School systems are under intense pressure to hire, develop, and retain staff amidst incredibly fierce competition for talent. Mentoring programs are a critical talent strategy that every school system should deploy. As Miranda Bowman summarized in her 2014 study “Teacher Mentoring as a Means to Improve Schools”:
Schools that have mentoring programs have a strong effect on novice teachers, primarily in the areas of teacher retention, classroom instructional practices, and student achievement (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011). When teachers work together, there are more consistencies within schools, with a resultant positive effect on school climate, student engagement, and student learning. Teachers feel confident and are more likely to remain in their chosen profession when they have the support of fellow teachers and work with them closely, collaboratively, and as a valued team member. (https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1230726.pdf)
Launching, sustaining or strengthening a mentoring program can seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Robust mentoring programs simply focus on a few key principles and then grow from there:
Mindsets that make a good mentor also make a good mentee:
Openness to sharing honestly about challenges, successes and approaches
Willingness to listen carefully and to ask questions
Receptiveness or having a learning mindset
Good matches are easier with simplified logistics:
Overlapping professional interests and expertise
Aligned approaches to providing and receiving support
Set up the experience for success:
Intentionally align expectations around the commitment in terms of time, availability, and responsiveness
Cultivate a shared understanding of what confidentiality should mean in your context
Provide tools to participants to support the work. These can range from robust training for mentors, to a simple conversation guide with topics or prompts.
Let’s unpack this a little bit.
Notice that the mindsets for both mentors and mentees are the same and that these can be intentionally cultivated and developed. The more practice we have as mentors and mentees and the more feedback we get, the more rewarding our experiences can be both providing and receiving professional support.
A mentor does not need to be an expert in everything to be useful to a mentee, but they do need to have relevant experience and expertise. A mentee can be an excellent, experienced teacher looking to grow in a specific area.
Some people are lucky and organically find an amazing mentor (or mentee!) in one of their professional networks or at their site. But these opportunities should not be based on luck or how well-connected and extroverted someone is. Structured programs promote equity, extend opportunities for growth and leadership to all.
Simplified matching logistics allow for an expansion of mentoring models from generalized mentoring (usually of novices by highly experienced, universal experts) to more focused connections that expand the opportunities to give and receive support. Mentoring can focus on particular skills, problems of practice or cycles of intuitional priorities.
If you’d like to see how we’ve approached simplifying logistics in our platform click here to sign up for a demo.
Some mentoring relationships last a lifetime, others are intended to last a semester or year, but many fizzle quickly and are forgotten. Robust training and a highly structured program can be great, but those also require extensive resources which naturally limit the number of participants and scope of the work.
Lighter touch mentoring experiences can also be very productive if participants are supported by the right type of materials to help set expectations and establish good practices. Moreover, providing staff with structured opportunities to connect with multiple people allows for more equitable access to organically finding a mentoring connection that may last for years.
To learn about how to jump start a micro-mentoring program, check out our free resources here.
For a handout on Myths about mentoring, click here.