Our nation is experiencing a teacher-retention crisis: Many novice educators are leaving the profession after only a few years of classroom experience. That’s why Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia created a mentor program to retain quality teachers while also building their skills, self-efficacy, and professional vision.
Mentors provide support through frequent interactions in which they listen, ask questions, and guide novices’ professional growth. Mentors meet with mentees for scheduled discussions at least weekly and have additional contact through text, email, phone calls, and impromptu classroom visits.
In March, when we began distance schooling, our mentoring program had no choice but to follow suit. Though mentor-mentee interactions now look different, the focus remains the same.
6 Strategies for Mentoring at a Distance
1. Meet weekly in a virtual, real-time platform so you can see and hear each other: Using live video and audio capabilities like Zoom or Skype allows the pair to see and hear each other, maintaining continuity of typical face-to-face interactions. Additionally, teacher-mentors can better interpret nuances in voice and posture when both participants are engaged in visible, live discussions.
We encourage mentors and mentees to re-create their school-based planning and reflecting conversations by using active video to provide a deeper, more relatable conversation between both educators. We found that after an initial adjustment to appearing on camera, most participants fell into an easy routine.
2. Keep a consistent schedule: If you held a weekly meeting when school was in session, do the same now that you are meeting from home. The day or time might be different from your face-to-face sessions, but it’s important to continue with planned meetings each week. Doing so provides normalcy and predictability for both mentor and mentee, and encourages both educators to jot down notes and think ahead about their meeting discussion topics.
These planned interactions provided opportunities for our mentors to offer timely support as well as meaningful, open-ended, reflective questions. By allowing mentees to move beyond crisis support, the meetings created opportunities to explore future possibilities and synthesize new understandings.
3. Reflect on the face-to-face year: Being physically distant from classrooms can be an opportunity for contemplation. Our district’s mentors took advantage of this by guiding teacher-mentees through deep reflections about the school year. We provided sample open-ended questions that encouraged advancement of professional growth, such as “How might you modify next year’s formative assessments to more accurately reflect students’ understanding?”
4. Share documents and video for authentic feedback: When they were teaching in their school buildings, mentors often co-taught a lesson or visited their mentees’ classrooms. Co-teaching opportunities still exist with remote teaching, and they can be powerful.
In our district, mentors and mentees jointly planned and implemented virtual lessons, which provided opportunities for the mentors to model various strategies while observing mentees’ skills firsthand. When viewing mentors’ recordings, mentees focused on areas they were working on. Mentees and mentors also simultaneously viewed portions of mentees’ lessons, during which mentors asked questions about choices made and their outcomes.
5. Take advantage of the mentor-mentee reciprocal relationship: Mentors and mentees adjusted to distance learning and new ways to implement lessons. The opportunity encouraged teachers to tap into each other’s strengths. For instance, if a new teacher incorporated Flipgrid or Nearpod into lessons, a mentor learned firsthand about the tools, and incorporated them into their own remote lessons. Throughout the year, we encouraged a professional, supportive collaboration, and the sudden shift in schooling advanced relationships organically. When both educators focus on professional growth, both teachers’ students reap the benefits.
6. Be available: First-year teachers anticipated end-of-year celebrations with their students, staff, and mentors. Instead, the school year wrapped up in unanticipated ways, with unpacked classrooms, teachers in isolation, and summer plans on hold. Being available as a mentor provided professional and personal support for young professionals. Experienced teacher-mentors eased mentees’ minds about year-end procedures and the unknown start to the upcoming school year. Perhaps more than any year in recent memory, mentors were called on to provide consistency and emotional support, even when they themselves do not know what lies ahead.