In the book, Working Wisdom, Robert Aubrey outlines five key aspects of the work of mentors. We have borrowed Aubrey’s strategies and annotated them for relevance in mentoring teachers. -ms-
The basis of good mentoring is the commitment of the mentor to be aware of and support the teacher on their path of development. This goes beyond offering advice, suggestions or asking good questions. It requires the mentor to be willing to step inside the context and the story of the teacher and class, and be willing to become a co-journeyer. It also requires the teacher being mentored to be open to being a co-journeyer with his/her mentor. This commitment should be clear up front and the mentor and teacher should have a conversation together about what this means to each of them when they begin their process. This relationship will help the process maintain balance and strength over a longer time. The teacher, mentor, students, class, parents, school and world are all on an unfolding journey. The mentor and teacher can be mutually supportive on this journey so that at any given moment the teacher is growing in skill and confidence in his/her tasks.
The mentor by nature of his/her experience, training and selection as a mentor will be aware of deeper aspects of the teaching situation than the teacher. It is important for the mentor to observe the teacher and the class in a way to see the archetypes of what is happening. While a young teacher may be interested in developing skills to improve certain challenging situations he/she currently faces, the mentor can also provide helpful seeds for the future by illuminating the principles and ideals that will eventually lead to better teaching. After these seeds are planted, especially when the teacher is new or untrained, they will bear fruit in the future. Nonetheless, it is important that the mentor provide insights and share principles with the teacher that he/she can realize as experience grows.
While the use of questions is generally the best strategy for a mentor, there are important times when a more direct approach can be helpful. The direct approach is always a more risky path because the resulting reaction of the teacher cannot be programmed. The mentor should only use catalyzing when the situation in the classroom results in a high degree of chaos and when the mentor has not been able to help the teacher gain control. In chaotic situations one may catalyze action through passionate, angry or forcefully direct means, but rarely are these techniques helpful in mentoring. Before catalyzing, it is helpful for the mentor to be clear about his/her strategy and to have thought about how a stronger more direct action might affect the relationship with the teacher.
While the conversation between mentor and teacher is the heart of the mentoring relationship, there are times when it is advantageous for the mentor to demonstrate what they see as happening. It can be beneficial for a mentor to offer to teacher a short lesson in the class to show what he/she is experiencing and to let the teacher observe the class from a new perspective. Another form of showing is to allow the teacher to visit another classroom, especially of an experienced teacher. This is also an important part of the overall development of a teacher. It provides opportunities for the teacher to see in action what otherwise the mentor has described.
As has been outlined in other posts and articles, an essential key to mentoring is the work that the mentor does to gain a deep insight into the style, nature and skills of the teacher. From the mentor’s observation of the teacher, he/she can develop appropriate questions and conversation that can help draw out the genius of the teacher – to help the teacher see his/her strengths and to follow his/her intuitions. Teaching is a continually unfolding and transforming practice and improvisation that over time becomes more and more aligned with higher principles and ideals. The mentor can help the teacher find a stronger connection to his/her own insights and learn how to act on them in relationship to basic principles and goals.
For a look at Aubrey’s book about mentoring for business, click here.