Working with a stellar group of colleagues at the Lower Eastern Shore School Leadership Institute at Salisbury University (MD), my colleagues and I tackled the difference between a coach and mentor. Both positions require unique skills sets which are not easily to come by in a school system. This unique individual must be well rounded in curriculum, relationship building, assessing student data, growth and development of new teachers emotionally, and capable of planning and modeling best practices in the classroom.
In public education we have many titles which involves all of these attributes: math and reading coaches, lead teachers, mentor, first year teacher mentor, department chairs, etc.
Roll of Coach and Mentor
Districts who have coach/mentor positions are very fortunate. These new teachers have the opportunity of co-teaching with a mentor/coach are vital. New teachers are intimidated easily and need nurtured by a someone in a district. Individuals in this position, coach/mentor, need to have a level of trust.
- Model: Even though sometimes teachers are teaching, students are not always listening. New teachers need to see multiple strategies to grow their own instruction repertoire. Remember, coaches and mentors are in multiple classrooms and see numerous teaching strategies which they are bringing to a new teacher.
- Co-Teaching: Snot nosed middle 11 years old can scare the daylights out of a fresh 22-year old college graduate. However, being paired with a veteran can limit fear and anxiety of that new teacher. In addition, co-teachings goes very far because the two are doing it together, and they both take ownership of the lesson. On the contrast, it allows the new teacher to watch a veteran in the midst of teaching.
- Debriefing: Having a debriefing session is a great investment for this teacher. For instance, the mentor should not cut off the new teacher in the midst of doing something wrong or different than the mentor would do in a classroom. Instead, the mentor uses the debriefing session to critique the new teacher’s craft.
- Positive Reinforcement Feedback: Highlight everything the teacher did well, but share where improvement is needed as well. During this time a specific action plan is created on specific items which needs to be improved upon. Next, make a timeline when the mentor comes back to ensure the new teacher is exercising the suggested strategies; the sooner, the better.
- Action Plan Specifics: Great language I love hearing a coach use is “In your next class…” or “we are doing this because it will have this result.” Word choice when talking with your new teacher allows them to know the new teacher is going to be accountable for implementing specifics to the action plan.
Personal Notes for Coach/Mentor
- Challenges for a New Mentor: You are no longer the lead teacher. The mentor now has to observe and assess what is working and not working if improvement is going to occur with the new teacher.
- Coaching Relationship: Positive, positive, and positive. Model, model, and model. A new teacher cannot simply be told what to do. The mentor/coach must model the practice and be stern in doing so. The modeling being shown is expected in the classroom and followup will consistently provided.
Roll of Principal Leadership in Coaching and Mentoring
Often times, coaching function needs to be occur, but the position may not officially exist. This puts the principal in a difficult position to cultivate coaching out of his or her own staff. However, it can happen!! Here are some strategies to ensure coaching occurs in your building:
- Grade level team leader: Select a person who will work with an individual to mentor a new teacher on a particular team. Sometimes you can call this “other duties as assigned.” When an administrator builds a solid relationship with their staff, teacher are willing to assist in areas as needed.
- Central Office Supervisors: Free up time to work with individuals in specific content areas. This allows the supervisor to better understand the needs of the new teacher. In addition, it helps the new teacher build a relationship with their supervisor.
- Hire a Part-Time Retired Teacher: On a contractual basis, utilize retired teachers in those same content areas. By not offering benefits and using these individuals hourly, the new teachers is able to take in from years experience from the retired teacher.
- Principal Steps Up: Don’t be afraid when your principal walks in to mentor a new teacher. The new teacher is a reflection of the principal and only wants the best for the new teacher.
- Social Activities: Establish and encourage social activities outside of the building. One former superintendent in the room, indicated he encouraged principals to have social outings and relationship building sessions with other teachers outside of the building. These opportunities were healthy for the new teachers and helped them become a part of the school community.
Purpose of Coaching and Mentoring
We want students to achieve more and more. however, for that to occur, teacher must continually improve their won instructional habits and strategies. By making new teachers comfortable, hopefully they will consider continuing their career in that same district and be an asset to our students.
Below was my group’s draft a first-year teacher mentor job description…
First Year Teacher Mentor — Draft Job Description
- Assesses skills and needs (both initially and ongoing) of teachers new to [Fill in the Blank] Public School District and/or to the profession for the purpose of ensuring appropriate assistance and strategies for identified mentoring activities
- To promote of growth and development of beginning teacher to improve student learning
- Builds relationships with new teachers in the district for the purpose of establishing an environment of trust and collaboration and providing emotional support
- Orients new teachers to system-wide mentor program (e.g. responsibilities, schedules, policies with regard to involvement with students, etc.) for the purpose of providing teachers with information regarding program objectives, identifying training needs and reviewing functions of mentor.
- Prepares lesson plans on a variety of subject matter, models and teaches lessons for the purpose of demonstrating best practices in instruction, planning and classroom management.
- Models professionalism at all times for the purpose of demonstrating expected behaviors
- Minimum five years of classroom experience
- Advanced Professional Certificate or Master’s Degree
Measures of Success
- Decrease the number of new teachers incoming into the district
- Annual surveys of first, second, and third year teachers (includes exit surveys)
Adapted portions of job description came from Williamson County School District