Mentoring is a very important part of what we “engage” in as educators. Whether we serve as a mentor to a colleague or a student, or perhaps we seek out a mentor to help us with challenges or simply to have a system of support in our personal and professional lives, it has a tremendous impact. Whether or not we even realize it at times, we are all serving as a mentor to someone.
Recently a colleague stopped in to talk and confided in me that they were experiencing challenges with classroom management, student behaviors such as disrespect and keeping up with the responsibilities of teaching in general. Without a doubt, teaching can be tough sometimes. I’ve been in that same position more than once during my teaching career.
Having taught for the last 25 years, I’ve had a lot of experiences, some good, some bad, and some in between. At times in a position where I needed to improve, fearing I would possibly lose my job, and felt like no matter what I tried, that I just would not succeed. There were days that I left school feeling helpless and alone. I was embarrassed to confide in anyone that I was struggling. There were people who impacted my life, not because they were assigned as my mentors, but because they just took the time to listen, care, and support me to keep pushing through. Because of their impact on my life, I learned the importance of relationships, of being available to listen and to support, but also to give pushback and critical feedback when needed.
The Roles of Mentors
Mentors have a pivotal role to play in education. Whether you are enrolled in a pre-service teacher program, working as an intern in a school, new to teaching or to a new school, you often have a mentor to help guide you through any transitions along the way. Most of the time the “mentorship” is formed between a more veteran teacher and a newer teacher, to help to lessen any feelings of being overwhelmed when starting the teaching journey. Mentors can help newer teachers find their place in the school, establish their classroom presence and get into a daily teaching practice. While I believe that mentoring for new teachers is critical, I think that an area that is often overlooked is that veteran teachers need mentors as well. For many years I thought that teachers were only assigned mentors as part of a school induction program, part of an improvement plan, or simply because it was part of the pre-service or teacher preparation program.
Teaching can become an isolating profession if we let it. Isolating in the sense that we don’t have enough time to connect with colleagues. We have many tasks to keep up with, but the most important part of our work is making time for our students. We must be available and invest our time to help them to succeed. Whether specified or not, everyone is a mentor and I believe that sometimes we don’t even realize it.
We mentor students. We don’t know everything that they might be experiencing when they leave our classroom. Students need a constant in their life, a relationship based on trust and support that they know is there when they need it. Our colleagues need to establish these same relationships as well. But how do we find time to seek out a mentor or to act as a mentor to someone else? For these mentorships, the relationships are critical for our personal and professional growth. We need to be intentional in serving as mentors for those we lead and lead with. Finding mentors for ourselves will help us continue to learn, grow and improve our practice each day.
Mentorships typically involve a mentor and mentee, with clearly defined roles. A mentorship is defined as a “wise and trusted counselor or teacher.” However, I think the definition has evolved and within mentorships today, an individual can be both a mentor and a mentee. New teachers paired with more veteran teachers both bring unique skills, experiences and knowledge to their mentorship. They each have something to teach and a lot to learn, which is why finding time to be part of a mentorship is critical for professional growth.
Colleagues within the same school can serve as mentors to one another, or even connect with a colleague from a neighboring school. However, finding the time to sit down in the same space or have a quick conversation can be a challenge on most school days. The lack of time is one of the most common problems facing educators. When we think about all of the tasks that we do in a given day whether, in school or home, there can be little time left for mentoring. But there are many options that can solve this problem of lack of time and assist you in pairing up with a colleague or creating small groups of educators to serve as mentors to one another.
And finding a mentor does not require, at least in my opinion, that pairing of a new teacher with a veteran teacher. Everyone has something to offer and as a teacher of 25 years compared to a teacher early in their career, there is a lot of knowledge and skills that can be shared between us. But how can we find time to connect? When used with purpose, technology can make a difference. The purpose being professional growth, avoiding isolation or having somewhere to turn when feeling frustrated or in need of support.
How to Connect
- Social Media – Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, enable educators to connect and share stories, ask questions, and to interact whenever is convenient. These platforms offer educators a space to learn about issues educators are facing and brainstorm ideas for making changes in their practice, or engage in conversations and foster some connections on their own. There are even focused communities available on Facebook to connect based on content area, grade level or even topic.
- Book studies and Voxer groups – There are many book studies happening, many of which are announced on Twitter or Facebook, and focused on books related to education or specific trends in education. Personally, I have made some great connections with educators from around the world, simply by joining in a Voxer book study and building relationships in a supportive environment. The book study of “Four O’Clock Faculty” by Rich Czyz led to a #4OCFPLN, which has become a large part of my professional growth and reflective practice every day.
- ISTE: The International Society for Technology in Education is a worldwide Network that includes more than 20 Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). By getting involved in these networks, you have access to thousands of educators and can engage in conversations, post questions, and make your own connections that will help you to keep building your practice.
- School committees- Schools can offer different activities for teachers to engage in whether it be a health and wellness committee or a leadership council which gives teachers an opportunity to talk, share ideas, or bring school concerns to light. By bringing teachers together in a meeting like this, it is an intentional way to create time for teachers to collaborate and form those valuable relationships.
- Clubs – Another option for establishing mentorships in your school that can be beneficial for teachers and students, is to create a club which has mentoring, building leadership skills and student confidence as its purpose. One possibility is creating a Ted-ED Club. where students get to know their peers, explore passions, build confidence and become mentors for their peers. All schools need to have mentoring in place for students and give students the opportunity to serve as mentors for their peers.
We all need mentors whether in our first or thirtieth year of teaching. At times it might be someone assigned to us, a friend or a member of our PLN. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are in a “mentorship,” we are just supporting one another on our teaching journeys. Veteran teachers need to seek out mentors as well, and that might mean connecting with a teacher who is new to your building or to the profession. How can we expect our students to interact and understand different perspectives, and to be accepting if we ourselves do not do the same thing and go beyond that? It starts with us. It always starts with us to take that first step.