Mentors play a critical role in the success of teachers. Even following a quality student teaching experience, new teachers still have a lot to learn. There are so many nuances to the profession, to the grade level, and to each particular school. Plus, there is much to be learned even after the teacher has graduated.
Formal vs. Informal Mentoring
At the start, it’s important that we define the different types of mentoring that take place in a school. Some mentoring occurs in an informal way, usually with experienced teachers who take on a new role or a new position in a school. Informal mentoring is important to help communicate culture and procedures in a school.
Formal mentoring is more structured and typical with new teachers to the profession or the career. In our state, we have requirements for mentoring in order for conditionally licensed teachers to obtain a professional license. This type of formal mentoring structures conversations and topics between the mentor and the teacher. This is a great model for learning and growing in the profession.
Roles of a Mentor
Mentoring can be a complex task. It can feel as though there are so many things to learn that it is nearly impossible to help the teacher in an effective way. The mentee can be less than willing to listen at times and can feel really overwhelmed themselves.
Because of this, mentors need to wear several hats in order to be effective mentors. Mentors need to be able to work with the mentees in different ways to meet their needs. Here are a few different “hats” that the mentor must wear in order to be an effective communicator with the mentee:
Mentoring like a coach: The mentor needs to “coach” the teacher through the year. Like great coaches, there is a great deal of motivation that is needed to be successful. Coaches find the strengths in a player and encourage them. They are also able to provide opportunities for feedback on areas to improve.
Mentoring like a friend: As a friend, we mentor one another in a different way. Friends have a strong bond and relationship with one another. When we work as friends, we laugh and cry together. Most importantly, we share with one another truthfully about what we think and feel. This is really a critical piece for a good mentor/mentee relationship. With communication that is trusting and clear, mentors can really know how to support the teachers they are working with.
Mentoring like a peer: Teachers need to mentor other teachers. Principals or counselors can help to mentor new teachers, but the advice and support really has to come from a peer. The importance of teachers mentoring other teachers can’t be understated. And, the mentor needs to mentor the new teacher into the “profession” as much as into the school or grade level.
Mentoring like an evaluator: This is probably the hardest hat for the mentor to wear, but it is an important one. Teachers don’t like to feel as though they are “evaluators” of one another—I wouldn’t really encourage that myself. The mentor should provide feedback about the process of being evaluated and what the principal (or evaluator) is looking for. This is the kind of specialized knowledge that can’t be gained from a handbook or staff meeting. This insight will really help the new teacher to be successful as an employee as much as a teacher.
Other Factors to Consider
There are a few other insights I have noticed about successful mentoring. First, it is critical that there is scheduled time and topics for the mentor and the mentee. It's easy to “skip over” some of the communication that should be taking place. The assumption that the mentee already knows this or that is a bad one, so structure is critical to success with mentoring.
I have noticed that it works well, if possible, for teachers to mentor one another from other grade levels. At times, the teachers need to have the ability to share information about those they work with the most. If there are two third grade teachers in a school, as a principal, I would try not to have the new third grade teacher mentor with the teacher in the same grade.
With a structure, a schedule, and open lines of communication between the mentor and mentee, it can produce great teachers and great professionals who feel supported in their first years.
How have you incorporated mentoring at your school? Let us know in the comments below! And to connect with fellow educators, consider joining MimioConnect™, our interactive teaching community.