10 Do's and Don'ts for Effective Teacher Mentorship 10 Do's and Don'ts for Effective Teacher Mentorship

10 Do's and Don'ts for Effective Teacher Mentorship

Erin Werra Erin Werra Mentor Maestro
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It’s no secret—retaining great teachers is hard to do. 

A 2004 teacher mentorship study from the University of Pennsylvania found that 20% of first-year teachers who receive no support leave the profession after only one year. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, it costs at least $8,000 to replace each teacher (you can see a tailored estimate using their calculator). 

What can district leaders do to ensure rookie teachers return year after year? Providing an introductory mentoring program with help from their veteran teachers is a good place to start. Here’s how to make smart investments in a mentorship program.

1. Do provide mentoring for a minimum of two years

The Texas Teacher Mentor Advisory Committee reported improved gains and development when the same mentor and mentee relationship lasted for two years. However, when the US Department of Education (DoED) studied five states’ mentorship programs in 2014, 77% of states studied said mentoring slowed or ended completely after a teacher’s first year.
Don’t prematurely end mentoring before maximum effects are achieved.


2. Do make thoughtful matches when pairing mentors with mentees

Pairing a new kindergarten teacher with a middle school math teacher might not be the best fit—whenever possible, pairs should share common subjects and grade levels. If the pairs are forever stretching to find common ground, they’ll have less time to address the rookie teacher’s development.
Don’t expect randomly chosen or mismatched pairs to be as productive as mindful matches.


3. Do provide stipends (or salary increases) for mentors

States are investing in the future by placing precious funds on the front lines of teacher retention. In spring 2018, Colorado passed a bill to provide a three-year grant program for multiple K–12 initiatives, including mentorship programs designed to keep teachers in schools. Nine states (Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Hawaii, Louisiana, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania) are using ESSA Title II funds to improve mentorship programs. Louisiana has also created a $4.89 million grant program for mentorship programs. 

Don’t add responsibilities for mentors without some sort of recognition (preferably monetary).


4. Do scaffold the transition into full-time teaching and planning for mentees

Examples may include providing temporary reduced teaching schedules, reduced preparation times, and extra classroom aides. School culture drives a great deal of mentorship: Is there time for productive mentoring relationships to flourish?
Don’t overload rookie teachers.


5. Do relieve mentoring teachers of all or some typical teaching duties

Admittedly, it’s a tall order, asking district leaders to reduce the teaching time of both mentors and mentees. Consider mentorship a long-term investment toward developing and retaining great teachers. Balancing mentorship and teaching duties may be the way to go. When asked about relieving mentors of teaching duties, districts studied by the US DoED said: 
  • <3% of mentors were relieved of all other teaching duties
  • 1–26% of mentors were relieved of some teaching duties
  • 69% of mentors were full-time teachers not released from any teaching duties
Don’t contribute to teacher burnout and subpar mentoring by overloading your mentors.


6. Do create collective activities and collaboration opportunities for mentees

Depending on the district’s size, this might include common planning time with new teachers’ subject-matter peers or induction seminars and classes. Regular admin check-ins and structured collaboration with other teachers is also helpful. Why all the togetherness? A 1995 study linked teacher isolation to lower student achievement. Luckily, there’s a fix: two decades earlier, a 1975 study showed mentoring reduces teacher isolation.

Don’t isolate rookie teachers.


7. Do encourage mentees to build external networks

Gauge interest from recently retired teachers to facilitate connections, especially if mentors are unable to drop any of their full-time teaching responsibilities. Twitter networking is almost a prerequisite for beginning teachers; encouragement from district leaders will help promote a social-media savvy culture. Technology also connects remote mentors and mentees. 

Resist the temptation to make large networking events like conferences exclusive to veteran teachers—networking is necessary for growth, not a reward for longevity. Bonus: Teachers will scout new ideas district leaders can learn from, too.

Don’t limit teachers to building- or district-level development.


8. Do prepare mentees for plenty of constructive observation time

When expectations are set ahead of time, everyone is free to give and gracefully receive feedback, with the understanding it’s necessary for growth. Building that trust means rookie teachers can rest assured feedback is given with their best interests at heart, not as a “gotcha” moment.

Don’t make observations nerve-wracking; instead, instill a coaching culture.


9. Do encourage mentors to focus on the big picture

Each teacher, whether they’ve been teaching for 20 years or 20 days, will develop and refine their own unique style. Mentoring isn’t about replicating an identical teacher robot—it’s about showing rookie teachers the ropes, investing in growth, and watching them flourish.

Don’t use the mentorship program as a way to nitpick new teachers into a pre-existing mold.


10. Do give mentors and mentees room to make mistakes

Like any relationship, mentorships may encounter bumps in the road. What seems like a match made in heaven could sour quickly, only to pick back up again. Resist the temptation to smooth everything over; instead, only intervene as a last resort.

Don’t rush in to save the day.


Creating a mentorship program sets the stage for long-term growth for the next generation of highly effective teachers. Plus, its effects on teacher retention are research-proven. What is your district doing invest in future-ready teachers?

Follow-up Resource: Do remember your substitutes

While you’re investing in full-time teachers, learn 4 Ways to Improve the Substitute Teaching Experience.


Erin Werra Erin Werra Mentor Maestro
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