Mentoring and Supporting Teachers

How can we best support teachers in reflecting on and improving their practice?

Mentor Observation Post-visit

Being a teacher is challenging! Being a new teacher is REALLY challenging. I'll never forget my first year. I made some of the strongest connections with students I have ever made in that year, but that year was like a marathon.  I was learning so fast, I could barely take it all in.  I was an art teacher, so classroom management was extremely important.   Sometimes I felt like it was completely out of control.

I'll never forget some seemly simple, yet key advice that veteran teachers gave me. “Use a bell, or clap twice and have the students repeat it to get their attention rather than shouting,” a Humanities teacher who had been teaching for 10 years told me. “If you want to do well here, get work up... and put it everywhere. You're the art teacher, these halls are yours,” the art teacher from our partner high school told me. I truly appreciated all of the advice other teachers gave me. I was like a sponge, I took it all in.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in on my Mentee's class. She had broken a group project down so that all of the students in the class had a clear job in their project. After the lesson, I noted that all of the students seemed engaged. She said that the only reason she broke the groups down the way she did is because of a conversation that she and I had two days before school started. I remember passing by her classroom and asking what she was planning for the first week. As she told me, I noted a couple things that I thought might be helpful, like breaking the groups up and making the expectations for each student very clear, then I went on my way and did not think much of the conversation.

What was a passing comment for me (I have been teaching for six years), ended up being a critical teachable moment. Being a reflective practitioner, my Mentee took what I said and put it to practice immediately.

I believe that we learn best from our peers. Having a mentor program built in to the school culture can be invaluable in helping new teachers.  It is important to have scheduled time in the school calendar for meeting with your Mentor/Mentee.  From a teacher's perspective, it shows that the school really values learning opportunities like this if it is scheduled in to the school day. 

How to implement a Mentoring Program:  I know we are all incredibly busy, but remember that being a mentor is simple.  It only takes a few steps and about an hour and a half of your time.  This sounds like a lot, but if it is built in to your day, it is not overwhelming.

1. It takes having a conversation with a new teacher about an upcoming lesson (Observation Pre-visit).  During the initial conversation, the Mentor should assess the needs of the New Teacher.  Ask the New Teacher what you should be looking for when observing the lesson.  Ask if there are specific things that you should focus on: a challenging student, engagement, rigor, etc...  As a staff, you can incorporate this "Pre-Visit" in to one of your staff meetings.  It takes about 15-30 minutes.

2. Second, observe the lesson (Observation).  Use a video tuning protocol here or go in the class to observe for a class period.  If you can not make it to the entire class, I suggest making it for the beginning of the lesson and staying through some work time. 

3. Then, debrief after the lesson (Observation Post-visit). When debriefing the lesson, encourage reflection by asking open-ended questions. Remember, teaching is difficult, so it is also important to be positive and understanding.  

A mentee and mentor could also meet for an initial conversation or lesson debrief during lunch or over coffee. It is nice for a new teacher to know that they have one person that they can always go to. Although this practice can be extremely helpful for new teachers, it can also be beneficial for veteran teachers.    To learn more about collegial coaching, see Establishing Adult Learning Environments.

Attached Artifacts:
1. Observation Pre-visit
2. Observation Tool
3. Observation Post-visit
4. What's in a Conversation, Analysis of Coaching Conversation

Below are a few other useful ways to help new teachers get started:

  • New Teacher Odyssey

  • Beginning of the Year All Staff Retreat 

Shani Leader,
Nov 17, 2009, 6:27 PM
Shani Leader,
Nov 17, 2009, 5:35 PM
Shani Leader,
Nov 17, 2009, 6:14 PM
Shani Leader,
Nov 19, 2009, 2:28 PM