Mentoring New Teachers: From Survival to Fun | Steve Barkley

Mentoring New Teachers: From Survival to Fun

William Glasser’s Choice Theory states that all human behavior is driven by the desire to satisfy five basic human needs:

  • the need to be loved and accepted
  • the need to be powerful
  • the need to be free
  • the need to have fun
  • the need to survive

When I studied Glasser’s work early in my teaching career and later as a teacher trainer and teacher coach I connected strongly with the concept of creating a classroom environment where students felt safe and had a sense of belonging. By creating safety and belonging, I could anticipate student compliance. If I wanted to reach greater quality in student learning outcomes, I had to focus on generating an environment of power, freedom, and fun.

Education is the process in which we discover that learning adds quality to our lives. Learning must be experienced.

(William Glasser)

As I worked with several schools engaged in improvement plans for impacting student learning, I recognized that we needed to build the same elements of survival, belonging, power, freedom, and fun into teachers’ experiences. If you sign on to be a mentor for a new teacher, consider how your actions can address these elements to lead to an empowered teacher finding a quality environment for herself as well as her students.

Survival is a critical issue for the beginning teacher:

When do you have to show up to get something done on the copier?

How do you get a break for the bathroom?

What paperwork needs to be done by when in order to stay out of trouble?

Mentoring should extend from survival needs being met to building a sense of belonging for the new teacher within the school. How can your mentoring speed the process of the new teacher’s collaboration with staff across the school? Mentoring should assist the new teacher in finding power, freedom, and fun within the profession they’ve chosen.

Look for power, freedom, and fun by identifying where the beginning teacher finds his or her motivation to teach.

For most teachers, the motivation to teach isn’t found in the standards that students need to meet. Teachers have a passion for something that they want their students to gain from working with them. They have an outcome. They have an attitude. They have a belief system that they want their students to develop.

Often the job of the mentor is to assist the beginning teacher in understanding how they meet the standards and achieve the important issues that are motivating them as a teacher. The standards suggest to the public that it doesn’t matter what teacher your child gets because the standards are going to be met in every classroom. The standards are going to be met regardless of which of the two biology teachers you have.

The person dedicated to being a teacher knows that a student taking a class from me, spending a year with me, is going to leave with something special. I’m afraid the pressure that beginning teachers are often under from a curriculum standard, test-driven system can drive power, freedom, and fun away from the beginning teacher.

Mentors can begin by sharing their own personal passions and beliefs about teaching and how they manage to deal with meeting the standards while achieving those additional elements that generate a sense of power, freedom, and fun. These are often found in how they teach, or in the classroom environment they generate. I suggest that meeting the standards is in effect the cost of being a teacher. If I generate learning that has students master the standards, I have the opportunity to develop the passion, beliefs, and attitudes that drive me to be a teacher.

Mentors should model coachability.

It’s important for the beginning teacher to discover that making him or herself vulnerable to input from colleagues is a career-long path to great teaching. It’s critical that the beginning teacher not see the mentor as an evaluator, not see the mentor holding some measuring stick up in front of the teacher saying when you meet these criteria, mentoring will be over. You’ll be accepted into the profession.

Mentors might start by having the beginning teacher coach the mentor. Invite the beginning teacher into the mentor’s classroom to observe and provide feedback. Model for the mentee the way she can request coaching from the mentor. Another possibility is for the mentor to invite the mentee to be an observer as the mentor is coached by an instructional coach.

Years ago, I worked with a district that was trying to decide how long a mentor program should last. Should mentoring be a one-year program, an 18-month program, or a two-year program? I love the decision that they reached. They said that mentoring was over when the beginning teacher threw open the door of the classroom and said, “You can all come in.” They realized that at that point, the teacher was now a full-fledged professional. Getting all the ongoing collegial support that they should; taking ownership of their continued growth. The job of the mentor is to build the beginning teacher’s skill level and confidence level to the point that she is open to coaching: to develop coachability.

Mentoring can be (actually, should be) an opportunity for the mentor to gain increased power, freedom, and fun as well.

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