As the "mentor coordinator" for my entire district, I have learned much by observing and working alongside mentors and beginning teachers. My role as mentor coordinator involves matching mentors with new teachers, providing information and feedback regarding the mentoring process, meeting with mentor/new teacher partners throughout the year, and more! Overseeing these various aspects of our district's mentoring program is a demanding job, but also a privilege.
I remember just how hard it was to be a new teacher. I shared a room with a male English teacher and soccer coach who had a very dry sense of humor. He provided me with perspective when I felt overwhelmed, and supported me when others at my school sought to discourage my love of young adult literature. I ultimately left that school in order to go to a district that allowed me to teach literature and vocabulary the way I knew it should be taught, but I also learned a great deal from my “teacher roommate’s” positive attitude that first year.
I also learned an enormous amount from my freshman Humanities co-teacher, a 30-year veteran whose no-nonsense classroom management strategies made my second year of teaching a notoriously strong-willed group of honors sophomores much easier than expected.
Remembering those early years when I asked every teacher for help and worked practically 24/7 in the effort to be the best possible teacher. I did not realize that to prevent burnout, I needed to take time for myself each day, and that not every paper had to be immediately graded.
For these and so many other reasons, I find that mentoring is the most important role I play as a teacher.
While I may teach 120 students each year, through coaching and mentoring teachers, I’m actually impacting more than 500–1000 students a year. I give great credit to my education professor, Dr. Connie Zitlow at Ohio Wesleyan University, who remains my close friend and mentor to this day. I tell my own mentees that I will always be their mentor, and many former mentees still come to me seeking advice as well as team-teaching opportunities.
Many studies have shown that mentoring programs help retain early-career educators and prevent burnout for both young and veteran teachers.
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 the end, both the small and mundane and the large and philosophical aspects of teaching need to be delivered by mentors in order to shape teachers into strong, dedicated professionals who may one day become mentors themselves.
Although mentoring new teachers have many challenges, it is incredibly meaningful and has a tremendous impact on students, schools, and our shared future
The following ideas and downloads, support all teachers in a variety of learning environments. It is my hope that mentor teachers, instructional coaches, and all teachers can find practical strategies to support their new or struggling colleagues and elevate the quality of education for students.
#1 Reassure New Teachers
Reassure new teachers that everyone rides an emotional rollercoaster. It is easy for all teachers, especially those early in their careers, to go from idealistic to disillusioned in the first three months of a school year. Sometimes just reminding teachers that we all have tough days helps these teachers feel less alone. The reality of being teacher, mentor, social worker, and law enforcer to students quickly becomes overwhelming, and a coach/mentor can help teachers learn how to juggle their numerous demands.
#2 Provide Encouragement
One of the most basic ways you can help a new teacher is just to write a cheerful note and put it in their mailbox. Expressions like “Hang in there; two weeks until break!” or “Good luck with your zany period students today!” along with chocolate, treats, or non-edible school supplies, can provide teachers with enough positivity to get them through the day.
#3 Offer Feedback
New teachers often feel both incredibly confused and enormously sensitive during their first few years of teaching. As a coach/mentor, providing some basic positive and constructive feedback gives a new teacher support and guidance without their feeling overwhelmed or crushed.
A “Glow and Grow” feedback form provides ample space for coaches/mentors to list the many positive moments the teacher had with the class during the lesson and is also a great starting point before addressing the “grow” or suggestions for improvements. Be specific and actionable in the “grow” portion of the sheet, and make sure to bring up the positive aspects often if you sense teachers are becoming too disheartened.
#4 Be There in The "Oh No!" Moments
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 of these instances, a mentor/coach can make the copies, keep the problematic student for a period, and proofread/screen emails to angry parents. These small kindnesses really help new teachers become mature, thoughtful educators who will go on to offer the same kindnesses to others.
#5 Reflect Together
Build in time to reflect together. The best part about coaching/mentoring is the reflection that comes with talking over educational problems, big and small. Taking time to discuss what works and doesn’t work is how beginning teachers become master educators. Using a reflection sheet allows both the coach/mentor and the teacher to take steps to correct problems and to look back later in order to identify patterns over time.
Although mentoring new teachers can have many challenges, it is incredibly meaningful and has a tremendous impact on students, schools, and our shared future. Sending a meal or a text, popping into a virtual meeting or class, and setting weekly times to reflect are keys to keeping everyone engaged and motivated throughout the year. These ideas and tips are useful for all teachers, but especially new teachers who are setting themselves and their students up for a successful school year for the first time!
The goal of instructional coaching or mentoring new teachers is to help teachers survive and thrive in the classroom. Using the Top 5 Tips on How to Be a Great Coach/Mentor for Teachers Tip Sheet should set up mentors and instructional coaches alike to be successful. Using the weekly Mentor and Teacher Reflection and monthly Glow and Grow Mentor Observation Form is a great way to record, resolve, and revisit difficult situations.
Like the old metaphor regarding the many ripples the toss of a stone can generate, we too can impact many students in the future when we jump into the water with new teachers and help them learn how to navigate their own educational path.
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