Professional Learning

Supporting Teachers: Effective Mentoring

Mentor educators discuss what they do to be successful at what they do.

April 22, 2008

We asked education professionals with varied levels of experience in mentoring about the job and how they approach it. Here's the third in a series of responses to four questions:

What helps make your mentoring most effective?

Jessica Tiatia

Credit: Courtesy of Nome Tiatia

It helps teachers to work closely with experienced mentors and to be able to ask them questions right when they come up. Also, it really helps my confidence as a mentor to work within the subject area that I taught.

-- Jessica Tiatia, Jefferson Union High School District, Daly City, California. Tiatia works mostly with first- and second-year science and math teachers on their preliminary credentials.

Joe Gorder

Credit: Courtesy of Joe Gorder

One of the most beneficial things is shadowing other mentors -- and having them shadow me -- so they can give me constructive, supportive feedback on my practice. Being a full-time mentor has afforded me the time to really focus on effective, instructional strategies and to reflect on what makes good teaching. In the process of helping new teachers survive, thrive, and grow professionally, I am becoming a better teacher and will do some things very differently when I return to the classroom.

-- Joe Gorder, mentor, Lake Washington School District, Redmond, Washington. Gorder works with first-year secondary teachers of all subjects.

Melissa Barkin

Credit: Courtesy of Melissa Barkin

Effective mentoring relies on excellent listening. I think it is important to ask a lot of questions and listen for a long time before offering any advice. My most valuable sessions with new teachers have occurred when we sat and chatted about how our days went in the classroom and, at the very end of it all, I was able to offer some suggestions and ways to modify what the teacher was already doing.

-- Melissa Barkin, Roma High School, Rio Grande Valley, Texas. Barkin teaches full time, and she mentors a first-year social studies colleague. She trained new Teach for America instructors last summer.

Betty Walters

Credit: Courtesy of Adam Dementieff

The formal training provided through the New Teacher Center and the informal networking of the statewide staff and returning mentors have guided me as I support my beginning teachers. The effectiveness of statewide mentor projects has improved because I stay at a school site or in a community for several days and use the early-morning, late-afternoon, and evening hours -- when teachers are available -- to talk, discuss, and reflect on their own classroom practices. We may never, and probably should never, stop our ongoing discussions on classroom management, community and family cultures, teacher-family-student educational expectations, and, most important, instructional strategies to address student concerns.

-- Betty Walters, Alaska Statewide Mentor Project. Walters travels the state to mentor first- and second-year teachers in multiple subjects. This is her first year as a mentor.

Having heart is not enough. Ongoing professional development has been critical both for me as a coach and for my beginning teachers. My experience as a classroom teacher and special educator is the foundation of my mentoring. I love teaching. That's why I'm mentoring -- because I want other teachers to love teaching, too, and to stay in the profession. I'm not doing this in my spare time. There's a priority, an urgency, in working with these new teachers, and I recognize that by making this a full-time job.

-- Sharon Grady, Chicago Public Schools, in partnership with the Chicago New Teacher Center. Over the past six years, she has worked with P-8 teachers in general and special education.

Frantz Prospere

Credit: Courtesy of Frantz Prospere

I would say it's most important to treat beginning teachers not as students but as equals. I allow them to come up with solutions to their own problems, as opposed to me giving them a quick fix. I am their pillar of support, a person that's assigned to them to aid with their responsibilities as an educator, so that one day they can be mentors to beginning teachers themselves.

-- Frantz Prospere, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, District 4, Florida. Prospere is a full-time behavior-management teacher who mentors beginning instructors at his site.

Mylinda Mallon

Credit: Courtesy of K. Andrews

Teaming, processing, and solving problems with other mentors in my district has allowed me to continually refine my work so that the teachers I serve receive essential training, strategies, and coaching for success. Working as a team, we have established practices and policies that have created support structures districtwide for the novice teacher. Case studies and weekly meetings provide us with the opportunity to review strategies and problem solve as a group. These approaches have been extremely beneficial in helping me be an effective mentor.

-- Mylinda Mallon, Lake Washington School District, Redmond, Washington. In her six years of mentoring, she's worked with teachers in all grade levels but now focuses on K-6 teachers in both general and special education.

Lisa Morehouse, a former teacher, is now a public-radio journalist and education consultant.

Read the fourth article in this series.

Teaching the Teachers: A Guide to Mentoring Categories

Informal: Though the majority of states mandate and sometimes fund formal teacher-mentor programs, many do not. Concerned principals in these states may assign buddy teachers, pairing new teachers with experienced volunteers. Buddy teachers usually focus on psychological support and coping strategies rather than educational development.

Master teachers: Mandatory programs pair beginning teachers with tenured teachers, teachers with master's degrees, or those with three or more years of experience. Districts may pay stipends with local or state funds and often give release time for mentors to observe new teachers in the classroom. In rare cases, mentors provide formal evaluations.

Mentor teams: A portion of state-mandated programs require a team approach in which some mentors fulfill the social-support function; others assess the novice's performance for purposes of employment or certification.

Outside mentors: Some districts partner with nearby universities to bring college faculty on site to mentor new teachers. The universities or state grants usually fund these programs.

Do-it-yourself: In districts with no mandates or a shortage of mentors, new teachers can seek out their own informal mentoring relationships. Teachers can even do mentoring via email through Web sites such as's MightyMentors.

-- Steven Saint

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