A New Teacher Mentoring Knowledge Base

by Barry W. Sweeny, 1994

The ideas presented below represent 12 years of experience from working with mentor programs across the world and from mentors across the years. This mentoring wisdom does include some "bias" in favor of mentoring as a professional development activity, so rely on your own sense of purpose for mentoring to guide the ways in which you use this rich resource.

Some Basic Assumptions
New staff need and deserve an on-going growth opportunity and support for that expectation.

Mentoring is the central feature of successful induction.

Without mentoring, new staff focus on survival. With mentoring, new staff can focus on professional development.

All participants in mentoring gain from the experience.

Many mentor programs don't achieve their potential because they lack a conceptual base.

If you have expectations, you need a formal program with in- depth training.

Mentoring can vary widely, from mentor-protege pairs, to teams of mentors.

The Purpose for Mentoring
Mentoring purposes vary from orientation, to induction, to instructional improvement, to an intent to make the culture of the school more collaborative.

The decision about purpose drives every other decision so decide it early and refer back to it often to evaluate the potential effectiveness of later decisions.

Common options to mentor program purposes are:
- to speed up the learning of a new job or skill and reduce the stress of transition
- to improve instructional performance through modeling by a top performer
- to attract new staff in a very competitive recruiting environ ment
- to retain excellent veteran staff in a setting where their contributions are valued-to respond to state, district, or contractual mandates, or to university programs
- to promote the socialization of new staff into the school "family", values & traditions
- to alter the culture and the norms of the school by creating a collaborative subculture

Most programs identify several purposes. The best way to achieve several purposes is to have activities or events for each goal.

Identify different purposes for new but experienced staff.

The Mentor's Role and Tasks
The role must be well defined, especially if you have expecta tions for results.

Define the mentors role in terms of functions such as "support or encourage", define the mentoring tasks in terms of activities, such as "observe, coach, or plan".

Focus first on activities that new staff value the most (curriculum & class management).

Mentors can not "do it all". Use mentoring as a part of a total induction program including visitations, workshops tailored to their needs and jobs, and support groups.

Encourage and remind mentors to help the protege build strong links with and remain open to learning from others besides the mentor.

Teach mentors to diagnose the protege's needs and target help in those areas where the protege is ready to learn.
Feedback must be non-judgmental, descriptive and positive.

Selection of Mentors
The approach to selecting mentors should be consistent with the purpose of the mentoring program.
-The best models of good practice are selected as mentors.
-Many other experienced staff are rejected as "not good enough".
-A high degree of stress accompanies mentor status.
-Mentors are often called on to "evaluate" the protege.
-Technical skills are highly valued.
-There are risks that mentors will be identified as an "elite" group
and that mentoring will be divisive and not promote collaboration in the
staff as a whole.
-The best models are those who are continual, visible learners.
-Most veterans can be included, but will self-select when role of the
mentor and expectation of visible learning is known.
-The mentor's job is to model professional growth and to support the
protege's professional development.
-Lower levels of stress result from expectations that all will learn.
-Requires built-in, on-going train ing and support for mentor and
-Requires planned opportunities for monitoring, checking for problems,
and a process to support mentors and deal with problems.
-People skills and development of critical thinking are highly valued.

Matching Mentors & Proteges
The highest priority is given to similar job assignments, close proximity and common plan or lunch periods.

Age differences of 5+ years are often sought, but experience differences are crucial.

Matching personality types or educational views is undesirable as it minimizes learning opportunity, and may even be unnecessary if training promotes exploration of differences, capitalizing on diversity of the pair, and planning to avoid problems.

Often the principal did the recruit ing and is best positioned to decide on matching.

Allow protege to decide if gender matching (role model) is important or not (often isn't).

Expectations for Mentors & Proteges
Mentors must know the expectation for their communication with program leaders or coordinators, but should have options such as dialogue journals, personal conferences, frequent phone calls or a combination of several of these options.

Mentors must know the expectation for their interaction with their proteges. Guidelines are better than time logs, and can include statements such as "every day during the first three weeks, then 2-3 times a week", and "weekly is OK after the first semester".

Mentors can not "do it all". Guard against mentor overload. Remind mentors to do their own work in advance of "crunch" times like end of semester, so they are available to help.

Proteges are already overloaded with just doing their job. Guard against too many requirements for released time, extra work shops, etc., especially in the first months. As an example, quarterly protege support groups seem adequate.

Modify the beginning teacher's assignment to increase likelihood of success by reducing:
- class sizes, preparations, number of difficult children, travel between schools
- assignment to specialty or level that is not the new teacher's strength
- athletic or dramatic coaching, extra-curricular student lessons or clubs

This is the most frequently recommended feature by experienced mentors and coordinators.

Ideally a district should allow teachers to attend the mentor training even if there is no one yet who needs the specific person as a mentor. Build a "pool" of trained enthusiasts.

Good teachers of children do not necessary make good mentors. There are many skills needed to work with adults which are not learned in classrooms.

Design the training to instill atti tudes and promote skill development that will accomplish the program's purposes. Examine the mentor's roles and tasks for training needs.

Design the training to intentionally model all the key mentoring attitudes and skills.

Training should be on-going for mentors and periodic for prote ges.

Mentor training should include beginning to work with a program coordinator who will serve as a mentor to the mentors. Beginning steps can include, sharing strengths and goals, selecting communications options (see Expectations) or providing coaching feedback to a coordinator who is also the mentor trainer.

Training should provide numerous opportunities for mentors to interact with and develop supportive relationships with each other. Strategies should be offered for ways to use the other mentors for support and

Periodic mentor support groups can allow for accountability and learning from other mentors, but a primary purpose should also be to uncover, refine, and write down the growing knowledge base about mentoring practices.

Provide training and expectations that mentors and proteges will peer coach each other.

The Context for Mentoring
Mentors should be able to volunteer and to say "No, not this year".

Be patient, learning good mentor ing takes time.

Doing good mentoring takes time too, so provide it. Make a specific amount of substitute time available to the mentoring pair and let them control its use. A recommendation is one day per month which can be used in half day chunks. Promote its use by linking several mentors together in the use of one sub throughout the course of one day.

Provide a stipend to mentors in recognition of the responsibility and of the many hours beyond the school day which will be required.

Other incentives for mentors include:
Consider the ways in which mentoring activities can be used to gain more mileage from or add support to other improvement or collaborative efforts. An example is a peer coaching training shared between veteran staff who will coach each other and mentors & proteges who will also coach each other. Another possibility would be sharing a sub for mentors in the morning and a different set of peer coaches in the afternoon. A final example is the use of experienced mentors to train future mentors or to train future peer coaches.

Consider starting an administrative mentoring program. Administrators are often more isolated than teachers and need the same sup port. Also, administrators who experience mentoring themselves are more likely to support mentoring for new teachers too.