“Best Practice” can be defined as strategies that have proven to lead to a desired objective or outcome. If “best practice” for mentoring initial educators could be defined as “effective strategies for leading the initial educator toward success” then two areas of concentration for best practice immediately emerge, 1) awareness of the concerns of initial educators and 2) attributes essential to effective mentoring.
Studies show that new teachers often feel extreme stress and isolation during their transition years into teaching (Krueger, 2003). In fact, feelings of isolation are a major cause of attrition among new teachers. A major role of the mentor is to help alleviate their mentee’s feelings of isolation by helping them face their challenges and being aware of those challenges is essential to the mentor’s repertoire of knowledge about mentoring.
Several studies surveying new teachers articulate these challenges. In two separate studies, DeLorenzo (1992) and Krueger (1996) categorized areas of concern of beginning music teachers. The following list summarizes their findings (no rank order is implied):
- Student discipline/Classroom management
- Effective rules and routines
- Motivating students
- Budget concerns (formulating a budget; advocating for resources; fund raising)
- Curriculum concerns (sequencing instruction; adapting lessons for exceptionalities)
- Lack of input (being “left out” of decision making processes)
- Time for professional development, including time for personal music making
- Physical and mental exhaustion
- Not teaching in primary areas of expertise
- Inadequate equipment and facilities
The most valued mentors are those who embrace effective mentoring qualities and seek to understand and relay strategies to help the mentee manage stress. By now, many experienced teachers across the state have received mentor training and have discussed the attributes of effective mentoring. An overview of those attributes can be found within the survey data of mentoring programs nationwide as reported by The National Foundation for the Improvement of Education (1999). Those qualities are organized into four categories and are as follows:
Attitude and Character
- Willing to be a role model for other teachers
- Exhibits strong commitment to the teaching profession
- Believes mentoring improves instructional practice
- Willing to advocate on behalf of colleagues
- Willing to receive training to improve mentoring skills
- Demonstrates a commitment to lifelong learning
- Is reflective and able to learn from mistakes
- Is eager to share information and ideas with colleagues
- Is resilient, flexible, persistent, and open-minded
- Exhibits good humor and resourcefulness
- Enjoys new challenges and solving problems
- Is able to articulate effective instructional strategies
- Listens attentively
- Asks questions that prompt reflection and understanding
- Offers critiques in positive and productive ways
- Uses email effectively
- Is efficient with the use of time
- Conveys enthusiasm, passion for teaching
- Is discreet and maintains confidentiality
Professional Competence and Experience
- Is regarded by colleagues as an outstanding teacher
- Has excellent knowledge of pedagogy and subject matter
- Has confidence in his/her own instructional skills
- Demonstrates excellent classroom-management skills
- Feels comfortable being observed by other teachers
- Maintains a network of professional contacts
- Understands the policies and procedures of the school, district, and teachers’ association
- Is a meticulous observer of classroom practice
- Collaborates well with other teachers and administrators
- Is willing to learn new teaching strategies from protégés
- Is able to maintain a trusting professional relationship
- Knows how to express care for a protégé’s emotional and professional needs
- Is attentive to sensitive political issues
- Works well with individuals from different cultures
- Is approachable; easily establishes rapport with others
- Is patient
Although not overtly mentioned in the attributes above, leadership is also an essential ‘best practice’ of effective mentors. Indeed, the initial educator, or “mentee”, should expect that their mentor has the ability to lead them to an increased understanding of their job responsibilities, their school climate, effective teaching strategies (including classroom management) and to overall serve as a professional model! There are many theories of leadership ranging from those that articulate “inborn” personality traits of a leader to the theory that people can choose and learn to be leaders. No matter the theory, there are certain principles of leadership that can guide self-reflection regarding effective leadership. The following questions for reflection can aid in understanding ourselves as leaders and are based upon information from the Wisconsin Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (2006):
- Have you developed a sense of responsibility for your mentee? Helping them feel accepted at their school and becoming their friend, “sounding board”, and advocate will contribute to their success.
- Do you know your mentee’s job? Having solid familiarity with their job responsibilities will enable the mentee to trust your advice.
- Do you know how your mentee responds to stress and how to help them handle that stress?
- Do you lead through two-way communication? What and how you communicate is important as you build a relationship with your mentee. It may be helpful to consider the following “countdown of important words” when communicating with a mentee:
- The six most important words: “You can talk with me anytime.”
- The five most important words; “Let’s collaborate on that project.”
- The four most important words: “What do you think?”
- The three most important words: “Let’s go together . . .”
- The two most important words: “Great job!”
- The one most important word: “We”
What qualities do you possess that enables you to be an effective role model? Do you have a solid understanding of who you are, what you know and what you can do? To be a successful mentor, convincing the mentee that you are confident in yourself and your abilities enables them to see you as a role model. Leadership is complex and it can be nurtured through professional development opportunities. Beyond self-reflection, we can seek ‘outside’ opportunities for improvement, for effective leaders seek opportunities to strengthen their attributes as ‘best’ practitioners.
Clark, D. (2005). Concepts of Leadership. Retrieved February 26, 2006, from www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/leadcon.html.
DeLorenzo, L. (1992). Perceived problems of beginning music teachers. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 113.
Haack, P. (2003). Challenges faced by beginning music teachers. In Conway, C. M., (Ed.). Great beginnings for music teachers: Mentoring and supporting new teachers. Reston, VA. MENC. p. 23.
Krueger, P. (1996). Becoming a music teacher: Challenges of the first year. Dialogue in Instrumental Music. 20 (2).