What qualities define an excellent mentor? was a question posed to hundreds of educators. We went through all 851 comments and selected the finest recommendations.
The most effective mentors go beyond serving as hand-holders or tour guides. According to middle school ELA teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron, they are knowledgeable but approachable practitioners who “carry on their expertise through informal dialogue and everyday modeling.” They are expert listeners committed to fostering your distinctive pedagogical voice, but when necessary, they are also ready to “push back and disagree with you.”
Strong mentors help rookie teachers stay in the classroom longer, according to study, but there is also a significant benefit for children. An SRI Education study from 2017 found that when new teachers receive high-quality and consistent mentoring, their students exhibit impressive academic gains—an additional two to four months of reading learning and an additional two to five months of math learning, when compared with their peers in a control group.
By guiding new instructors through the practical components of their jobs, such as how to use the laminator or adhere to field trip procedures, mentoring is different from induction. According to reading and language arts teacher Kimberly Long’s article for Education Week, mentors have a wider range of responsibilities and assist new teachers in “managing the grind of everyday struggles and the rigors of the job.” “Paper is oozing out of your desk. There is a blinking voicemail light. Your inbox of emails never ends, and your hair is covered with little smiley face stickers. Everybody has been there. I have had the privilege of working with several extraordinary teachers in my early career who have saved my sanity, wiped my tears, and challenged me to be more than I imagined I could be.
We recently posed the query, “What constitutes a very good mentor teacher?” to our readers. Numerous educators contributed. We went through your comments on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to compile the best characteristics of exceptional mentor teachers. To examine what other educators had written on the subject, we also looked through our Edutopia archives and other resources.
Here are six characteristics of the best mentor teachers
Good mentors are receptive: It’s a prevalent fallacy that effective mentoring is mostly about giving advice. Listening is indeed the key to effective coaching, according to our readers. The word (and its derivatives) appeared 67 times in the thread, far more than any other quality.
The first few years in the classroom are an emotional roller coaster filled with doubt. According to Cait Marie, an English teacher in New Jersey, the finest mentors “listen with empathy,” and they know how to refocus “worries and emotions positively,” according to educator Alec Mielke on Facebook.
According to Debra Meyer, an education professor at Elmhurst University and a former classroom teacher, active listening—a structured, nonjudgmental method of listening and responding where the listener gives undivided attention and withholds judgment—is “especially important in mentor-mentee communication.” “Active listening aids learning, and good mentors listen to learn themselves. They want to support their mentees as they contemplate and weigh their alternatives.
They simulate, but they don’t mold: Effective mentoring doesn’t involve correcting or turning new teachers into carbon copies. According to Nicholas Orr, a New Zealand educator, the finest mentors discreetly exhibit sound teaching methods and provide “enough room” for mentees to develop their own voices. This emphasis was shared by many other educators in the thread.
Kim Halvorson, a teacher, asserts that the traits of the most dependable mentors include the capacity to “stand back” and allow mentees to “make mistakes” before gently offering better options for the next time. Kevin Lichtman, an English teacher at Monarch High School in Florida, observed that they always “support the new teacher to explore new tactics and be themselves.” “I had a fantastic tutor who had her own unique style and methodology. But she didn’t force me to adopt her manner. She encouraged my imagination while also demonstrating what had worked well for her (quite successfully). That gave me more courage to explore new things and develop my own pedagogy.
They’ve seen it all: It’s a mistake to assign mentors before they have years of classroom experience. Simply put, there is a degree of competence and knowledge that only time can provide: Teacher Erin Ruiz-Prunchak acknowledges, “I took on the position much before I was ready, and it felt like a disaster.
Mentors with experience can connect the whys and hows of teaching. Kelly Pope, a teacher, concurs in a response on Facebook: “They should be highly secure in their classroom management and lesson planning, and be able to express why they do what they do.” And Ruiz-Prunchak asserts that mentors show and practice resilience when things go wrong, as they inevitably do: They can assist mentees in “healing and recovery” since they are “strong enough with classroom management.”
They achieve the ideal balance: According to teacher Kate Kluegel, mentors can help early-career teachers set “clear work/life boundaries” and instill in them the value of taking care of both their pupils and themselves as they deal with unprecedented levels of professional stress and burnout. Mentors can also show how to practice self-care by demonstrating how to “put on their own Band-Aid, you know, just in case,” according to educator Jessica Brown, when times are bad.
According to Meyer, an education professor at Elmhurst University, mentors can assist mentees in navigating the system when their workload gets too much. With the same class sizes and timetables, Meyer notes that “new instructors often have to hit the same high standards for student learning outcomes and professional obligations.” This could imply that the mentor steps in when the mentee is overwhelmed, asks for more resources, or offers assistance that frees up time on the mentee’s “to-do” list.
They arrive: The best mentoring frequently occurs within structured programmes that give participants allocated time and deliberate structure because mentoring takes time. Ultimately, more than half the battle is simply showing up.
Jody Lyon, an educator from Iowa, remarked that her mentor “was incredibly effective at concentrating the time we had on exactly what we were working on.” They always held “targeted meetings without gossip” when they got together.
According to Amie Weinberg, director of the teacher-mentor programme and a former classroom teacher, discussing and establishing norms at the start of the school year would help to assure that level of focus. Have both teachers sign off on the norms in a Google Doc, and make sure to update them as needed during the year if requirements or expectations change. This conversation is crucial because it establishes each person’s professional foundation for their one-year partnership and clarifies their individual roles and obligations, according to Weinberg.
Organize your logistics as well: Establish the optimum day and time for both instructors’ weekly meetings, “as well as specifics like where, for how long, and cancellation procedures,” advises
Weinberg. Setting expectations for impromptu contacts is also a good idea, such as when a mentee needs help or guidance in coping with a difficult pupil or a disastrous class. Should the mentee contact the mentor by phone, text, in-person visit, or email? Sharing preferences and ironing out the specifics is a simple approach to start the collaborative process, according to Weinberg.
They promote introspection: Numerous educators informed us that mentor teachers assist mentees in establishing a regular, meaningful reflection practice. According to Anne Stewart’s Facebook post, “For experienced teachers, reflecting comes so readily we forget how crucial it is.” “What effect did ____ have on your students? Why do you know that?
A good mentor teacher is “constantly reflecting and asking herself questions that keep her goals in sight and her apprentice feeling seen, understood, and valued,” continues jennasteedconnkatt through Instagram. This is similar to how they would do it in their own practice.
According to Weinberg, seasoned mentors encourage reflective thinking as a fundamental component of the mentoring process and pose questions that assist mentees’ learning to be expanded and deepened. Weinberg says, “Mentors who coach in this manner have shared with me their belief that a mentee’s reflection more directly affects professional progress than questioning does, because thinking about a lesson or instructional tactics can directly result in change. Even when the mentee has no particular queries or worries, the couple still meets once a week with the intention of encouraging contemplation for growth.