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Professional Learning

3 Strategies for Productive Teacher Mentoring

Experienced teachers and those new to the profession benefit from collaboration and learning that goes in both directions.

July 19, 2021
monkeybusinessimages / iStock

Teacher mentoring programs, no matter the locale, tend to provide yearlong, one-to-one guidance to less experienced teachers, with mentors and mentees typically meeting at least once a week. Through those meetings with veteran teachers, plus impromptu classroom visits, lunchtime chats, texts, and phone calls, new teachers gain professional knowledge, skills to reflect on the status quo, and a vision for the future.

But the pandemic school year, as we all know, was extremely taxing for novice and experienced teachers alike. From it emerged new strategies that benefit both the mentor and the mentee.

Create Structures for Collaborative Support

School-based new teacher support groups provide a convenient, safe space for newcomers in their first three years of teaching. When sessions are led by a trained teacher-mentor, novices become comfortable sharing challenges and successes, and the group also finds out about just-in-time topics and helpful instructional strategies. New staff members also have the opportunity to get to know the faces and names of colleagues who are going through similar experiences.

For example, if a high school enrolls a large percentage of second-language learners, an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) staff member can lead September’s monthly support session, providing targeted background information about the building’s student population. The presenter can describe unique challenges that ESOL students often experience, then introduce three ways teachers can offset these challenges to promote student success. Because the session happens at the start of the school year, topics can also include cultural information and guidance about upcoming holidays, and a list of interpreters for parent-teacher discussions can be distributed.

In addition to a school’s newbie learning and support group, “resource clusters” can form out of a need for help with a certain topic, like online instruction. Teachers of all experience levels, across several elementary grades, and even from different schools can work collaboratively to share understanding and to help each other figure out the best way to design lessons. Because the resource cluster grows from an organic need, its membership expands and shrinks based on teachers’ comfort levels and needs.

By creating or joining a resource cluster, teachers are empowered to overcome any challenge they encounter by seeking support and working with like-minded educators.

Cultivate Reciprocal Teaching and Learning

The mentor-mentee relationship is dynamic and fluid, depending on the current topic and each teacher’s needs. Many young, novice educators have a lot of technology experience that older teachers might not, providing mentees with opportunities to guide veterans. Mentors, then, model a learning stance by allowing themselves to be vulnerable, highlighting and tackling knowledge gaps and pushing themselves forward professionally. By reversing roles, mentors expand their knowledge while reinforcing relationships with mentees based on mutual respect, encouragement, and collaboration.

All mentor program participants benefit from taking on the roles of both instructor and student because learning often becomes more powerful when it’s a two-way street. But taking on reciprocal roles has an additional benefit: Professional duos form strong, affirmative bonds when they interact based on each person’s expertise. When colleagues take part in the give-and-take of being both the expert and the amateur, a mutually beneficial, steadfast connection emerges that enhances the mentoring relationship and its outcomes.

Use Live and Recorded Video to Support Visits to Other Classes

Teachers new to their roles benefit from visiting other classrooms, as seeing what takes place when another teacher is in charge can be a robust learning opportunity. Yet during a typical school year, it can be challenging to schedule peer visits because of time conflicts and the expense of hiring substitute teachers. Last year, however, I noticed that teachers’ frequent use of video technologies allowed new hires to take part in more than twice the number of peer observations than I saw the previous year, which exposed them to far more instructional strategies and classroom models.

For example, with live video, incoming educators and experienced ones can join a colleague’s virtual class for 10 to 15 minutes as a deliberate strategy to learn how to incorporate technology tools. Furthermore, they can spend the same amount of time visiting peers on other grade levels or even at different schools to learn about the same strategy or an entirely different topic. Observing in several classrooms broadens new professionals’ experiences and provides them a range of approaches from which they can reflect and choose.

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