By Ellen Eisenberg

By Ellen Eisenberg, Executive Director of The Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC)

Monday, December 14, 2015

The ASCD Express, Volume 11, issue 7 talks about mentoring for new teachers. In theory, that’s a very effective practice. But are they the only ones who need mentoring?

To me, that statement means that only novice teachers need the support to apply their new learnings. I disagree… we want all practitioners to go from good to great and to do that with the support of a skilled, experienced practitioner who understands adult learning, collaboration, collective problem-solving, and critical thinking. And, to do that in a non-evaluative environment where formative assessment and self-assessment are the norm and making mistakes is a rite of passage without fear of evaluation.

The article suggests that “… creating mentor programs to support new teachers can help them adjust to more than just procedures… and to help them become more confident” in their teaching. Wow… why wouldn’t we want to ensure that every staff member has the benefit of working with a trusted colleague?

In this article, the terms “mentor” and “coach” are actually interchangeable. Here, “mentor” is what we would call a “coach.” I, however, see them as two different roles with different responsibilities but both necessary for all learning communities, not just newly hired staff. Both share common qualities: being nonjudgmental, providing needed support, willing to work with different skill sets, and modeling reflective practice. While both are long-term relationships, coaching may be more performance driven while mentoring may be more development driven. Coaches tend to address the “needs of the day” in working with teachers and try to find ways to problem solve. Mentors tend to focus on being a facilitator and silent partner. Both need to ask essential questions so that the learning is with, not for and both need to provide timely and specific feedback for continuous improvement.

I’ve never met a teaching colleague who didn’t want to better his/her craft. What a shift in education if every teacher and administrator could work with a coach who works with a mentor to support the learning without risk of failure!

So, what do you think… should only new teachers have the benefit of a coach/mentor?

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!

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