“Principals need to spend the time on developing a school culture that can foster mentoring and coaching for school improvement. We are all familiar with strategic plans, programs and reports but we can’t assume that everyone has the mindset to be open to mentoring or coaching. Nobody really teaches us that. Developing the right school culture requires a planned approach and an investment in time to develop trust amongst staff, open communication, putting issues ‘on the table’, team building, understanding perceptual positions, sharing ideas, giving and accepting feedback, discussing data, working collaboratively and supporting each other.”
– Fathma Mauger, 2016 Principal, Larrakeyah Primary School
What is Mentoring?
In education, mentoring is a complex and multi-dimensional process of guiding, teaching, influencing and supporting a beginning or new teacher. It is generally accepted that a mentor teacher provides direction, guidance, education, influence and support to another teacher more junior in experience in a work situation characterized by mutual trust and belief with the aim of supporting the mentee’s development (Koki, n.d.).
Typically, mentoring programs pair novice teachers with more experienced teachers who can ably explain school policies, regulations and procedures; share methods, materials and other resources; help solve problems in teaching and learning; provide personal and professional support; and guide the growth of the new teacher through reflection, collaboration, and shared inquiry (Koki, n.d.).
Formal mentoring involves performance observations and feedback, policies concerning teachers’ probation and teachers’ registration. Informal mentoring involves development of learning communities, professional learning, and informal peer observations and appraisals. Mentors observe the classroom teaching of their mentees on regular basis, and provide feedback and advice. The mentees observe their mentors’ classes so that they can learn and work on identified aspects of their teaching (Northern Terrirtory Principals’ Association, 2016).
The Purpose of Mentoring
The purpose of mentoring is to provide support, guidance and advice to teachers to enable them to enhance their teaching skills to develop professionally. Mentoring works best when it is carried out as part of a structured developmental program. It can involve all or any of the following (Garvey, n.d.):
• Initial Orientation to Many Challenges
o New work setting
o New work culture of school community and organization
o New curriculum and assessment process
• Improvement of Professional Practices
o Effective teaching models, strategies
o Leadership and management skills
• Development of the School as a Learning Community
o Lifelong learning orientation
o Moving beyond congenial to collegial
Qualities of Mentor Teachers
Following are the essential qualities that mentor teachers need to have to be successful at mentoring (Koki, n.d.):
1. A range of interpersonal skills suited to the various professional meetings and situations.
2. Good working knowledge of teaching methods, different modalities of learning, and styles of teaching and learning that influence student performance.
3. Ability to coach and foster increased self-responsibility and self-direction of the newbie or junior teacher.
4. Effective communication skills to engage meaningfully with the mentee’s social, emotional, and social needs.
5. Clear understanding of the stages of teacher development within the context of how adults learn.
The Role of the Principal
The role of the school administrator or principal is to facilitate the process of mentorship within the school. Principals need to (Garvey, n.d.):
• Initiate mentorship programs based on the needs of the staff
• Inform potential mentors and mentees about the process and program
• Facilitate the use of time and resources for the mentorship program
• Assign/approve mentorship teams early in the school year or at the end of the current year for the following year.
Phases of the Mentorship Relationship
The mentor–mentee relationship has four stages (Garvey, n.d.):
1. Initiation—getting to know each other.
2. Cultivation—what things do mentors and mentees do together to promote and enhance teaching and learning?
3. Separation—how does the role of the mentor diminish and the role of the mentee increase?
4. Redefinition—how does the mentor–mentee relationship evolve to a peer coaching, critical friend relationship? Is this a valid progression?
Like good counselors, mentors want to work themselves out of the job of mentoring. Mentors need to be aware of the phases of mentoring and strive to move to the redefinition of the mentor–mentee relationship.
Starting Mentoring Programs
The four major tasks in starting a mentoring program are: (1) Selecting and training individuals to serve as mentors; (2) Matching mentors with mentees; (3) Setting goals and expectations; and (4) Establishing the mentoring program (Koki, n.d.).
Selecting and Training Mentors
Key to the success of any mentoring program is the competence of the mentor who must possess the expertise, commitment, and time to provide assistance to novice teachers. There is no fixed rule about which traits or circumstances are most critical in a given mentoring situation. The most frequently mentioned characteristic of effective mentors is a willingness to nurture another person. Therefore, individuals recruited as mentors should be people-oriented, open-minded, flexible, empathetic, and collaborative. Mentors should be enrolled in an ongoing mentoring training program. Training in communication and active listening techniques, relationship skills, effective teaching, models of supervision and coaching, conflict resolution, and problem solving are often included in training opportunities for mentors.
Matching Mentors and Mentees
One of the first considerations when establishing mentor pairs is proximity. Asking for volunteer mentors is an effective way of recruiting mentors. Other pertinent ways of establishing good matches between mentor and mentee include a gender match; a common ethnic, cultural, or class background; similarity of work assignments; and others.
Setting Goals and Expectations
Clear goals and expectations must be articulated that are specific to both the types of mentorship to be developed and what is intended to be accomplished. Specific functions to be served by the mentor should be clearly stated and plans must be developed to successfully carry out these functions. Each mentor-mentee pair must have specific and appropriate goals.
Establishing Mentoring Programs
After goals are set, it becomes timely to establish the mentoring program so that it will support the mentor-mentee pairs “throughout the development of their relationship.” The school must make sure it has the staff with the time and essential skills required to run the program, and to ensure that there are adequate resources in place. These include time set aside for the process itself, rooms and quiet spaces for consultation. Essential considerations of timing, length of the program, responsibility roles and monitoring and evaluation are also needed.
The Advantages of Mentoring
1. For the Beginning Teacher
o Access to the knowledge, experience and support of a mentor teacher
o Enhanced personal and professional well-being because of reduced stress during the transition
o Increased job success, self-confidence and self-esteem
o Reduced trial-and-error learning and accelerated professional growth
o Support for successful induction into the teaching career
2. For the Mentor
o Increased learning, renewal and teaching performance
o Recognition as an excellent teacher conferred through status as a mentor
o Refocus on instructional practices and the development of reflective skills
o Opportunity to serve the profession
o Gratitude of the protégé
3. For the Administrator
o A helping hand from the mentor with beginning teacher orientation and support
o Better performance from both beginning and mentor teachers
o Reduced teacher attrition and time required for beginning teacher recruitment, development, supervision and problem solving
4. For Students
o Teachers who focus on student needs rather than their own survival
o Increased instructional continuity due to reduced annual teacher turnover
o Better teachers, who are less authoritarian and dominating and more reflective and disposed to continuous improvement
o Teachers whose self-confidence leads them to use a wider range of instructional strategies and activities
5. For the Profession
o Retention of the best, most creative teachers
o Retention of experienced teachers who find a new challenge and opportunity for growth by serving as mentors
o Increased continuity of traditions and positive cultural norms for behavior
o Establishment of professional norms of openness to learning from others, new ideas and instructional practices, continual improvement, collaboration, collegiality and experimentation (Garvey, n.d.)
Call to Action
Being a successful company that is more than a decade old, Butterfly Fields has the necessary understanding and expertise on how to set up a mentoring program. Please contact us for further dialogue on this issue and also to know about our various products and offerings that can benefit your staff and students in carrying out their teaching and learning activities.
Garvey, D. J., n.d. The Program Handbook: Mentoring Beginning Teachers, Edmonton: The Alberta Teachers’ Association.
Koki, S., n.d. The Role of Teacher Mentoring in Educational Reform, Honolulu: Pacific Resources for Education and Learning.
Northern Terrirtory Principals’ Association, 2016. A Guide to Coaching & Mentoring for School Improvement. 1st ed. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research.