The Benefits & Importance of Educational Mentoring
Just as you decided to make a difference in the lives of students when you entered the field of education, you choose to make a difference for a fellow professional when you decide to become a teaching mentor. It's what makes education special, because the ultimate result of the educational mentoring should be happier, healthier, and more professionally adept teachers, leading to better outcomes for students.
Qualities of a Good Mentor
Education Week identified the following "eight qualities of a great teacher mentor":
- Consistently demonstrate mutual respect.
- Use active, deep listening skills.
- Challenge mentees, push them in new directions in a positive manner, primarily through a respectful strategy of asking questions instead of issuing edicts.
- Ensure that the relationship is a collaborative one.
- Celebrate the mentee's success and share in their happiness.
- Be truthful and honest.
- Create a safe environment in which to ask questions, to make mistakes, and be coached.
- Be empathetic.
Significant about this list is just how much of the mentor-mentee relationship revolves around mutual respect and trust. In such an atmosphere of true collegiality, great things happen because both parties feel that they are able to share ideas openly, without fear of judgement or rebuke.
Becoming a Mentor
There are a number of ways—both informally and formally—to become an educational mentor. Informal mentoring reflects a shift from the traditional single mentor-mentee relationship to that of a mentoring network, in which several such long- or short-term relationships may exist. You can promote such relationships by being approachable and open to new experiences. You'll be surprised at how many potential mentees will actively seek you out and how much of an impact you can have.
MIT provides a helpful guide to informal mentoring, in which they encourage the mentee to consider the purpose and timeframe for the informal mentoring arrangement. For example, a teacher might be considering a career move into school leadership. They would establish an informal mentorship based upon that purpose with their principal or a principal at another school or district, perhaps based upon a common undergraduate location or experience or through previous acquaintance. They would then have the opportunity to discuss current issues in the field, set up shadowing experiences, and the mentee would have access to the principal's extended network of contacts to assist with future advancement. You can easily be that person.
The more formal, one-on-one mentorship can also be incredibly powerful and fulfilling. For example, Ohio developed the Resident Educator Program to provide support for new teachers over the first years of their careers. In such a system, you become a mentor by attending training and being assigned to a new teacher by your local coordinator. Does your state or local district have such a formal system? You might be a perfect fit for someone and not even know it yet!
In a formal arrangement, you must be careful not to let the mentorship simply become an exercise in jumping through hoops, meeting only because you have to and filling out the paperwork because it's mandated. Avoid "formulaic and pointless" formal mentoring programs at all costs. The experience should be supportive, job-embedded, and useful. In a perfect world, the mentor and mentee learn from one another.
Essential for First-Year Teachers
While two-thirds of teachers who took part in a mentorship program state that the program was beneficial, less than half of teachers had mentors at all. That means that schools and districts should increase access to mentorship programs while continuing to improve their overall quality.
Think back to your first year of teaching - you were likely expected to juggle multiple preps, learn all-new classroom resources (and develop your own), and fulfill the duties and other professional responsibilities, all while trying to navigate the school's culture and climate. Both formal and informal mentoring arrangements can be key to survival in the first year, whether planning a new unit or fielding your first angry email from a parent.
Learning New Tricks
If you are a veteran in the field, as you mentor others you may want to ask someone under the age of 30 to mentor you—especially with regard to emerging EdTech. A first-year teacher, fresh from university, may be more tuned in to technology trends and/or have just taken classes via the college's learning management system (LMS). You may be surprised at how much they can teach you and how much you'll be able to share with others as a result. You are never too old for a mentor.
Mentorship and Your Learning Management System
Beyond its primary classroom focus, your learning management system can be used for both professional development and mentorship. Set up a course for you and your mentee. Create discussion opportunities and a place for you and your mentee to share ideas and resources. Time is the most valuable resource. You might not always be able to meet face to face; an LMS makes it possible to meet asynchronously and keep moving forward despite hectic schedules, lessons to plan, and papers to grade.
Every Teacher Needs a Mentor
Mentorships come in all shapes and sizes, and can be structured for any teacher at any point in their career. You can move in and out of mentorships depending on your needs and the needs of those around you. Whatever the situation, every teacher needs the pedagogical and emotional support that mentorship brings, and should find ways to make those relationships a reality.
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