The acrostic below represents our thinking about the fundamental aspects essential to any mentoring relationship.
Mutual – Mentoring relationships that flourish are reciprocal – all parties learn and grow
Evolving – Mentors exhibit flexibility of stance and role based on the needs of the person they are supporting
Non-evaluative – Mentoring supports are not connected to evaluation or judgement of a colleague’s performance
Trusting – Relational trust is built through effective listening and fostered in an environment characterized by emotional safety and mutual respect
Open ¬– Through powerful learning designs (e.g., observation and debriefing) practice is deprivatized and the intentional sharing of knowledge and practice occurs
Real – Mentoring activities are personalized, based on each person’s authentic learning goals and connected to their “real world”
Supported – Conditions to foster effective mentoring relationships are supported at both the school and board level (e.g., joint release days, foundational learning for mentors)
Honours strengths – A deliberate seeking out of the strengths and attributes that each person brings to the mentoring relationship sets the context for meaningful sharing to occur
Invitational – All parties have voluntarily chosen to engage in mentorship
Personalized – Each person may choose to engage in multiple models of mentorship as they build a web of mentoring supports
Reciprocal learning is a foundational component of all mentoring relationships. One of the most powerful outcomes of mentorship is it serves as a means for job embedded deprivatization of practice and fosters reflection, learning and growth of mentors themselves.
In summary, mentorship is an act of learning.
Building Mentoring Webs
For 12 years, I lived on a houseboat (aka a floating home). I had many amazing experiences with nature including the fact that spiders were everywhere.
Each morning before kayaking I spent several minutes attending to cobwebs with a broom. The webs with only one or two strands were very easy to destroy, whereas the webs with many strands were much stronger, more resilient and secure.
When we think about building a mentoring web that’s the idea – the more strands in the web, the stronger it is. Beyond 1 to 1 “dating game” mentor matching, mentoring webs are constructed by the learner. Each is unique, based on their authentic learning needs.
Connecting our Hearts with Mentoring Webs
Inside all of our students who come to school each day are their hearts, and inside every heart of every student are their hopes, dreams, and wishes for their lives and learning.
We know creating a safe place for the hearts of our students, is a critical precondition for learning but in order to do this I think it is essential that the hearts of the educators supporting our students are also safe, and secure, and supported.
I see this as a reciprocal process. In other words, our students can become part of our mentoring web and we can become part of theirs.
Looking in the Mirror
Mentoring is an act of learning. One of the most powerful things a mentor can do is help their colleague hold up a mirror to their practice and in this mirror see all their strengths and attributes, not just the flaws and challenges of what isn’t working.
Through this de-privatization of practice, the quiet victories and moments of beauty that teaching provides can be surfaced, elevated and celebrated.
As mentors one of our biggest challenges is to hold up this same mirror to ourselves and not just see our own flaws.
Simply put as a profession we are incredibly hard on ourselves. Our day ends and we don't celebrate our 19 “quiet victories”, we reflect upon the one (or two or three!) things that went wrong.
In other words, we fail the “best edu-friend” test. If our colleague came to us with their challenges, concerns and worries we’d be so accepting and understanding but somehow it’s difficult to give this same level of acceptance to ourselves. We’re reluctant to acknowledge celebrate and elevate our own strengths and attributes.
Webs of Support
Our learning from the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP) is helpful here. Through our longitudinal research we found that high growth new teachers access 5 – 7 different mentor supports (i.e. they built a “mentoring web”). The more strands in each of our webs, the stronger and more resilient the webs are.
With these supportive webs, our hearts as educators are warmed and our well-being is supported. Our warm hearts create a space for continued personal and professional learning and growth for every educator and ultimately every student.
Multiple Models of Mentorship
- Mentor provides orientation to school or work site logistics and culture
- Mentor brokers involvement of colleagues as needs arise
- Consultant type relationship, fewer opportunities for collaboration and coaching
- May be initial support until other mentoring relationships are established or ongoing throughout the year
One to One Mentor Matching
- Mentor is site-based and is matched on an individual basis to a new colleague
- Mentor adopts consultant, collaboration and coaching stances based on the needs of the person they are working with
- Mentoring relationships that flourish are reciprocal – both parties learn and grow
- Greater “ownership” occurs when the mentor has volunteered, and the person being mentored has been involved in the choice of mentor
- Mentor works with 2 or more individuals or one individual may have 2 or more mentors
- Model provide opportunities for collaboration between both new and experienced colleagues
- Provides flexibility if school or work site has large number of new staff (or mentors)
- This model is often embedded in a school or site wide “mentoring culture” where all staff are engaged in ongoing collaboration
- Individuals connect with a variety of colleagues as needs arise
- Mentor/mentee roles are fluid – often referred to as Peer Mentoring as in many cases the informal mentors are relatively new themselves
- Spontaneous, informal nature of relationship lends itself to collaboration
- Relying on “accident, geography and friendship” may not work for all as new staff could feel isolated if not part of any mentoring relationships
- Using online conferencing new staff can participate in discussion and sharing with both experienced and other beginning colleagues
- Enables access to a variety of resources and perspectives outside the school or work site
- Not everyone may feel comfortable sharing issues and concerns in a “public” online forum
Communities of Practice
- Educators with similar teaching assignments and/or professional interests form learning networks across a region or district
- These networks may meet face to face and/or online
- Extends the mentoring web beyond school or work site
- While board level support of these learning networks can be very helpful, it is important that the learning agenda is not externally mandated
Who are the people at your school or work site (or beyond) who bring you strength, energy, passion and hope? They will be your true mentors.