Those who teach for a living remember the first time they stepped into a classroom to teach. However, as daunting as the experience may have been, many teachers feel more apprehensive about mentoring another colleague for the first time than a class full of kids and teens. Becoming an effective teacher leader requires dedication and special knowledge. It’s not about the magician revealing its tricks: it’s about supporting another individual’s personal growth within the profession.
The mentoring process is essential for teacher retention and can be an effective tool for newcomers and veterans. As the author ‘Vocab Gal’ from the Sadlier School bog points out, “Without mentors or instructional coaches, teachers may flounder through every decision they make, from how to use a copier to how to develop strong formative and summative assessments. Schools lose a great deal of money when bright, energetic teachers burn out quickly and then continue to rehire and retrain new educators.”
In order to begin a mentorship, both parties need to acknowledge that the educator-teacher leader relationship is not a typical hierarchical relationship. Both teachers are colleagues in the profession and can learn from one another. This symbiotic bond is essential for building openness and trust and starting a mutual aid network instead of fostering a competitive environment.
Resources for Developing Teacher and Mentor Growth
There are many resources for teacher leaders trying to navigate this process. Academic programs, in particular, can be of great interest. The University of Southern Maine’s Master of Science Education (MSEd) in Teacher Leadership with a Concentration in Curriculum Instruction and Assessment online program, for example, offers a course titled Special Topics in Teacher Leadership: Coaching and Mentoring Teachers. This course prepares students to meet these mentoring needs and “facilitates a professional learning community where students and the instructor engage in collegial interaction, peer learning, and reciprocal feedback.”
There are other online resources to add to your studies, such as SREB’s guide to mentoring new teachers. This guide takes and in-depth look at mentor selection criteria, stress and fatigue and providing people-driven support. The latter is defined by SREB as “Mentors support [of] teachers’ entry into professional communities. The program emphasizes both teacher and mentor growth” and is perhaps one of the most important focuses of a successful mentorship program.
Dedicate the Time
The first step to building a people-oriented support system is to dedicate time for mentoring and preparation rather than just tackling the situations as they come. As the authors of the guide note, “Mentors need protected time to engage in mentoring activities, such as attending training sessions, preparing mentoring materials, and observing and meeting with their mentees.” When meeting new teachers, much of the work is in reassurance and encouragement. Reminding them that all difficulties are part of the learning curve and being there for the “Oh No!” moments (as ‘Vocab Gal’ puts it) are two of the most solid ways one can be of support.
Quoting the Sadlier School author, “All new teachers have many terrible moments, including running out of copies, struggling with a specific student, and not knowing how to respond to an ugly parent email. In each instances, a mentor/coach can make copies, keep the…student for a period, and proofread/screen emails to…parents. These small kindnesses really help new teachers become mature, thoughtful educators who will go on to offer the same kindnesses to others.” This mutual aid can be particularly interesting when educators navigate new challenges, such as adopting new technology or hybrid/remote lessons, in which case teachers can benefit immensely from learning from each other.
Offer Constructive Feedback
Lastly, thoughtful feedback is one of the most valuable things a veteran teacher can offer a growing educator. Constructive criticism and positive feedback can go a long way, especially when a new teacher is beginning to feel overwhelmed. Timing the feedback correctly and choosing the right words is an art in itself, but empathy and sensibility are essential traits of effective teacher leaders.
Graduates of an advanced education degree in teacher leadership and C&I and assessment will be prepared to tackle existing education nuances as effective mentors and leaders.