I recently provided a workshop for mentors who would be working with new (many first year) teachers to their district. Here is the opening I used to set the stage.
The old adage “Experience is the best teacher” isn’t quite accurate. “Experience, with a mentor, is the best teacher.” As a new teacher interacts with a mentor, the reflections and insights speed the teacher’s learning. Successful mentors create conversations with mentees that generate continuous goal setting for student success that drives teacher practice and discovery. This workshop will identify, model, and provide practice in these conferencing skills. Working with eager as well as reluctant mentees will be addressed. Effective mentoring produces learning for the mentor as well as the mentee.
In an earlier blog on mentoring, I described my views that to truly support new educators mentoring had to reach way beyond the early survival issues and needs. In my thinking, a mentors’ work and time should be increasing throughout the year as the new teacher enters the ever- increasing complexity of teaching and learning.
“Most induction-year teachers are ill-prepared to cope with the mental stresses and difficulties of the classroom environment, while many school leaders expect teachers to arrive prepared to manage a classroom.”
— Natalie Odom Pough and Justin Ballenger
An article in ASCD Express, The Leadership New Teachers Need to Flourish, by Natalie Odom Pough and Justin Ballenger explores how school leaders can help new teachers develop into experienced educators who want to stay in the classroom.
“High rates of teacher attrition and a shortage of new teachers across the United States spell out a crisis for many of our nation’s schools (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). Multiple studies show that a teacher’s level of experience is a leading indicator of students’ academic achievement (Ladd & Sorenson, 2017; Harris & Sass, 2011).”
Pough and Ballenger highlight four important elements from their experience with two new teacher development projects:
- Leadership development
- Robust mentoring
- Support for developing crucial soft skills
- Emphasis on reflective practice
In a previous blog, Teachers’ Soft Skills: Critical to School Success, I shared Valerie Strau’s writing around Google’s findings regarding successful employees and teams: The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students. She informs educators, parents, and students about important skills needed to increase work- place success. While STEM skills and understanding are important, there were seven skills that ranked above the STEM skills: “being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”As I read through the list, it struck me that these skills are critical in having high functioning PLCs and a school staff that collaborates as a team rather than franchises.
Pough and Ballenger stress:
“Education is a people business. But standardized exams and formatted lessons give little indication about how to build rapport with students. Most induction-year teachers are ill-prepared to cope with the mental stresses and difficulties of the classroom environment, while many school leaders expect teachers to arrive prepared to manage a classroom. The truth is leaders need to be prepared to help teachers develop the dispositions and soft skills necessary to build relationships and keep students on track.
Teachers should be regularly practicing emotional intelligence skills like growth mindset, tenacity, empathy, and the capacity to diffuse tense situations with students. For example, schools can adapt character education initiatives that are typically focused on students to address faculty and staff needs as well.”
Dr. Ron Young in a blog, Foundational Skills are Soft Skills, shares a chart comparing four authors’ conclusions on foundational skills of effective teachers. He concludes,
“In the past, the skills that distinguished effective from ineffective teachers were classroom reward structure, classroom organization and curriculum. Today, the focus has moved to the quality of the teacher-student relationship. Put simply, today’s students care more about how they are treated than how they are taught. Effective teachers communicate important aspects of caring and are invested in their students’ success. There is no disputing that the foundational skills required of today’s effective teachers are soft skills. “
Are we considering the soft skills of the people being asked to serve as mentors or is more attention paid to matching the new teacher with someone with similar content?
Should time be spent examining soft skills in mentor training?
How can we help initiate the conversation about soft skills between mentor and mentee?