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Roles and Responsibilities of Mentor Teachers

Mentor Teachers are models of teaching who support and monitor Interns as they begin an intensive and sustained period of learning to teach in a context of practice. The Mentor Teacher's responsibilities fall into three categories: planning and communication, support of the Intern's learning, and assessment of the Intern's understanding and progress.

The Mentor Teacher’s Responsibilities

Planning and communication

  • Negotiate a sequence of opportunities, to learn that support your intern’s gradual induction into teaching, moving from observation to co-planning and co-teaching to assumption of lead teaching responsibilities.
  • Establish regular times to discuss your teaching with the intern and help the intern with long term planning: identifying unit topics, identifying places in curriculum where the intern can try out ideas studied in University classes, suggesting appropriate curriculum materials and school and district resources for the intern to use in planning and teaching, etc.
  • During periods of lead teaching, read the interns’ lesson plans and provide oral and written feedback regarding: (1) general focus on the lessons (e.g. extent to which the lessons teach to conceptual understanding, how well does the individual lesson tie in with long-range unit goals); (2) effectiveness of the lesson in terms of introduction of the. lesson(links to previous lessons and to overall unit goals), motivation and development, activities that involve students in actively constructing meaning (rather than passively listening to the teacher), conclusion; (3) assessment of student understanding integrated into the lesson.
  • Communicate with field instructor as needed about the intern’s progress, or problems or concerns that arise. Participate in three-way conversations with the field instructor and the intern when possible and desirable.
  • Be a role model for intern in dress, deportment, communication.
  • Participate in Mentor Teacher meetings during the academic year. Most of these meetings will take place during school hours while interns are teaching.

Supporting interns’ learning

  • Co-teach with the intern and share decisions, ideas, and observations.
  • When the intern is the lead teacher, continue co- teaching in a supportive role, and observe the intern teaching and help the intern to think about his or her teaching, including student understanding, alternative approaches, grouping, management, etc.
  • Use the observation checklist to provide regular written feedback to the intern about his/her teaching as part of the coaching process and systematic coaching.
  • As the intern demonstrates readiness and confidence opportunities need to be provided by the Mentor Teacher to allow the intern to practice with full responsibility as the adult in charge of the classroom and students.
  • Reflect with the intern about her/his teaching, about student learning, and about ideas and strategies studied in internship courses.
  • Participate in joint conferences as indicated on the calendar and/or as needed.
    Prepare materials for midterm conference (s) and write a final report on each intern you work with at the end of the academic year.

Assessment of Overall Intern Understanding

Mentor Teachers will:

  • Provide Interns with written feedback to be placed in the Intern's “Notebook" Reflect with the Intern about his/her teaching, about student learning, and about ideas and strategies studied in university courses.
  • Assist the Intern in getting to know students' parents, school colleagues, gaining familiarity with district curriculum and grade level objectives, school policies, and curricular resources.
  • Model the intellectual work of teaching by sharing goals and beliefs, co-planning, discussing dilemmas, etc.

Assessment of Intern Progress

Using the program standards, Mentor Teachers facilitate and monitor Interns' growth and development as the Interns move along a continuum from observation to co-planning and co-teaching to assumption of lead teaching responsibilities. The program standards are:

  1. Knowing subject matters and how to teach them
  2. Working with students
  3. Creating and managing a classroom learning community
  4. Working and learning in a school and profession

Mentor Teachers will:

  • Participate in assessment conferences as they are scheduled throughout the year. Help Interns begin to think about their careers as educators and assist with reviewing portfolios, videotapes, letters of -recommendation, etc.
  • Prepare written assessments prior to the conferences, provide copies for the Intern and field instructor using the Program Standards, and write an Exit Performance Description at the end of the academic year.

How Can A Mentor Teacher Help a Novice (Intern)?*

(a) And how can the intern receive and use that help?

(*Adapted from Helping Novices Learn to Teach, by Sharon Feiman-Nemser.)

Finding openings to conversation. The mentor (Mentor Teacher) finds topics to talk about that are important to the novice (intern) and that are fruitful to talk about because they bring up basic issues that teachers need to think about carefully and thoroughly.

  • The novice notices these invitations to conversation; assumes that the mentor might be trying to raise questions, issues, and options that the intern has not though about; and tries to figure out what those are.

Framing Problems. The mentor helps the novice to decide what to treat as relevant in a situation—in other words, how to frame a problem. This helps the novice to make situations manageable by setting some boundaries on their attention; it also helps the novice to see that teachers have choices in the way they define “problems,” and therefore have choices about how to find potential “solutions”.

  • The intern keeps in mind that the MT’s framing of the situation can be both different from the intern’s and useful to the intern.

Probing Novice’s Thinking. The mentor finds out how the novice is thinking about a situation by asking him/her to elaborate on an initial statement or explanation, and may also extend the novice’s thinking by asking the intern to think about an area that was not initially considered.

  • The novice responds by trying to be frank and clear about her or his thinking; by reporting incomplete, tentative, and potentially invalid rationales without embarrassment; and by listening for the hints that sometimes come in questions.

Noticing Signs of Growth. The mentor acknowledges and compliments the novice on specific aspects of her/his teaching, explicitly talking about what the novice did and can do.

  • The novice listens carefully for the CONTENT of the compliment, because the mentor may be talking about a different part or aspect of the performance than the novice thought was important.

Focusing on the Kids. The mentor helps the novice to focus attention on students’ thinking and sense making, and to use information about students’ thinking as a source of feedback on teaching, a way to keep track of children’s learning, and a source of ideas for curriculum development.

  • The novice accepts that s/he must learn to put an interest in students’ learning before a concern for her or his own performance in the classroom, or his or her own interests, and tries to reason from the former to the latter.

Reinforcing an Understanding of Theory. The mentor connects specific examples of children’s sense-making to research and theory, so as to help novices develop broad perspectives for looking at and thinking about their work.

  • The intern recognizes the mentor’s cue to connect a given case with relevant research and theory, and starts to thin actively about potential connections with research and theory that the intern ahs studied.

Giving Living Examples of One Person’s Way of Teaching. The mentor models a set of teaching practices, thinking aloud so the novice can both observe the mentor’s actions and understand how the mentor thinks about those actions in situations. This set of practices is viewed and discussed as one of many possibilities for developing a practice that is consistent with the program standards.

  • The novice listens carefully to the mentor’s think-aloud, in order to see and hear the part or aspect of practice that the mentor is trying to show. The novice also may need the discipline of listening and observing as distinct from judging. The novice takes responsibility for deciding when and how to try to emulate the MT’s particular set of teaching practices.

Modeling Wondering About Teaching The mentor models (thinks aloud) ways of thinking about teaching in specific contexts, so novices can understand the thinking behind a teacher’s actions and can develop broadly useful perspectives for looking at and thinking about their work. One essential kind of thinking is wondering—acts of curiosity.

  • The intern recognizes that the mentor is trying to reveal the invisible mental work behind the visible work of teaching in a classroom, and seizes the opportunity to discover how someone else thinks about events in the classroom. The intern exerts curiosity.

Goal Setting. The mentor takes an active role in helping the novice to articulate goals for growth and to assess progress in working toward those goals; the mentor offers and suggests potential areas of growth to the novice.

  • The intern agrees that it is important to hold goals for one’s own growth, tries to set them, and involves the mentor in helping to assess growth toward the goal.

Problem Solving. The mentor joins the novice and field instructor in framing problems of teaching practice, identifying potential solutions, and discussing whether problems are resolved.

  • The intern recognizes that situations in the classroom can be framed differently, and explores others’ framing in relation to his or her own.

Co-Planning and Co-Teaching. The mentor joins the novice in unit and lesson planning, and in carrying out those plans in the classroom, aiming to help the novice to understand the knowledge and thinking that informs the planning, to guide the novice in using effective strategies throughout the planning and teaching process, and to show what can be shared only by teaching together in the classroom.

  • The intern is alert to recognize both what can be said about teaching and what can be shown by action in the classroom.

How Should We Communicate With Each Other?

The internship depends heavily on talk: asking questions, giving feedback, analyzing classroom situations, setting goals, negotiating agreements, making and clarifying situation. We can accomplish much, or get ourselves into trouble, by the way we talk to each other. Here are some proposals for having a productive conversation through the year.

Breaking the ice. One or two of these at the beginning of the year may be especially helpful when one of more of the partners is quiet or reserved

  • Tell each other stories about how you decided to go into teaching. How have your ideas about teaching evolved?
  • Do you have a metaphor you would use to describe teaching, such as weaving or constructing or quilting or journeying?
  • What are your worst fears about teaching? Have they, or how have they, changed over time?
  • How has your teaching changed since you began? What have you learned and how have you learned it? When you wanted to try something new in your classroom, how did you go about it?
  • What are your interests and hobbies? Do you have a special skill or interest that you bring into the classroom?

Lots of ways to ask “why”. Frequently, we will want to know “why” but “why” questions tend to feel pushy, either to those who ask them or to those who are asked. Sensing that, we might fail to ask when we really need to. Falling to sense that, we might alarm or irritate someone when that is not our intention:

  • “Why did you do _______ with that student?”
  • “Why did you interrupt me in front of the class?”
  • “Why did you decide to deviate from your plan?”
  • “Why do I have to write lesson plans when you don’t?”

How can we ask these questions in a way that is more comfortable, and perhaps more informative?

  • I noticed that you (describe something that happened) . How did you decide to do that right then?”
  • “I thought it was interesting when you ______. Can you help me to understand how you thought to do that?”

The principle: Describe something specifically and in neutral terms, then ask to be taught.

Talk about teaching. Here are some topics for discussions that are likely to be helpful to interns sometime during the year, and that might be interesting also to persons working with the interns.

  • What do you know, or think you know, about the students in your class as learners? How did you learn what you know about them? Why is this knowledge important? How does your knowledge guide how you think and what you do regarding individual students? How does it guide your thinking regarding forming groups or working with the whole class?
  • How do you take gender, race, class, and cultural issues into account when making teaching decisions?
  • What puzzles you regarding your students? What do you want to know more about?
  • What do you see as the relationships among planning, your big aims in teaching, implementation of lessons, and outcomes? What were you trying to accomplish in that last lesson? What was the purpose? Why is it important? How did your interactions with the students relate to the purpose? What did the students learn?
  • What is the role of a schoolteacher? What responsibilities do you have regarding students’ academic, social, and emotional growth, communications with parents, communication with colleagues, your own professional growth? How do these responsibilities influence how you think and act as a teacher?
  • What issues, tensions, or conflicts do you experience because your obligations as a teacher may differ from your personal views? How are these issues and tensions reflected in your teaching?
  • What guides or directs the curriculum you use? What decisions do you make, as the teacher, about what gets taught? What are the givens that must be taken into account? What can teachers do to enrich or modify a curriculum? What controversies about curriculum do we face in various content areas? if so, how do you deal with them?
  • How would we describe the physical, intellectual, social, and emotional environment created by this and other classrooms? What opportunities exist for students to learn actively in this environment? How can the classroom be arranged to suit learning goals? What are the constraints of the environment and how can they be worked with?
  • What do you know about the neighborhood and community and how do they influence the school and your teaching? How does this knowledge help you in knowing your students? In what ways do you utilize the community and community resources in your teaching practice?
  • Considering the students together as a class, or community, what history has the class built together so far? How have the MT and intern participated in or contributed to building the learning community? What can they yet contribute?
  • What is the intern studying in their 800 level courses? How are those studies related to practice in this classroom and school? How are they related to issues that teachers face in their first few years of teaching?

There’s a lot to talk about; make time to do so.

Giving Feedback. One of the most difficult parts but also important parts of working closely with another person is giving them honest, useful information about their performance. Most likely, we are talking here about the MT’s or field instructor’s feedback to the intern.

Sometimes novices are not aware of things they are doing well, things that contribute to effective lessons. Sometimes they are not aware of ways in which they work against their own purposes. They may have unconscious habits that are inappropriate or distracting. Someone who is present can give valuable feedback, particularly if the receiver is prepared to hear it and the giver is thoughtful in composing it. Some suggestions:

  • Try to make agreements in advance about HOW, WHEN, AND ABOUT WHAT feedback is to be-given and received. Such agreements tend both to reduce misunderstandings about what should be happening and to prevent avoidance of the occasion for feedback. Give feedback in tactful manner without disrupting lesson.
  • Try to start with description and interpretations, as distinct from evaluation. Descriptions are limited to what was said and done. Avoid assumptions about motive or intent (why you think someone did something). By avoiding evaluative language, we avoid having the receiver react defensively (e.g., I didn’t do that!” whether stated verbally or in their mind).
  • Try to concentrate on behavior that the receiver of the feedback can do something about. Reminding people of some short-coming that they cannot easily remedy (e.g., nervous stuttering, facial tic) tends to be frustrating and discouraging.
  • Try to be specific rather than general. To be told that one is “dominating” is not as useful as being told that, “In the discussion that just took place, you did not appear to be listening to what others were saying, and the students seemed to shut down.”
  • Try to focus on sharing information before giving advice, and sometimes hold off on giving advice altogether. By sharing information, we leave people free to decide for themselves in accordance with their own goals and needs. If the receiver has trouble coming up with solutions, try problem-solving together.
  • Try to have frequent conversations, so as to connect feedback to events and to avoid having feedback pile up. Feedback should be well timed and, in general, should be given at the earliest opportunity (assuming that the receiver is ready to hear it and that the setting is conducive to providing feedback at that time).
  • Think about how much information the receiver can actually tolerate or use. To overload the receiver with information is to reduce the probability that s/he will be able, or will want, to use any of it.
  • Check the other’s understanding of what you have said—what is heard often is not what was intended. Ask the receiver to say it back to you; this will give you a chance to clear up misunderstandings right away.
  • Avoid collusion, that is, silently agreeing to withhold feedback because it will be uncomfortable. For example a teacher says, “That was okay,” while really being concerned about the quality of the action. The intern is silent while really thinking, “That really wasn’t too good.” Neither is satisfied; nothing is gained.
  • Consider the range of possible consequences of the feedback. It is often helpful to check out the receiver’s reaction (“How did it feel to be told that? Did you gain something you didn’t have before?).

Constructive feedback is an important step toward authenticity. It helps to fashion a trusting, honest, caring, and educative relationship.

Communicating alarm, distress, pain, disapproval, etc. Normal human beings who are working at close quarters occasionally (and sometime habitually) do something that alarms, distresses, or pains a colleague, that the colleague so greatly disapproves that it is difficult to remain involved in the activity. What do we do about that—just live with it? To a considerable extent, we do just that for the sake of peace. That said, we also should say that there times when we need and deserve and probably can have relief by asking for it.

The formula for asking, roughly, is this: “When you (describe specifically what happened) , I (tell how you were affected and/or how you were made to feel); I wish (propose some alternative course of action, or invite discussion.)”

An example: “When you corrected me in front of the class, I felt embarrassed-embarrassed enough that it was hard to collect my thoughts and to move on to the next part of the lesson. Could we talk about options for what you might do when you think I’ve made an error in front of the class?”

After that sort of opening, talk about WHY you are making that report and request, why the matter is important to you. Be careful to distinguish the behavior from the person, and especially careful to GIVE THE OTHER AN EARLY CHANCE TO RESPOND TO YOU, so that your opening can turn into a conversation.

All of this can be difficult to do if you are feeling upset about something. Make sure you’re ready to be steady before you begin a conversation like this.

What Makes Mentoring a form of “Teaching”?

Mentors view themselves as teachers. In reflecting on their collective years of mentoring, Mentor Teachers working with interns have identified the following characteristics of mentoring as a form of teaching:

  • model being a learning professional
  • think aloud about own practice, including what did not go well
  • explain why, what, how of own practice
  • ask questions of intern, rather than only expecting your intern to question you
  • give yourself permission to not know
  • encourage your intern to develop own practice and make own decisions
  • be explicit about practice, yet communicate the idea that intern is not copying or imitating MT
  • communicate that everyone contributes to learning to teach
  • keep children as learners at forefront; they are the primary responsibility for both MT and intern

Mentor teachers view themselves as co-learners. Mentor Teachers understand that they have much to learn across their careers as mentors:

  • voice mistakes, honesty, open-mindedness
  • show interest in learning from intern’s expertise; intern is a resource
  • MT is not “all knowing”
  • knowledge is developed through collaboration

Mentors develop a “teaching” practice in working with interns. Just as classroom teachers must develop their practice over time, so do mentors need to develop their practice in supporting interns’ professional growth:

  • show your intern how to find and use resources, break down an activity through co-planning
  • model thinking about children’s thinking
  • share decisions during teaching
  • take on the K-12 teaching role for children
  • decide when, whether & how to “step in” to a lesson or “co-teach” while intern is teaching
    • talk with intern about “stepping in” and “co-teaching”
    • invite intern to do the same--make invitations during lesson
    • maintain dual presence during lesson refer to “we” in classroom, not “I”
    • treat “stepping in” as ordinary part of teaching together, showing it goes both ways
    • sometimes don’t “step in” and wait until later to discuss issue
    • ask intern how s/he feels about lesson before offering feedback
    • develop signals for when/how to enter into lesson (e.g., raise hand for intern to call on you; ask key questions that children may be wondering about)
  • engage in joint inquiry on topic of mutual interest

Mentors develop skills to communicate effectively with other professionals. Communicating with another professional in a learning situation requires careful attention to developing excellent communication:

  • based on trust
  • feedback is not criticism
  • safe; constructive
  • accept where intern starts, what intern brings to the-situation
  • accept intern’s feedback
  • talk about communication dynamics
  • be direct enough
  • learn about intern’s sensitivity
  • establish how feedback will be given--both ways--what are preferences?
  • ask key questions to begin discussion
  • ask questions about MT’s or interns actions
  • reflect and restate
  • remember that communication is two-way
  • arrange regular time that both can count on
  • don’t let issues build up; talk about them as they occur