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May2010|Volume67|Number8
TheKeytoChangingtheTeachingProfessionPages7680

WhatMentorsLearnAboutTeaching
SusanG.Hanson
Whenanexperiencedteachermentorsanewone,howdoestheveteran'steachinglifechange?
MentoringprogramstosupportnewteachershaveproliferatedinU.S.schooldistricts,givingexperiencedclassroom
teacherstheopportunitytoserveasmentorsfornovices.Althoughanalysesofmentoringprogramshaveprimarily
focusedonhowtheybenefitnewteachers,goodprogramsalsosupportthegrowthofthosewhodothementoring.
Fewempiricalstudieshavefocusedonhownewteacherprogramsinfluencementorsthemselves(Hanson,inpress
Hobson,Ashby,Malderez,&Tomlinson,2009).Mentoringisaprofessionalrolethatrequiresknowledgeandskills
beyondthoseneededtobeanexemplaryteacher.Professionalrenewal,enhancedselfesteem,morereflective
practices,andleadershipskillsareamongthebenefitsthatcometothosewhomentor.Theknowledgeandskillsthat
experiencedteachersacquireaspartofmentortrainingandpracticecanbeviewedaspartofthecontinual
professionalgrowthgoodteachersseekthroughouttheircareers.

HowFullTimeMentorsViewTheirExperience
Inthepastfouryears,Ihaveinterviewed21fullreleasementors,eachseveraltimes.Allwereteacherswhohadbeen
releasedfromtheclassroomtomentornewteachersfulltimeintheurbanschooldistrictsofBostonorDurham,North
Carolina.AllthementorswereparticipatinginthetrainingandsupportprogramoftheNewTeacherCenter(NTC),
whichwasestablishedtohelpnovicessurvivetheirearlyyearsinteachingandemergeasskilledprofessionals.The
centerprovidedcomprehensiveprofessionaldevelopmenttomorethan5,000mentorsduringthe200809school
year(Seewww.newteachercenter.org.)
Mygoalinexaminingthejourneysofthese21mentorswastolearnhowmentoringprogramshelpexperienced
teachersgrowintheircareers.Theseteachershadtaughtbetween5and30yearsbeforebeingselectedtoworkas
fulltimementorsfortheirdistrictseachsupportedabout15newteachersthroughouttheschoolyear.
Beingafullreleasementorprofoundlyaffectedthedevelopmentandpracticeoftheseexperiencedteachers.Teacher
mentorsexplainedhowmentorshiphelpedthemgrowinthreemainareas.

GainingaBroaderPerspective
Considerwhatit'slikeforanexperiencedteachertobeginanewjobasafulltimementor.Forexample,Toby,a
classroomteacherwith20yearsofexperience,wasselectedbyapanelofeducatorsandadministratorsfromher
schooldistricttobecomeafullreleasementor.ThenewjobrequiredTobytomovefromhercomfortableroleasa
successfulclassroomteacherinaschoolwhereshewasrespectedtoanewrolesupportingbeginningteachers
acrossthedistrict.Shewasexcitedaboutthisnewopportunitytosupportnoviceteachersfulltime,despitefeeling
melancholyaboutleavingstudentsandcolleaguesatheroldschool.
Inherfirsttwoyearsasmentor,TobyattendedfourthreedaytrainingsessionsfornewmentorsprovidedbytheNew
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TeacherCenter.Inherthirdmentoringyear,sheattendedtwotrainingsessionsandconsultedwithothermentors
severaltimesamonth.Inthesesessions,trainedfacilitatorstaughtTobyandothermentorsskillstheywouldneedto
guideinexperiencedteachers.Thetrainingcontentincludedusingprofessionalteachingstandardsandassessinga
teacher'spracticethroughformativeassessment,meetingteachers'needsasadultlearners,buildingtrust,
communicatingeffectively,addressinginequityrelatedtostudentlearning,andusingdatatoinformteacherpractice.
Asshebeganthistraining,Tobywasnotawarethattheexperiencewouldtransformthewaysheviewedherself,
teacherdevelopmentingeneral,andtheschoolsinwhichsheworked.Shelaterreflected,
Mylearningcurvehasbeeninupwardmodethewholeyear.Thereisn'tadayIhaven'tlearnedsomething
aboutmyself,aboutmybeginningteachers,aboutmyschool,orabouttheschoolsystem....Beinginthe
classroom,youhaveajobtodo,andyourfocusisreallyontheteachingandlearningintheclassroom.This
year,myfocuswasdifferent,insofarasIwaslookingattherelationshipoftheteacherandthestudents,and
thentherelationshipoftheschooltotheteacher.
Mentorsunanimouslyreportedthattheirnewroleledthemtodevelopanewawareness,particularlythroughobserving
manyclassroomsinschoolsinwhichtheyhadnotpreviouslytaught.Theysometimessawsignificantdifferencesin
workingconditionsandadministrators'approaches.Asoutsidersbuildingrelationshipswithteachersand
administrators,firstyearmentorslearnedtoseeissuesfromboththeteachers'andadministrators'perspectives.This
broadeningofperspectiveandthepersonalinsightsthatcamewithitweretransformationalformanymentors.Several
mentorssaidtheygaineda"global"viewthataffectedtheirvisionofgoodschools,goodteaching,andhowtohelp
teachersimprovetheirpractice.
Beforebecomingamentor,Janettaughthighschoolsciencefor10yearsinalarge,raciallymixedhighschoolwitha
widerangeofstudentabilitiesandanexcellentreputation.AlthoughJanetlovedheradvancedplacementclasses,her
favoritestudentswerethosewhofacedmanychallenges.Janetrequestedtobeamentorinalocallowperforming
highschoolwhosepopulationwas90percentminoritystudents.Sherealizedthatformanyofthesekids,theschool
experiencewasquitedifferentfromwhatithadbeenforstudentsinherformerschool,partlyduetoschoolculture.
Janeobserved,
Ithinkcreatingaculturewhereacademicsarethemostimportantthinginschoolshouldbenumberone.AndI
assumedthatineveryschoolinthecountry,thatwaswhatwashappeningbutthat'snotwhat'shappeningin
theschoolwhereIamnow....Asamentor,Isee18differentclassrooms,andIseehowtheentireschool
functions.Thestudentswhoattendtheschoolhaveverylittlerespectforeducationandtheadultsinthe
building....I'velearnedtheimportanceofacompetentadministration,thefrustrationthatmanyteachersfeel,
andhowpoorlyaschoolfunctionsifthereisnoconsistency.
Cathy,aformerhighschoolhistoryteacher,noted,
Asateacher,IwasquitehappytojustclosemydoorandbeinmyroombecauseIwasgoodatitandmykids
weregoodatitandsoitwaseasytojustthink,"Allyouotherpeople[needto]figureouthowtogetitgoodin
yourroom."That'sdifferentformenow.
Cathyhadherfirstexperiencewithahighlysegregatedschoolwhenshebeganmentoringshesawupclosethe
disadvantagesforstudentsofsuchisolation:
Thekidshavenoconceptofreality....Theyliveinasegregatedneighborhood,theygotoasegregated
school....Ihavearealissuewithsegregatedschoolsnow.
Whenshefinishedhermentoringstretch,Cathycommittedherselftoteachinginanintegratedschool.

DeepeningUnderstandingofProfessionalDevelopment
Acomprehensiveprofessionaldevelopmentprogramformentorshelpsteachersgainneededknowledgeandskills.It
alsoshowsthemhowhighqualityprofessionaldevelopmentoperates.TheNewTeacherCentermodelincludes
weeklythreehourmeetings,calledMentorForums,inwhichmentorsareencouragedtobecomeagentsoftheirown
growth,workingwithinacommunityofotherprofessionaleducators.Thiscollaborativecommunityhelpsmentorsapply
theirlearning,problemsolvetogetherondilemmasencounteredwhilementoring,shareevidenceoftheirwork,
analyzedataonbeginningteacherpractice,anddevelopleadership.Theysupportoneanotherandengagein
dialoguewithcolleagues.Forumsareledbythementorsthemselves,whoplanandfacilitateactivitiesforeach
gatheringandteachoneanothernewconceptsandstrategies.
ProblemsolvingwithfellowmentorshelpedJanetgetthroughtoasomewhatnonreceptivementee.Janetmentored
Barryfortwoyears.Likeothermathematicsteachersathisschool,Barryfoundthatonlyabout20percentofhis
studentspassedthestatemathematicsexams.Hewascontinuallyfrustratedalthoughheexplainedhowtodo
problems,studentsdidn'tunderstand.JanetnoticedduringclassroomobservationsthatBarrywouldignorequestions
fromsomestudentsorgetannoyedatthem.Duringcoachingsessions,shetriedtomakesuggestionsabout
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respondingtoeveryquestion,buthedidn'tliketobecriticizedandrespondeddefensively.Janetoftenlefttheir
meetingsdiscouragedbecauseBarrydidnotseemopentotryingdifferentstrategies.
OnedayJanetoverheardstudentssayingthatBarrywasascaryteacher.Onestudentwhooftenactedoutsaidhe
couldn'tlearnwiththisteacherbecauseaskingquestionsinhisclasswastoofrightening.Hearingthisremark
strengthenedJanet'sresolvetohelpBarrychangehisattitudeaboutinattentivestudentsbutshewasn'tsurehow.
Janetrecalledthatfellowmentorshadtalkedalotatonetrainingabouthowtohelpteachersthinkaboutwhatisintheir
control.Shealsoturnedtoherassignedmentorbuddytoshareherfrustrationandaskifhehadanyideas.Sheand
herbuddydidanactivitycalledproblempose/problemsolvecenteredonJanet'sfrustration,withoutusingtheteacher's
name.Janet'sbuddyencouragedhertohavewhatmentorscalla"fierceconversation."
Weekslater,whenthetopicofwhatstudentsthoughtofhisclasscameup,JanetgotupthecouragetotellBarrywhat
shehadoverheardandaskwhetherhethoughttherewasanytruthtoit.Barryseemedsurprised,butadmitted,"IfI
haveakidwhoisactingoutornotlistening,heisdeadtome.Iwon'tallowhimtoaskquestions."Janetrespondedthat
therewillalwaysbestudentswhocheckoutfortheday,buttheystillneedtocomebackandlearnthenextday.She
askedBarrytoconsiderhowhecouldmakeclassbetterforsuchlearners.
Notmuchchangedthatsecondyear,butasathirdyearteacher,BarrytoldJanetnowanacademiccoachinhis
schoolthathewassobotheredbyhisstudents'lowscoresthathewasconsideringquittingteaching.Janettookthe
opportunitytosuggestagainthathereflectonhisattitudetowardinattentivestudents.
Shelaterreflected,"HavingthefierceconversationwithBarrywasoneofthehardestdecisionstomake."Thereward
fortakingthatriskdidn'tcomequickly,buteventually,Barryaskedhisstudentswhetherhewasmeanandscary.When
theysaid,yes,Barryresolvedtoletstudentsaskasmanyquestionsastheywanted,nomatterhowannoyedhefelt.He
alsostarteddoingbackwardplanningandreflectingmoreonhislessons,areasJanethadworkedwithhimon.His
learners'standardizedtestscoressoonshowedenormousgrowth,andsomestudentsbegansayinghowmuchthey
enjoyedhisclass.JanetbelievesherguidanceplayedaroleinpushingBarry'spracticeforward.
Thecultureofinquirythatispurposelycreatedinmentorforumsprovidesamodelofcollaborativelearningthat
mentorscantransfertotheirexperiencenurturingnewteachers.Ritanotedthattheweeklyforumsbroughttonew
teachers"thefeelingofbeinghonoredasaprofessional,thefeelingofbeingabletostudysomething,discussitwith
yourpeers,andimplementsometinychangeinyourpracticefrombeingnurturedinthatenvironment."Manymentors
describedtheseforumsasthebestprofessionaldevelopmenttheyhadeverhad.Acrossdistricts,mentorsemphasized
thevalueofmeetingwithagroupofeducatorswhoofferedthemvaluableinsightfromyearsofexperience.
Continuedmeaningfulinteractionswithcolleaguescansignificantlyalteranexperiencedteacher'sperspective.As
Janetreflected,
WhenIfirststartedasamentor,IwascomingfromateachingsituationwhereIwasprettyisolated....Iknew
thatIwasgettingthejobdone.Iwasjustdoingmyownthing,andIwasnotacollaborator.Ifeel100percent
differentaboutthatnow.Iamatotalcollaborator.
Suchexperiencesbuildanunderstandingofmeaningfulprofessionaldevelopmentinanauthenticlearning
community.Oncementorsexperiencethis,theythirstforsimilarexperiences.

DevelopingTeacherLeadership
Despitebeinghighlyrespectedteachers,manymentorsdidnotseethemselvesasteacherleaders.Asmentors
deepenedtheircoachingskillsandgainedexperience,theygainedconfidenceinthemselvesasleaders.
Effectivementoringrequirestheabilitytobuildadultrelationshipsandcollaborate.Mentorsmustbeskilledat
articulatingteachingstrategies,analyzingevidence,andsupportingteachergrowtheveryday.Mentorsmustlearnto
unravelthecomplexitiesofestablishingrelationshipsamongallthosewhohaveastakeinbeginningteachers'
success.Workingsuccessfullywithadministratorswhosupervisenewteachers,whilemaintainingtheconfidentiality
neededtogainteachers'trust,isanimportantaspectofthework.Negotiatingthiscomplexarrangementhelped
mentors'leadershipemerge,ascommentsfromKaren,athirdyearmentor,show:
Ifeelmuchmorecapableofspeakingwithprincipalsinafirm,positive,professionalway.Ifeelmoreableto
carrymyselfprofessionally,withconfidence.There'ssomethingaboutprofessionalbehavior,someboundaries
orsomeassumptionsofpolitenessandrespectIwillrespectyouandyouwillrespectme....Juststartingout
meetingswithprincipalsbysaying,"So,Iknowyoudon'thavealotoftime.TherearethreethingsIwouldliketo
coverwithyou.Iwouldliketocoverthis,that,andtheother.Howdoesthatsoundtoyou?"
Bythesecondorthirdyearofmentoring,mostmentorshaveworkedwithavarietyofadministratorsandteachersand
haveledworkshopsorteacherlearningcommunities.Suchexperiencesbringmentorsenoughconfidencetobroaden
theirvisionofwhattheycando,personally,tohelpimproveteachingandlearningattheirschools.AsSandy
described,

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I'llbeworkingonsomethingorobservingsomebodyandI'llseeaneedforsomething.I'llthinktomyself,"Gosh,
thisschoolneedstohaveaworkshopon[aparticulartopic]andthenI'llthink,"Ohwait,that'sme!I'vegottodo
that!"Ididn'trealizethatlastyear.IguessitneverdawnedonmethatIwasaleaderthatIwasgoingtobe
takingtheinitiativetodothings.
Asmentorsperceivetheneedforsomebodytotakeonstrongerleadershipinsupportofteachersattheirschoolsites,
theydevelopleadershipskillsthemselves.Manymentorsassignedtoworkinchallengingschoolsfindthemselves
advocatingforbetterworkingconditionsfornoviceteachers.

ThePromiseoftheFullReleaseModel
Mostfulltimementorsgreatlyenjoytheirwork.Aftertheirtermasamentorisover,theyoftenwanttocontinuethe
growthandcollaborativeleadershipthattheyhadatasteofasfulltimementors.Forexample,whenJanetthought
aboutherprofessionallifeaftermentoring,sherealizedthatcollaborationwouldbevitaltoher:
Havingtheopportunitytoworkwithsomeofthebestteachersinthedistrictasacommunity[is]funbecause
peopleareinspiredandinspiringandit'sacollaborativeeffort.Ilikebeinginagrouplikethat.Soinmynext
job,that'sdefinitelyoneofthethingsthatI'mgoingtolookfor.IfIhaveachoiceofschools,Iwilllookfora
departmentthatworkstogether.
Myinterviewswithfulltimementorssuggestthatexperiencedteachersarestronglyinfluencedbytheirworkguiding
newteachersandworkinginaprofessionallearningcommunity.Introducingwelldefinedrolesforexperienced
teachersandcreatingaclearpathwayforclassroomteacherstobecomeschoolleadersofferpromiseforimproving
instructioninschoolsandfortheteachingprofession.Byestablishingsuchpathwaysandprovidingteachermentors
witheffectivepreparationandsupportschoolscanencouragegreatteacherstousetheirpotentialtoimprove
teachingandlearning.

References
Hanson,S.(inpress).Theinfluenceofinductiononmentors.InJ.Wang,S.J.Odell,&R.T.Clift(Eds.),Past,present,
andfutureresearchonteacherinduction:Ananthologyforresearchers,policymakers,andpractitioners.Manassas
Park,VA:CommissiononTeacherInductionandMentoringandAssociationofTeacherEducators.
Hobson,A.,Ashby,P.,Malderez,A.,&Tomlinson,P.(2009).Mentoringbeginningteachers:Whatweknowandwhat
wedon't.TeachingandTeacherEducation,25(1),207216.
Author'snote:Allnamesarepseudonyms.
SusanG.HansonisAssociateResearcherattheNewTeacherCenterinSantaCruz,CA6509492359
shanson@newteachercenter.org.

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