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Finding the Time
This newsletter provides advice, insights, and suggestions helpful to mentors and induction program coordinators as they strive to support new teachers. Also included are timely instructional tips mentors can share with new teachers. This month’s issue focuses on finding time to mentor.
Mentors are always challenged to find the time for productive interactions with their protégées. They are often stumped or even overwhelmed by program requirements that they meet with their protégées a minimum of 45 hours per year. I am forever grateful to Ashleigh Burnette, Lead Mentor for Parkside Middle School and Certified Local Trainer (CLT) for Why Didn’t I Learn This in College? in Prince William Schools, Virginia, who wisely pointed out that 45 hours of mentoring interactions per year is about fifteen minutes a day. As she so astutely said, “If we cannot find 15 minutes a day to mentor, then we probably should not agree to take on the mentoring role.”
That being said, we need to constantly be exploring ways to make mentor interactions with the novice teachers and with the experienced teachers new to the district easier to integrate into the fabric of our professional lives. Sometimes we try to make the process of interacting collegially more complicated than it is. The fact that we are with students most of our work day limits the time we have available for professional interactions; we have to be quite creative in finding time to collaborate. The formats for interaction that follow provide a menu of ways for these interactions to occur.
In the Moment Interactions
This informal format can take many faces. I often think about the Parking Lot Conferences Ann Titshaw and I used to hold at Orange Park High School, in Orange Park, Florida. The biggest decision we had to make was whether to lean on her car or mine. We processed and debriefed the successes and challenges of our professional day at least four out of five days a week. These collegial conversations helped us make the transition from high school educators to moms and wives. While we were not assigned to each other as mentors, we certainly served each other in that role. Our Parking Lot Conferences led to peer observations followed by collaboration around how to improve the instructional program and learning environment in each classroom. Sometimes that meant collaboratively rearranging the furniture in one another’s classroom and sometimes it led to planning how we would jointly address the learning challenges experienced by students we shared.
This format also includes what I call One-legged Conferences. These are the conferences that occur while standing near one another in the hallway during class change periods. It also includes the “Oh, by the way… discussions” that occur in the mail room or as we walk down the hall to yet another meeting. The construct One-legged Conference means that you are not standing still and formally mentoring but are instead multitasking while on the move but never missing an opportunity to discuss teaching and learning.
Mentors have to take the lead to make these In the Moment interactions occur. To form the habit of interacting in this way, these soon to be spontaneous encounters will have to be penciled into schedules. This format seems particularly valuable in establishing a relationship with the protégée who thinks that they do not need a mentor. Savvy mentors can provide support without it appearing the goal.
While there is much to be said for mentoring via the complete observation cycle of planning conference, observation, and reflective conference, planning together can stand alone as an important mentoring interaction format. Leslie Vecchiotti, teacher and staff development specialist in Palmyra-Macedon CSD, New York, shared a brilliant idea at one of our Mentoring in the 21st Century™ Institutes in Washington, DC. She explained how mentors and protégées in Palmyra-Macedon did Parallel Planning. That is, they sat side by side as each worked on planning their lessons that they would have normally planned in isolation. While sitting side by side working on their own individual lesson plans, they shared ideas and asked each other for suggestions and critiques of their thinking. That is what I would call job-embedded learning for all!
Unfortunately many of our new teachers spend far more time grading papers and devising complex behavior management systems than they do planning instruction. Given our belief that the best management program is a strong instructional program, we encourage mentors to instead work with novice teachers to plan engaging and relevant standards-based lessons. It would be a plus to be able to observe the implementation of the lesson and provide growth-producing feedback, but when that is not possible, planning conferences take center stage. Our willingness to sit together with novice teachers to design powerful learning experiences rather than asking them to attend a workshop on classroom management sends a message about what we think is the most important area of focus for their professional growth. Let’s be clear about the messages we are sending.
The power of communicating digitally or via spiral-bound notebook should not be under estimated. While the communication channel should be determined by what matches the comfort zone of the novice teacher, the idea of sharing potential plans, projects, and possible pitfalls is an important one. Brenda Kaylor, Just ASK Consultant and former Director of Professional Development in St. Vrain Valley School District, Longmont, Colorado, used this format as a mentoring communication tool with the induction coaches and clinical professors she supervised in that district. This process gave the coaches she was mentoring the reason to stop and reflect on their practice and gave Brenda the opportunity to get inside their heads, to ask probing questions about why they thought this or that had happened, and to provide expert consulting support when appropriate. Given the technological resources available to use now, it appears that this is a format that will play a bigger and bigger role in the future of mentoring. The use of instant messaging or email is a great way for mentoring pairs to communicate. Night owls can write their questions or concerns at a time most comfortable for them and the early birds can respond while the night owls are still rubbing their eyes. This approach to mentoring requires little face-to-face time and works well for those who are totally engaged and/or over committed or challenged by geography. We at Just ASK work collaboratively with one another from Denver to Boston to Singapore. Without the capacity to interact with each other via the Internet, we would miss many opportunities to learn from and teach one another.
Previously Scheduled Meetings
We all agree that it is difficult to add any more meetings to our already busy days… especially since those students keep showing up 180 days a year! Given that, we need to explore how we can use Previously Scheduled Meetings as mentoring opportunities.
How do you use Previously Scheduled Meetings? It is actually quite straight forward!
- Sit with your protégée at each and every faculty, department, and team meeting.
- Continue to introduce your protégée to those sitting around you and be explicit about mentioning the great ideas the novice has brought forward and how they are playing out in both of your classrooms.
- Translate jargon and acronyms for the protégée in ways that do not disrupt the meeting.
- Meet with your protégée briefly following the meeting (face-to-face or digitally) to process what happened and how what happened might/should impact the practices of the novice teacher and the learning of students.
- Create opportunities to focus meetings on instruction, assessment, student work, etc. and engage protégées in discussions about those areas.
- As mentors or Lead Mentors, ask that five to ten minutes of each faculty meeting be devoted to Mentoring Moments. These Mentoring Moments target areas of concern and challenge that teachers new to the building and/or the district are experiencing and provide guidance as to how all faculty members can support the new teachers at this time.
Sharing the Wealth
Whenever you discover a new website, a new instructional strategy, or a new assessment criteria, be sure that you forward a copy of that discovery not only to the teachers you are mentoring but to all teachers for whom it might be of value. In the spirit of mentoring the mentors who are reading this newsletter, I want to share with you our latest discoveries. Some of you may already know about some of these but surely there are at least one or two that are new to you. Pass them on! Websites to visit:
- http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/ This is the website for an amazing organization made up of an impressive array of technological and educational organizations. It provides thought-provoking information about how the core competencies which we are currently addressing in our instruction and high-stakes assessments are definitely important, but are not enough. It builds on the information presented in the 1990’s in the SCANS Report.
- http://www.leadered.com/rrr.html. This is a page on the website for the International Center for Leadership in Education. Willard Daggett’s rigor and relevance framework merits our attention and implementation. It is a visual tool you can use to help your protégées design lessons and units that are not only engaging but stretch the thinking of all students. In fact, Willard’s rigor and relevance framework is a perfect tool for developing the 21st century thinking skills advocated for by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. The home page provides links to many white papers on promoting rigor and relevance.
- http://www.teachertube.com/ Teachertube is an amazing website where you can host, tag, and share instructional videos.
- Google Scholar: Go to Google Scholar and type in a topic you would like to research and this site does all the work for you. It lists journal articles related to the topic you selected; and, if they are available online the link will be provided. No more hanging out in the stacks at the library!
- Google Books: The Millenials in our office tell us that this is the only way to decide which books to read or buy. The publishers and authors of an amazing array of classic and modern texts have given Google permission to post multiple pages from their books. I didn’t believe it until I saw it.
Please share the wealth by sending us your own ideas for finding the time for mentoring. We would love to pass them on to all our subscribers!
Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Rutherford, Paula. “Finding the Time” Mentoring in the 21st Century® Issue XI. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development (Just ASK). © 2007 Just ASK. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.