Friday, 25 January 2013

Mentor teachers - an #eltchat summary

This is a summary of the #eltchat which took place at 12 noon on 23rd January. The full title of the chat was:

'Mentor teachers' (those responsible for a team of teachers) and their role; best practices, pitfalls, tips.

This was my suggestion and, after a few shenanigans with a tied vote and an eleventh hour decision from our excellent moderators, @Shaunwilden and @Marisa_C, I'm pleased to say that it won and a very lively (over 500 tweets in the hour!) chat ensued.  What follows is my attempt to do justice to all of the valuable contributions from the participants.

Mentor teacher - defining the role

What is involved in being a mentor teacher?  Some suggestions:
  • being a walking advice source
  • inspiring mentees
  • being a professional checklist
  • being 'available'
  • taking a mentee 'under your wing'
  • answering questions or, better still, directing the mentee to find the answers himself
  • showing the way
  • being a quality control officer
  • observing the mentee in the classroom and being observed by him to learn about each other's teaching practices and discuss the reasons behind them
  • discussing problems and making sure teachers don't suffer in silence
  • helping a new teacher get used to the admin systems of their new workplace (and chasing them up when they don't do it!)
  • helping new teachers plan lessons
  • providing a listening ear
  • inducting a new teacher into a new institution
  • encouraging CPD
  • helping a new teacher to grow as a teacher
  • making a mentee independent
What is the difference between a mentor and a coach?

  • @louisealix68 suggested that a coach oversees in-depth reflection sessions on non-subject related things, whereas a mentor answers general questions on practical matters and, on that basis, a coach can look after any teacher in the institution, but a mentor should guide someone in his own department. 
  • @Marisa_C proposed that, unlike a coach, a mentor doesn't train, but rather he supports someone in a new learning venture.
  • @MentorEvo said that mentoring is a more frequent and detailed attention to day-to-day development than coaching is.

Who should be a mentor?

@touqo said that it was important that the mentor and the mentee be 'organisationally independent of each other' in order to ensure an informal atmosphere free of the day-to-day aspects of professional life, but @eltknowledge pointed out that this wasn't practical if part of the mentor's role is to assimilate the mentee into the organisation.  @touqo responded by saying that if the mentor's goal is to boost the mentee's career, then it is best that the mentor comes from elsewhere.

On a lighter note, @pjgallantry told us, 'As a mentor, my own role model is Obi-Wan Kenobi, though obviously without the being killed by a light sabre bit by a guy with asthma!'  This comment led to some of our participants ('geeks', perhaps - @Shaunwilden's term, not mine!) going off on a Star Wars tangent which kept them amused for the rest of the #eltchat!  Our aim is always to entertain as well as to inform!! :-)

The mentor/mentee relationship

It was generally agreed that the relationship has a natural life cycle and that, once a mentee has no further questions to ask, the partnership simply fades away.  After this, particularly if the arrangement has worked well, the mentee may become mentor to another new teacher.

Many #eltchat contributors felt that the relationship could only work if it was bi-directional, that is to say that both parties benefit from it.  It was also largely agreed that senior staff should swap mentee relationships each year in order to provide different perspectives.

@touqo suggested that the mentee should choose his mentor himself.  @yya2 went on to say the more a mentoring relationship is established by an institution, the less effective it is and that informal relationships seem to work better.

@Shaunwilden felt that both parties had to be working from the mentee's agenda for it to be a successful venture.

@yearinthelifeof commented that mentoring has to remain a symbiotic relationship built on mutual respect, trust and recognition that both sides can learn from.

Dos and don'ts of being a mentor

  • DO ask questions which encourage reflection - e.g. 'Have you thought about....?', 'What might happen if you......?', etc.
  • DO NOT make it a power relationship.
  • DO ask difficult questions of your mentee before the 'real world' does!
  • DO talk about expectations at the beginning of the relationship.
  • DO listen.
  • DO ask more questions than you answer.
  • DO NOT shout or curse at the mentee! (Not outwardly, anyway!)
  • DO make time to have a quiet cuppa with your mentee every week, even if he has no questions to ask.
  • DO be patient.
  • DO NOT impose your ideas on a mentee.
  • DO know when to keep quiet and fade into the background.
  • DO NOT have a 'know-it-all' attitude or act in a superior manner.
  • DO find out about the background of your mentee.
  • DO have a clear focus.
  • DO be sympathetic and empathetic - these qualities are more important than the mentor's knowledge.
  • DO ask the mentee what they would like you to help them with and any specific things to look out for.
  • DO use 'human video' type field notes which are non-judgemental and where the mentee can decide what to accept and what to reject.
  • DO NOT criticise, even if your mentee's lesson hurt your eyes!
  • DO remember that you are learning as well.
  • DO read this excellent book.
  • DO continue to educate and develop yourself, both as a teacher and as a mentor.
  • DO have a checklist, but DO NOT mentor according to it!!

Potential problems
  • The mentor role and responsibilites are often not clearly defined.
  • The mentor is often not trained in the role, prompting the question, 'How do you teach teachers to become mentors?'
  • Mentors are often appointed simply because they are the people who have the time, not necessarily because they are the best people for the job.
  • As soon as 'judgement' (e.g. critique of a lesson) of any kind gets in the way, the mentoring relationship will probably break down.
  • People assuming that more experienced/older teachers automatically make better mentors.  As many contributors pointed out, 'newbies' often have a lot to teach 'oldies'!
Are mentors necessary?

This question was raised, particularly in places where there is a fantastic staffroom where experienced teachers all chip in to help with the CPD of new teachers.  It was also suggested that for those of us with an amazing PLN, mentors probably weren't needed.  In fact, some contributors consider #eltchat itself to be their mentor!  In most cases, however, it was agreed that there was a need for some kind of formal mentoring system as, nice as it would be, we can't often rely on everyone to care about their colleagues' CPD.

To conclude:

I joined the 2013 Mentoring EVO course a few weeks ago and I suggested this #eltchat topic because I redefined the role of senior teacher in my institution at the start of the 2012/2013 academic year.  The job title changed to 'mentor teacher' and I wanted the focus to shift to CPD.  This is a 'work in progress' and I was still unclear as to exactly how the relationship between mentor and mentee should work.  This chat has given me so much food for thought and I thank all the contributors for that.

@AlexandraKouk summed up the key elements of the mentor role:
  • personal or professional development
  • reflection
  • informal transmission of knowledge
  • relationship based
As @OUPELTGlobal put it, 'having a mentor is like having a good friend at school.'  @Teachersilvert added that 'a mentor is a friend with benefits'!!  However, @chiasuan pointed out that a good friend is socially but not professionally obligated to listen to your problems about work whereas it's vice-versa for a mentor! 

In the end, everyone agreed that, whilst training and qualifications were important, being open, approachable and empathetic were much more crucial qualities in a good mentor.


The aplanet project on mentoring and 'Mentor' is a Greek word via @Marisa_C
Mario Rinvoluci's review of Fanselow's book via @KerrCarolyn
'Demystifying Mentoring' an article from the Harvard Business Review via @KerrCarolyn
Heron's Six Categories of Invention via @AlexandraKouk


Wordle: Mentor Teachers - an eltchat


  1. Thanks for suggesting this as a topic for ELTChat and for this fantastic summary Andrea - look forward to reading it more carefully. Really enjoying the 2013 Mentoring EVO course and great to connect here on Twitter too.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Fiona - the feedback is much appreciated.