While teacher-mentors and novice educator-mentees are the focus of a school’s mentoring program, administrators have a dynamic role regarding the tone and implementation. For example, some principals invite the entire staff to provide supplementary guidance for new teachers or even meet monthly with protégés to hear their concerns and provide personal feedback.
During my decade training mentors and fostering school-based mentoring programs, I’ve observed five notable administrator-led practices that positively impact incoming teachers in terms of the quality of their instruction and their feeling of being supported.
Principals and assistant principals need to implement the five following practices to advance their novice teachers’ and mentors’ personal and professional success.
1. Purposefully Match Mentors and Mentees
Well-trained mentors are the foundation of a successful mentoring program, so it’s essential to carefully select expert teachers who want to take on a mentoring role and agree to participate in specialized training. Mentors shouldn’t be matched with novices until the mentors are completely trained.
Retain two or three unassigned, trained mentors within the school in case a mentor-mentee pairing is unsuccessful or to match teachers hired after the start of the school year. Late hires need immediate support as they likely missed essential meetings and beginning-of-year guidance.
In my experience, the most critical element of mentoring takes place when mentors and mentees are paired. Some administrators make matches based on teachers’ schedules or grade or subject taught, without any regard to each as unique individuals. I believe taking into account both participants’ personalities is the best method of ensuring a professional, positive working relationship. If a new teacher is communicative and outgoing, a successful mentor is likely to be collaborative and ready to talk through ideas or challenges.
When novices are introverted or lack confidence, compatible mentors are patient and resourceful, making concerted efforts to meet the novice’s needs. Occasionally mentoring pairs don’t work out, in which case a new mentor should be assigned to the novice without any judgment or collateral damage.
2. Promote Building-Wide Sponsorship
While first-year educators are paired with a trained mentor, the entire staff can contribute to a community that lifts up novices. I recently worked with a school that follows the philosophy that every staff member should be a resource for the school’s new teachers to smooth the pathway toward success. The collaborative support created a unified, positive atmosphere that even visitors could sense, and students are the ultimate beneficiaries of happy, emotionally strong teachers.
It’s helpful to keep staff members and the school’s leadership team informed about topical challenges and successes mentees are experiencing. Similarly, administrators can share details with new hires about upcoming mentor program training or timely topics that might require additional support. When the school’s staff community unifies to support protégés, learning opportunities grow exponentially, and both teachers and students benefit.
3. Provide Opportunities for Growth
Principals have a pivotal role in new hires’ first-year success. They can provide substitute teachers for mentors and mentees so the pair can co-teach lessons, collaboratively plan, and visit expert teachers and their classrooms. While discussions and narratives can be helpful, nothing can take the place of a 20-minute observation followed by an in-depth mentor-guided reflection on takeaway understandings. Mentoring pairs need time and opportunities for these essential learning activities.
Administrators can ensure working conditions that maximize success for new teachers. For example, novices might have smaller class sizes than expert teachers and be given reasonable classroom locations rather than converted closets or windowless nooks. Furthermore, monthly, school-based learning opportunities that target novice educators are convenient and designed for these teachers’ specific needs.
4. Communicate Often
New teachers crave authentic, growth-producing feedback and opportunities to talk with their peers. Principals can communicate with mentors and mentees in a variety of ways, including in monthly meetings with each pair, through digital newsletters, in a collaborative blog, or via virtual groups.
Administrators can lead discussions and reflections, as well as share important dates and deadlines. Mentors can share nonconfidential topics with administrators, and mentees can ask for additional support they might need and comment on the success of the mentor pairing. The mode of communication can vary; however, it’s important that the administrator-mentor connection and administrator-mentee connection is consistent throughout the school year.
5. Recognize Excellence
Teacher-mentors spend time preparing for meetings with their mentee, guiding and reflecting together, and gathering research and information for their protégés. Even so, mentors continually refine their skills and invest in improving as a peer mentor. Their mentee counterparts plan and collaborate each day after dismissal and on weekends, too, and teach through their first professional year, all while striving to be successful educators and colleagues.
Mentoring-associated teachers appreciate formal and informal recognition of their efforts and impact. If your school district offers mentor or mentee awards, you can submit nomination information at the appropriate time. However, if no recognition exists, school-based honors can recognize and appreciate the extra effort toward novice educator success.
By focusing on school-based mentors and mentees throughout the school year, administrators can positively impact their collaboration and classroom success. I’ve observed that the time and effort principals devote to their mentoring professionals exponentially improve the tone and outcome for first-year educators.