Mentoring a New Teacher
Transitions Handbook, Teacher Education Network, AWSNA
The mentoring of a new teacher is essential in supporting a newly trained teacher in the process of moving from being a teacher education institute graduate to a successful and happy teacher. Every new teacher needs to receive strong and attentive mentoring. The following guidelines are designed to help each school shape its own individual mentoring program for new teachers.
Goals of Mentoring:
Mentoring is designed to help support the following:
- Deepen insights into Waldorf pedagogy, festivals, and grade level curriculum.
- Support the development of effective relationships with the children, including order and discipline.
- Create healthy social dynamics within the class.
- Apply age appropriate curriculum methods to support healthy child development.
- Foster collegial relationships.
- Facilitate better communication and partnering with parents.
- Promote personal well being and balance in relation to teaching.
Choosing a Mentor:
A mentor should have most or all of the following characteristics:
- Experienced, trained Waldorf Teacher, ideally having completed
an eight-year cycle, but at least well grounded in the year the new teacher will be teaching.
- Familiar with the school – able to convey all necessary information and
support in school wide areas such as expectations, policies and procedures.
- Available for meetings and consultations – open and generous with his
or her time and attention. Teachers who are already carrying large parts of school administration or in challenging years and situations themselves do not often make good mentors.
- Strong communicators with a history of good parent and colleague
- Confident about classroom practices and about giving advice and
guidance to the young teacher.
- Able to work well with the individual teacher being mentored – this is a
matter of temperament and approach and needs to be considered for each pairing.
- Knows how to ask questions and see that there are many approaches to
teaching, not just his or her own.
Sometimes it is impossible to find all these characteristics in one mentor and
in that situation some schools have two people working with one teacher – an outside person doing classroom observation visits and an in-house teacher doing weekly meetings with the new teacher. In this situation, it is still essential that both mentors make early and frequent visits to the classroom.
A Mentoring Schedule:
Mentoring should include classroom visits and observation and weekly meetings for planning, consulting and addressing issues.
Schedule for classroom visits and observation:
In the first year a new teacher should have at least a three-day classroom
visit and observation within the first two weeks of the school year, followed by a two-to-three day visit around the winter break (December through February) and a final two-day visit in the spring. It is essential that each visit be longer than a single day since the teacher’s work with the rhythm of the days is a critical part of the observation. This is the time habits are built for better or worse.
In coming years a two-day visit, once or preferably twice, during the school year is usually sufficient as long as there are no significant concerns about the teacher’s classroom performance.
Scheduling these visits can be challenging. Some schools arrange it so
that on a particular day subject teachers teach the main lesson in the mentor’s class to allow the mentor to observe the new teacher’s main lesson. In other schools the main lesson and the first two subject lessons are exchanged in the day occasionally, so the children start with the subject lessons and the mentor teaches his or her main lesson later in the day, after observing the new teacher. Other schools, especially when the upper-grade teachers have heavy mentoring loads, set a permanent schedule for the upper grades which starts the day with subject lessons, one or more days a week, allowing the main lesson teacher to observe regularly in lower grade classrooms. Finally, some other schools have a ninth main lesson teacher or permanent substitute who regularly steps in to allow the mentor time to observe in the new teacher’s classroom or does much of the mentoring.
Schedule for mentoring meetings:
Each teacher should have a weekly mentoring meeting of at least one
subject class period in length. For new teachers, especially those with lower grades, it is often best to schedule this meeting for the end or after the school day, as they are with their classes for more subject periods than higher grade teachers.
In some situations some of these meetings can be held by telephone, but
ideally the meeting is direct and long enough for issues to surface. It is also important that the mentor ensure that the meeting is directed to mentoring and not to personal conversation, even when supportive.
Topics for Mentoring:
The following are suggestions for what mentoring conversations should include:
- Focus on a small number of central areas that the new teacher has identified as needing improvement and/or development.
- Overview of the year’s curriculum, including goal-setting as well as the why for each subject. Review available resource materials. Discuss general organization of the year.
- Review block schedule for the year.
- Review the block plan a good two weeks before each block begins, including resources for songs, flute or recorder pieces, poems and verses, and movement.
- Regularly review circle or opening exercises, rhythm of the main lesson, transitions, and discipline.
- Advise on report writing; share copies of other reports for that grade in our school; preview and review reports.
- Discuss and advise on particular children. This would include observing that child during recess, etc. Review assessments, past reports, etc.
- Preview parent/teacher conferences, format, children with difficulties, etc. Review after conferences.
- Review content of parent evenings. Plan to visit a parent evening in the fall and follow up in the spring if necessary.
- Be available to review correspondence that goes out to parents.
- Review the yearly festivals and events; help to gather resources. Inform the teacher of how things have been done at this school. Discuss any changes before they are implemented.
Resolving Problems with Mentoring:
Each school needs to have a policy and procedure for resolving concerns and
problems with mentoring, making clear who is responsible for overseeing
mentoring throughout the school, and ensuring it is happening regularly.
Supporting a New Teacher with His or Her Class Parents
The very nature of a teacher education institution means that the area that it is hardest to prepare teacher education students for, besides classroom discipline, is his or her work with class parents. At the institutions there are no parents to practice with, and as each class has its own nature and personality, it is hard to provide anything beyond guidelines for parent work. This having been said, much is accomplished in the programs in cultivating right listening and right speech practice, consensus decision-making, and appreciating multiple points of view. Participants are also given an understanding of the parent perspective and point-of-view.
However, the teacher’s relationship with the class parents is a central part of their success or failure as a class teacher. Therefore, it is essential that each new class teacher be consciously mentored and supported in this particular area of responsibility. The following are some suggestions to help with this support:
- Support with introductions and first meetings. The more formed and warm the first meeting is the more the relationship can get off to a good start. Schools should arrange for class picnics, teas or other gatherings to introduce the new teacher and allow parents to begin to work together.
- Support with home visits if expected. Summer or fall home visits are the standard practice in some schools and not part of the expectations in others. New teachers should be mentored and supported through the home visiting process with an opportunity to discuss appropriate topics and behavior with an experienced school teacher.
- Class meetings. New teachers should not be left to plan and carry out their first few class meetings alone. Mentors should provide a good sense of how often meetings are expected, and the general structure and format they should follow. Mentors or college members should also be at the first few meetings to help provide guidance, feedback to the new teacher after the meeting, and support in the meeting. All class meetings in the first year should have an agenda and a planned series of events, which avoids meetings taking turns that the teacher had not anticipated. The mentor should work to ensure that parents with particular concerns and questions that are not related to the class as a whole do not use full parent meeting time to pursue their personal needs, but instead schedule appropriate individual meeting.
- Class communication. Letters to parents updating them on classroom events are essential to building strong trust and confidence in parents about the classroom and the teacher. Although many new teachers find writing parent letters to be an additional burden, the lack of communication can lead to parents feeling that they don’t know what is happening in the classroom. Mentors should work with all new teachers to ensure that a letter with regular classroom updates and news is being sent home and that all class parents are kept fully informed about upcoming events and responsibilities.
- Conversation with, or questions from, parents. The new teacher should clearly communicate when she can be reached. The mentor should help the new teacher establish healthy boundaries.
- Parent/teacher conferences. All new teachers need support around the planning and carrying out of their fall and/or spring parent/teacher conferences. This is especially important around the conferences for students who have specific challenges or classroom issues. Mentors should help new teachers think through and practice their approaches to parents on particularly sensitive issues, such as learning problems and behavioral concerns. There may be cases where the mentor or another colleague should be present at the conference.
- Parent complaints and concerns. It is normal and to be expected that during each school year parents will raise concerns, and new teachers need to be prepared for it, ready to respond calmly and productively. A conversation about the inevitable and often healthy process of resolving concerns and issues with parents needs to be part of the ongoing mentoring and support. New teachers should also be fully aware of all school policies and practices for complaint and dispute resolution and mediation.
Collegial Expectations of a New Teacher
It is important that newly hired teachers have a clear sense of the expectations upon them in the following areas:
- Work on committees and work groups within the faculty. Number of committees they should be part of and involvement in curriculum groups or planning groups.
- Work on community wide committees and work groups. Whether they are expected to take on a community role, beyond their own classrooms, in their first years.
- Practices for interaction and cooperation with subject teachers. Curriculum groups or other meetings that take place regularly between teachers.
- Faculty meeting expectations. Attendance and participation guidelines, methods of working and decision making (voting, consensus, etc)
- Other faculty commitments. Festivals, plays, singing etc.