The Elements of Effective Mentoring

Nov 5th, 2019 | Category: Columns, Teaching Young Children
By Rebecca Stanton and Ann McKellar

With perennial teacher shortages in our Lutheran schools (Muehl, 2017) and the high costs associated with recruiting quality teachers (Simurda, 2004; Curran & Goldrick, 2002), principals must educate themselves about the best practices for retaining teachers in their schools. Principals play an important role in the recruitment and retention of teachers (Brock & Grady, 1998). One practice that has proven to retain teachers is quality induction and mentoring (Podolsky, Kini, Bishop, & Darling-Hammond, 2016). If principals act as team-leader supervisor(s) who provide support and resources (Acheson & Gall, 2003), they will more effectively enhance the mentoring process in their schools, thereby retaining teachers longer.

Historically, mentoring has been an important aspect of career development. From woodworking apprenticeships to surgical residencies, professionals have played a critical role in the training of those new to their fields. The root meaning for “mentor” originated in Homer’s epic, The Odyssey. Odysseus was away from home for an extended period and left his toddler son with his friend, Mentor. Mentor raised Telemachus and was such a good role model that his name became the noun and verb “mentor” (Wooden & Yaeger, 2009).

But what determines if mentoring will be effective? How can we do more than just help a new professional get his or her start in their field, but also set them up for a lifetime of success? Through years of research and practice as mentors of pre-service and novice teachers, we have assembled the following elements of mentoring – the kind of guidance which is not only effective, but is also life-altering in that it prepares the whole person professionally and personally for sustained accomplishment and enjoyment in their career. We share how we apply these elements at Concordia University, Irvine (CUI). This is not a program or an assignment to be followed, simply memorizing strategies – it is a lifestyle. As John Wooden (2009) states:

While I made my living as a coach, I have lived my life to be a mentor and to be mentored! Constantly. Everything in the world has been passed down…Every piece of knowledge is something that has been shared by someone else. If you understand this, as I do, mentoring becomes your true legacy. It is the greatest inheritance you can give to others. It is why you get up every day-to teach and to be taught. (p. 4)

Mentoring Myths

It is important to recognize the myths of mentoring, in order to avoid adhering to them and thereby reducing the effectiveness of the guidance. For example, many people equate mentoring with evaluation. If the mentor determines the employment, then the novice teacher is less likely to ask for assistance when needed out of fear of being seen as lacking. The novice teacher is also more likely to be nervous when being observed and will therefore not perform as well. 

Another myth is that veteran teachers make good mentors. This is not necessarily the case. Mentors must be current on the best practices in teaching and supervision. They must also be interested in the content being taught and in being a mentor. 

Yet another myth is that mentors and novice teachers can carry full loads. If their loads are reduced, they will have more time and energy for collaboration. Finally, many people believe that mentoring is temporary, perhaps for 18 weeks (such as during student teaching). Again, not necessarily so – it depends on the novice teacher’s needs, and therefore mentoring may last one to three years (Brewster & Railsback, 2001; Acheson & Gall, 2003; Moir & Gless, n.d.; Feiman-Nemser, 2012; Jones, 2012). 

CUI: Student teaching lasts 90 school days. Our induction program is a further two years, unless the novice teacher already has specific professional experiences, which can allow for “early completer” status and only one year of mentoring. When matching novice teachers to mentors, finding one at the novice teacher’s campus or district is the optimum match, if possible.

Mentor Characteristics:

There are certain characteristics that mentors should possess in order to be effective. As mentioned above, they must be current on best practices, such as content, instruction, and classroom management. They must also understand adult learning and mentoring techniques, such as Cognitive Coaching (Garmston, Linder & Whitaker, 1993). Mentors must be open-minded in order that novice teachers can develop their own identity as teachers and not merely be clones of the mentor or other previous teachers. Mentors must be empathetic and good listeners, so that when the novice teacher shares about their difficulties, the mentor can adequately respond. If possible, mentors should teach the same grade level or content area as the novice teacher. Finally, mentors and novice teachers must set clear goals and expectations and be able to adhere to them (Brewster & Railsback, 2001; Curran & Goldrick, 2002; Feiman-Nemser, 2012; Jones, 2012).

CUI: Our novice teachers evaluate their mentors. If those key mentor characteristics are lacking, the next decision is whether more training is needed or if we will not use them in the future.

Relationships

Relationships are an essential element of mentoring. The appropriate relationship starts with a welcoming letter of introduction and the very first meeting between the mentor and novice teacher, when they should meet for an extended time simply to get to know each other. Building rapport and mutual trust early on is crucial for future success (Boreen, Johnson, Niday, & Potts, 2009). No administrator should be at that meeting, or perhaps at any meeting between the mentor and novice teacher. Whenever they meet, the novice teacher should feel free to talk about any stressors – not just about teaching issues, but also about personal issues that might add to their classroom stress. When the novice teacher’s personal needs are met as well as professional ones, then the effectiveness of mentoring is increased (Hoerr, 2005). Mentors must maintain confidentiality; otherwise, novice teachers will be fearful of divulging problems and seeking answers out of fear of reprisal from administrators.

CUI: While we do utilize initial “meet and greet” meetings, and the administrator attends them in the induction program, those meetings are simply to establish program expectations (observations, paperwork, etc.). Unless there is a concern, later meetings are usually between the mentor and novice teacher only. 

Orientation

A great way to begin a mentor partnership is with a simple orientation specific for the novice teacher’s instructional setting. In Role and Responsibilities of School-Based Mentors (2012), the New York City Department of Education suggests these steps to help novice teachers identify and access school and community resources:

  • develop classroom rules and routines with classroom management 
  • set up classroom (Look for elements of Universal Design in the Classroom Environment*)
  • meet city-wide /statewide* instructional expectations 
  • plan lessons 
  • look at student work 
  • use formal and informal assessment strategies 
  • analyze student work to differentiate instruction 
  • understand and use the curriculum and student standards 
  • develop short–term and long-term goals 
  • prepare for supervisors’ observations 
  • communicate effectively with parents
  • prepare for parent-teacher conferences 
  • understand and comply with clerical responsibilities (p. 3)

*authors’ addition 

This mentor guide also provides a helpful suggested calendar to identify which months to focus on the above elements and other resources for training mentors or developing a program for private schools or districts without a formal Induction or fifth year program. The PDF of the mentor guide can be accessed at the following link:

http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/EC6D30FF-B47B-4ACB-8480-4FC10DE122FB/0/MentorGuide20112012.pdf

CUI: California Induction Standards require that at the beginning of each placement, novice teachers fill out a form that lists important contacts on campus and emergency procedures, as well as items of information similar to what the NYC handbook suggests.

Communication

Communication is another key element. If possible, mentors and novice teachers should have release-time to meet. Mentors and novice teachers should communicate regularly and honestly. This can be done in person, on the phone or video chat, or by email or text. Depending on the novice teacher’s needs, this frequency could be weekly or monthly. Finally, mentors and novice teachers must actively listen to each other in order for ideas to properly be exchanged (Curran & Goldrick, 2002; Moir & Gless, n.d.). Student teachers must know that they can approach their university supervisors if they are having problems with their cooperating teacher and that the mentor will listen to their side and help to work out a solution (Daniels, Patterson, & Sunston, 2015).

CUI: Our cooperating teachers are in the classroom with the student teachers every day. Our university supervisors observe them teaching lessons every two to three weeks and communicate in between observations, as necessary. In the induction program, both the onsite support providers and the university supervisors check in with the novice teachers weekly. We have designated Collaborate “classrooms” on Blackboard tied to our learning management system for video conferencing, but phone calls, emails and in-person meetings are also utilized. 

Modeling Teaching Practices

Another helpful practice is for mentors to teach sample lessons in the novice teacher’s classroom to model best practices, classroom management, and any other skills that the novice teacher is working on (Curran & Goldrick, 2002). Or the new teacher observes while the mentor teaches in his or her own classroom to see the mentor’s “stance and dance” (Allen, 2009). When they observe the novice teacher during instruction, mentors must be responsive to their needs at that moment. They should tailor their assistance – whether advice or tools – to each individual novice teacher. Mentors should give specific feedback as soon after the observation as possible, in order that all important topics are addressed. This real-time mentoring requires that the mentor must not focus solely on their own agenda or the official program timeline, but instead be flexible in order to meet the novice teacher’s needs (Curran & Goldrick, 2002; Grossman & Davis, 2012).

CUI: University supervisors are encouraged to observe student teachers more frequently than every two to three weeks, if need be. They do not need to adhere to a rigid schedule of observations, but can see a particular lesson if the student teacher requests it, even if they just recently observed another similar lesson. We ask that cooperating teachers take over the class for a few minutes after the lesson, in order that mentors can give the novice teachers feedback right away. 

We have instituted virtual observations for some of the required meetings. We have found that virtual observations can also be effective. The novice teacher records him or herself and shares that via Google Drive, YouTube (create a private channel and share the link), or another means. They can also live stream their teaching for the mentor to view. If virtual observations are being utilized, there are a few precautions that should be taken. First, the novice teacher needs to verify with the school’s administrators if the students’ parents must sign release forms before any videoing or live streaming. Second, the novice teacher needs to be sure that the sound is being picked up sufficiently and that the video is capturing all of their teaching space. Third, because the mentor is not on site for the observation, the mentor must give feedback as soon as possible after the lesson in order to correct any issues and to reinforce positive behaviors.

Reflection

Yet another essential element for effective mentoring is to develop a culture and shared language of reflection. Mentors need to model reflection for the novice teacher and guide them through the process (Allen, 2009; Boreen et al., 2009). Many mentoring or induction programs for novice teachers use the four-step plan, which is more like a continuous process of PLAN, ACT (TEACH), REFLECT, APPLY. This can be done through guided questions based on lessons or the novice teacher’s self-identified progress in mastering specific state-mandated standards. Districts or states may already have a recommended template or handbook for reflective discussions related to instructional planning to improve student engagement and academic progress or professional goals. 

The reflective process may take place either verbally or in writing. It should be done daily or at least weekly. Novice teachers may also video themselves teaching a couple times per semester and review it for the purposes of reflection, using a simple template. No matter what form it takes, novice teachers and mentors should maintain reflective practices as an on-going aspect of the partnership discussion concerning all areas of their teaching practice – lesson planning and execution, interaction with students, classroom management, even interactions with parents, administrators and other teachers. The reflective discussions may assist novice teachers with setting and reaching professional-development goals for the school or semester. The mentor should go over these reflections with the novice teacher, in order to refine the reflection process, address any concerns, and celebrate successes (Acheson & Gall, 2003; Locraft Cuddapah & Spratley Burtin, 2012). 

CUI: Student teachers reflect on specific questions posed on forms during each of the first eight weeks. During the remainder of their placement, they reflect on their progress toward mastering the Teaching Performance Expectations (TPEs) as required by California. Induction students reflect on their current self-ratings on various professional practices, choose two areas for focus, and then reflect on their progress toward mastery in those areas. 

Conclusion

Martin Luther is credited with saying: “When schools flourish, all flourishes.” Administrators and teachers are called to strengthen schools for the benefit of our students and our collective future. The above elements of effective mentoring can serve as a guide toward fulfilling that calling. 

For more information or help in setting up a mentor program, designed in particular for your school’s unique setting and needs, contact Dr. Rebecca Stanton (Rebecca.stanton@cui.edu) and Dr. Ann McKellar (ann.mckellar@cui.edu). LEJ

References

Acheson, K.A., & Gall, M.D. (2003). Clinical supervision and teacher development: Preservice and inservice applications (5th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Allen, J. (2009). A sense of belonging: Sustaining and retaining new teachers. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Boreen, J., Johnson, M.K., Niday, D., & Potts, J. (2009). Mentoring beginning teachers: Guiding, reflecting, coaching. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Brewster, C., & Railsback, J. (2001, May). Supporting beginning teachers: How administrators, teachers and policymakers can help new teachers succeed. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED455619

Curran, B., & Goldrick, L. (2002, January). Mentoring and supporting new teachers. Washington, DC: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Education Policy Studies Division. Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/ERIC_ED467748/ERIC_ED467748_djvu.txt

Daniels, K.N., Patterson, G.C., & Dunston, Y.L. (2015). The ultimate student teaching guide. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Feiman-Nemser, S. (2012). Beyond solo teaching. Educational Leadership, 69(8), 10-16. 

Garmston, R., Linder, C., & Whitaker, J. (1993). Reflections on cognitive coaching. Educational Leadership, 51(2), 57-61. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct93/vol51/num02/Reflections-on-Cognitive-Coaching.aspx

Grossman, P., & Davis, E. (2012). Mentoring that fits. Educational Leadership, 69(8), 54-57.

Hoerr, T.B.(2005). Meeting new teachers’ personal needs. Educational Leadership, 62(8), 82-84.

Jones, B.K. (2012). A new teacher’s plea. Educational Leadership, 69(8), 74-77.

Locraft Cuddapah, J., & Spratley Burtin, A. (2012). Educational Leadership, 69(8), 66-69.

Moir, E., & Gless, J.(n.d.). Quality induction: An investment in teachers. Santa Cruz, CA: University of California, Santa Cruz New Teacher Project. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ622333

Muehl, M. (2017, October 31). Repeating the issues of the founders. Retrieved from http://thelutheranschools.org/2017/10/30/repeating-the-issues-of-the-founders/

New York City Department of Education (2012). Role and responsibilities of school-based mentors. Retrieved from http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/EC6D30FF-B47B-4ACB-8480-4FC10DE122FB/0/MentorGuide20112012.pdf

O’Neil, L.M. (2004). Support systems: Quality induction and mentoring programs can help recruit and retain excellent teachers and save money. Threshold, (Spring), 12-15.

Podolsky, A., Kini, T., Bishop, J., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2016, September). Solving the teacher shortage: How to attract and retain excellent teachers. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. 

Simurda, S.J. (2004). The urban/rural challenge: Overcoming teacher recruitment and retention obstacles faced by urban and rural school districts. Threshold, (Spring), 22-25.

Viadero, D. (2018, January 23). Teacher recruitment and retention: It’s complicated. Education Week. Retrieved from: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/01/24/teachingshortages-many-answers-for-a-complex.html 

Wooden, J., & Yaeger, D. (2009). A game plan for life: The power of mentoring. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Rebecca Stanton, Ed.D., has been teaching in the School of Education at Concordia University Irvine since 2005 specializing in secondary teaching methods and classroom management. She is currently the Director of Preliminary Teacher Credential Programs and Co-Director of Undergraduate Teacher Education Programs. Prior to coming to CUI she taught high school German and drama, and junior high math and science. Her dissertation was on mentoring new teachers.

Ann McKellar, Ph.D., is a former special education teacher and coordinator of credential programs for Induction and Special Education. Currently, she is specializing in coursework for the Master’s in Education at CUI.