George Lucas Educational Foundation

The Good Mentor: What It Takes To Be Effective

An expert describes the necessary components for a successful districtwide teacher-mentoring program.
By James B. Rowley
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After nearly a decade of helping school districts design mentor-based entry-year programs, James Rowley knows what it takes to be an effective mentor to new teachers. By identifying the characteristics of a good mentor, Rowley prescribes necessary components for building a successful and effective mentoring program in any district:

The good mentor is committed to the role of mentoring. To increase the odds that mentor teachers possess the commitment fundamental to delivering effective support, good programs can

  • require formal mentor training as a prerequisite to mentoring.
  • provide specific descriptions of the roles and responsibilities of mentor teachers.
  • require mentors to maintain simple logs or journals of the mentorship.
  • provide mentors with some form of compensation.

The good mentor is a model of continuous learning. High-quality entry-year programs can ensure that mentors continue their own professional growth and development by

  • establishing clear criteria for mentor selection that include a commitment to initial and ongoing mentor training.
  • giving veteran mentors frequent opportunities to participate in high-quality professional growth experiences that can enhance their work as mentor teachers.

The good mentor is accepting of the beginning teacher. Programs can encourage mentor teachers to be more accepting of new teachers by

  • engaging prospective mentors in reflecting on the qualities of effective helpers.
  • helping program mentors understand the problems and concerns of beginning teachers as well as the stage and age theories of adult development.

The good mentor communicates hope and optimism. Programs can ensure that beginning teachers are supported by mentors capable of communicating hope and optimism through

  • finding good mentors who capitalize on opportunities to affirm the human potential of their mentee.
  • taking precautions to avoid using veteran teachers who have lost their positive outlook.
This article was reprinted with permission of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading this article. I do agree with the part where it mentions that mentor teachers should have a postive outlook on education and teaching. I believe that mentor teachers should have the latest in training and understanding of education values and practices. I feel that mentor teaches should be a postive role model for new teachers. New teachers and mentors should sit down and discuss each others views and understanding of teaching. The mentor should explain the rules and values of the school to the new teacher. The mentor should be supportive and helpful but not overbearing to the new teacher.

Emily's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading this article. I think good mentors are very important and I think a good mentor has all of the above characteristics. I also think a good mentor makes it a point to focus on the areas of improvement of the new teacher and to point out and commend the new teacher on what she does well. I think a good mentor helps her mentee plan. I feel that is the hardest thing for a new teacher, planning.

Marsha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would agree with your posting regarding mentoring. Currently I am a Walden University student earning my Masters degree in Reading and Literacy and one of our current topics is the Novice and Expert teacher. I believe this is directly related to mentoring. The novice and expert teachers have so much to offer each other and are both crucial parts to our educational system as long as the novice is moving along the path of expert.

Rod Achter's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Teachers that mentor first year teachers must have a postive outlook towards students and education or things could get very ugly. Teachers must be willing to work with the young teachers and most importantly they must put in the postive time needed to be successful. We have some teachers in our building that are only being a mentor because they are getting paid by our district. If you're doing this for the pay you're doing it for the wrong reason. If a young teacher has a good mentor it can be a very rewarding experience.

Colleen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am awaiting my first year of teaching, but I am looking forward to having a mentor teacher, as most schools participate in a mentor program. Mentoring, I believe is an important part of being a teacher, and becoming a teacher.

As a current graduate student, I believe that a mentor will help myself as someone who wants and needs to gain experience.

Karen J.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This past summer, I was asked to be a mentor to a new teacher at my school for the fall. I accepted because thought that it would be a great way to get to know our new employee. I did not have a mentor teacher four years ago when I started because I was hired late during preplanning. Things went smoothly. I feel that I was more of a help to her at the beginning of the year; helping set up her classroom, plan lessons, and giving her personal advice. At my school, they did not set me up with formal training (I had no idea training was available!), and though, the requirements were stated, they were non-specific. I feel that I was accepting and always tried to portray a positive attitude. It was difficult for me though because my mentee felt very overwhelmed (as I did when I started teaching!). It was difficult at times to keep her motivated. She is doing great now. We have 7 teachers on our grade level, and I feel like we all participated in mentoring this new teacher.

Carlyn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my second year of teaching and if it weren't for my first year mentor, I would not have learned as much as I have already. Last year, as a first year teacher, I was given 2 mentors. I had one mentor who was in the same special education position that I was in at my school, and a second mentor who came from the special education department. Both mentors communicated with me on a regular basis and helped me to feel more comfortable in my position. They observed me and I was able to observe them. I thought the mentor program was a great program that gave an expert teacher the opportunity to teach me, the novice teacher.

Carlyn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You make a great point. Mentors who are doing it only for the pay are not making such a significant impact on first year teachers as those who are doing it to positively impact and help young professionals. I was very lucky to have 2 mentors who both gave me suggesstions on engaging students, using a variety of teaching strategies, and setting higher expectations for my students. I felt my experience with a mentor was very rewarding.

Veronica Freeland's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Where I teach every grade level is a team. We are expected to work together. Some grade-level teams work better than others. Second grade is considered one of the most unified teams on campus. When a new teacher joins the team, the rest of us make sure she has the resources or information she needs. We meet regularly to discuss lesson plans as well as problems and issues. I am fortunate that the mentoring is shared on my team. As a result our new teacher this year is getting varried input so she is well informed and is starting her career on a solid foundation.

Jessica's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a third year teacher and have been assigned a new "mentor" teacher each year. There is no official follow-through on this process. Quite frankly, it always seems to a last minute thought, when I am assigned a mentor. There is no real criteria as has been mentioned in this article, primarily, I decided when to go to my mentor and for what. Without a doubt, my thoughts are that there should be a very thorough, outlined program for new teachers, whether it is their first year teaching over all, or they are new to a district.

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