What does it mean to be a mentor? Though Mr. Webster may define it as “an experienced and trusted adviser,” we aren’t convinced his definition has been actualized in the field of education.
After all, though many mentors are by definition “experienced,” that does not mean they are experienced in the realm of mentoring. They might be experienced teachers who have never received the training and insight necessary to support an emerging educator.
Similarly, the skills to be a trusted adviser don’t appear out of thin air just because you’ve been placed on the mentor list. For as long as we can remember (and even further back than our time), we have heard stories far removed from Webster’s definition.
The most veteran teacher in the same grade is assigned to be a mentor. No questions asked; location and pecking order determined the match. We’ve heard of new teachers sharing a mentor from another building with four other mentees. We’ve heard stories about mentees whose mentors compromised their trust. And our worst nightmare? Brand new teachers who are provided with no mentor at all.
This missed definition leads to why we seek to redefine teacher leadership. How can a modern teacher in a modern education system be supported without a modern mentor and mentoring program?
In the book Modern Mentor, veteran educators, recognized school leaders, and expert mentors Suzy Brooks and Mathew X. Joseph showcase ways to develop mentoring programs, designed to assist teachers in becoming strong mentors and to assist new teachers in getting the most out of their mentoring relationship.
“A modern mentor should always consider the mentee's perspective.”
— Bryan Gorman, Schools Relationship Manager at Buncee
Think back to when you decided to go to school to become a teacher. You filled out applications, found a college that was the right fit, completed classes, finished student teaching, applied for jobs, and started teaching.
Since that time, you have been on your way to educating students and honing your craft. A new crop of educators enters our field every year in this same way. Most feeling a little shock—or worse, fear—as they begin their teaching career. It is only natural.
New teachers can often doubt their credentials and feel less than 100 percent prepared. Those new educators will be looking to a mentor for support and guidance—just as you once might have done.
What are you going to do with your opportunity as a mentor? Because more often than not, unfortunately, those new educators get overwhelmed and do not stay in the profession. Traditional teacher education programs focus on content acquisition rather than colleague collaboration. Novice teachers enter their profession feeling isolated and unprepared.
Mentors can change that if they have the right training and the right motivation.
Mentoring is a long-term and formal connection focused on improving not only a specific skill but an educator’s overall craft and performance. Mentoring is rooted in relationships.
A mentor may have experience with the content (like a coach) but is also a communicator. They get personal with their mentees. They create a safe environment so that a mentee can grow through trial and error and risk-taking.
In a positive mentor relationship (especially peer mentoring), both mentors and mentees experience growth through the connection. Mentors can gain a new perspective on the profession or current practice from a new educator, just as a novice educator can learn from a seasoned mentor.
Mentoring is a well-paced process, not a sprint to a goal. A mentor should be able to offer professional expertise and support to a less-experienced colleague or peer, and they should be willing to do it in the long term.
A mentor serves as a teacher, sounding board, and advocate for a colleague, helping to shape their career and develop their potential. Before you can serve as a modern mentor, you must learn what it means to be a modern mentor.
Being a mentor means another educator is vulnerable and looking to you for guidance and support. It is your obligation to reflect on this responsibility before stepping into it, just as you would before stepping inside your classroom.
Once you have had a chance to reflect and take a hard look at what mentoring is, and have decided to take the next step, be fully committed to the responsibility of supporting teachers as they seek success and growth in their new position. You may read this chapter and realize that mentoring is not the leadership path for you, or you may read it and get fired up because you want to step up and offer support.
Once you look in the mirror and say, "I am in," set up a time with your principal or mentor coordinator and talk about the next steps. You are now ready to be a modern mentor and positively impact the life of another educator, and their students, for years to come.
New educators enter the field with varying qualifications and skills in instructional design and delivery. Good mentors are willing to step up and transfer their skills and knowledge to new teachers to improve performance, starting at the new teachers’ skill levels when they enter the field.
The goal of all schools is to increase and maintain student learning. Teachers have a direct impact on that learning, so mentoring and supporting new teachers is critical for ongoing school support.
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