While facilitating new teacher mentoring programs over the past six years, I collected participant feedback to help me understand why some teachers’ experiences are more dynamic than others. I discovered that both new and experienced teachers find interdependent mentoring more meaningful than traditional mentoring. When mentoring partnerships are symbiotic, teachers receive reciprocal support, experience mutual respect, and report feeling appreciated.
Teaching requires both competency and efficacy, which is why new teachers rely on seasoned educators to pass along their pedagogical savvy and offer moral support and steady encouragement. Over time, teachers’ needs evolve, and veterans become interested in opportunities to share their expertise with less-experienced teachers. With interdependent mentoring partnerships, both teachers’ needs are addressed.
Schools and districts can develop their teacher workforce by investing in mentoring programs that empower teachers to leverage one another’s abilities and strengths. A give-and-take relationship benefits beginning teachers just launching their careers as well as experienced teachers who already possess critical knowledge about curriculum, instruction, and school culture.
The Interdependent Mentoring Partnership
Symbiotic mentoring partnerships benefit all teachers by honoring them as professionals who have the capacity to inspire and encourage one another.
A difference between traditional and interdependent mentoring is that traditional mentoring can be one-sided. New teachers may feel compelled to show deference to experienced veterans, and mentors may be asked to respond to problems they’re not comfortable solving without additional help. In contrast, interdependent mentoring partnerships prioritize both teachers’ contributions. Mentors are appreciated for their deep knowledge and wisdom, and new teachers are valued for their innovative ideas and fresh instructional insights.
School leaders can kick-start mentoring partnerships by creating the conditions for interdependence.
1. Build the foundation. Use the points below to let teachers know they’re entering a mutually beneficial partnership that differs from traditional mentor-mentee relationships.
- This is a master-apprentice model of mentoring.
- The mentor possesses all of the knowledge and power.
- The mentor is expected to have all the answers.
- The new teacher is expected to accept and implement the mentor’s suggestions.
- This is a partnership model of mentoring.
- The mentor and the new teacher possess knowledge and power.
- The mentor and the new teacher collaborate to solve problems.
- The new teacher is invited to consider and build on the mentor’s suggestions.
2. Create norms. Assist new teachers and mentors as they develop working agreements. Pro-interdependence norms will reflect teachers’ shared values and include guidelines for engaging in conversations, responding to differences of opinion, and recognizing one another’s successes. Here are some sample norms:
We will do the following:
- Center students in our conversations
- Ask for one another’s perspectives
- Offer our honest thoughts and opinions
- Not expect our advice to be acted upon
- Remain open-minded if we don’t see eye to eye
- Hold ourselves accountable to our norms
- Celebrate individual and shared accomplishments
3. Train mentors. Provide mentors with strategies to develop reciprocity with their mentees by encouraging new teachers to share their perspectives. Mentors can use the following prompts to signal confidence in new teachers’ perspectives:
- I’m thinking through a tough decision. Will you help me weigh the options?
- I don’t know the answer to that question. Let’s brainstorm.
- I noticed you used a technique I haven’t tried yet. Would you be willing to show it to me?
Throughout the year, school leaders can enrich teachers’ reciprocal partnerships by scheduling mentor-mentee events and prioritizing new-teacher recognition.
Drop-in days. Allocate release time for teachers to conduct drop-in observations and post-observation reflection conversations. Make Drop-in Days manageable by offering teachers a simple note catcher to use during visits. When mentors and mentees debrief, encourage them to discuss observed strategies that most impact student learning and to develop implementation plans to replicate these strategies in their own practice.
Solution sessions. Facilitate problem-solving dialogues that champion a diversity of opinions. Ask teachers to identify their current challenges and open the floor to input. Gently encourage new teachers to share their ideas, even if they’re reluctant at first; trust is built when all teachers participate. Solution Sessions illuminate the value of new and veteran teachers’ opinions when they collaborate to respond to challenges.
New-teacher spotlights. Capture new teachers’ instructional talents via photos or videos and amplify them by posting in a newsletter or to a bulletin board. Alternatively, invite a panel of new teachers to speak during a staff meeting. The panel moderator could ask new teachers to describe their favorite teaching methods, their high-leverage relationship-building techniques, or their original parent communication strategies.
Mentoring matters. More than 44 percent of teachers leave the profession within their first five years, so meeting the specific needs of new teachers is paramount to sustaining a strong teacher workforce. Interdependent mentoring programs address the retention of new and experienced teachers by maximizing the benefits of the partnership for everyone involved.