be assigned a mentor as amazing as Lee Ann Barnhardt. However, I do guarantee you will not have an experience like mine if you choose not to take advantage of NASJE’s mentor program. If your mentorship even approximates the pleasure and value of mine, you will come to regard your decision as rewarding as it is wise.

If you are interested in having a mentor, please contact: