When I was a new teacher, a colleague pulled me aside and said, “Be careful; teaching is the only profession that eats its young.” I don’t know if he was talking about my fellow colleagues, the classroom or administrators. I still don’t know, but I said “thank you” and went about my way trying to erase his not-so-chipper attitude.
We all know how trying those first few years of teaching can be. That is why many districts have formal mentoring programs, matching new teachers with a veteran. The newbie learns to navigate the building’s culture and norms; resources are shared so the wheel need not be reinvented; and feedback is given. And when the year comes to a close, the journey ends. The new teachers don’t feel so new any more, and the savvy veterans move on to a new crop of rookies.
One of the best moments of my career came when a teacher I respect pulled me aside, looked me in the eye and told me, “I see the work that you are doing, and it is good. You are making a difference. Now, I want you to think about having a bigger impact.” He and I spent the next hour mapping it out.
He wasn’t paid to do that. It was not part of a formal program. And I wasn’t a rookie. It was just one teacher using his voice to articulate what he saw in another and offering a path to improvement.
I can tell you, it made all the difference.
That’s the power of informal mentoring.
Sure, you can keep on keeping on by closing the door, locking up your supplies and keeping to yourself. But that choice makes for a cold building. Wouldn't you rather change the trajectory of a teacher’s career?
Informal mentoring isn't a burden. Here's how simple it is to do:
- You see something in a colleague.
- You offer up a bit of yourself and your experience.
- You recognize a pathway for improvement.
- You provide the means to guide the colleague on his or her journey.
What develops is more powerful than formal mentoring. Informal mentoring comes from the heart. It is done by choice. And if your mentee pays it forward, it just may be enough to change a building’s culture.
We get the term “mentor” from The Odyssey. He (Mentor) was entrusted to provide encouragement and practical plans for the dilemmas that Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, would encounter while his father was away fighting in the Trojan War.
Practical plans for personal dilemmas—that is something any teacher can benefit from.
Here are five ways you can encourage the best in a colleague.
- Co-pilot:This type of mentor invites a colleague to take part in the learning process. You take the initiative to explore a new technology, incorporate a new teaching strategy or try a new mode of PD like Twitter or Edcamp, and you invite another along for the journey.
- Social Seeder:Relationships are your strong suit, and a colleague could use your help. It may be with a difficult student, parent or even another colleague. Whatever form it takes, you sow your advice, knowing that the harvest comes long after the first seed is planted.
- Complementary Colors:No one can master it all. Complementary color mentors recognize their strengths as well as their weaknesses. They look to form relationships to impart their strength and work on their weakness. Perhaps you are a tech guru, and your mentee has mastered her questioning technique. You form a didactic relationship in which you teach one another.
- The Lighthouse:You see another teacher sinking under the stress. The individual might have suffered the loss of someone close or recently endured a messy divorce. The life preserver arrives with a warm cup of coffee, an attentive ear, and a willingness to help a colleague find his or her way through a difficult phase of life.
- Fortune Teller:You see something in another teacher, especially a hidden talent, which the teacher isn’t aware of. As the fortune teller you offer a prediction about where that teacher will be in the near future. You provide glimpses of hope by saying things like, "in a few weeks you will have that class in the palm of your hand," or "in two years you will see a lot of these kids come back from college and thank you for how well you prepared them."