Mentoring teachers

One of my roles is to mentor other teachers and enable them to improve and enhance their teaching. How do I mentor another teacher (the mentee)? When I reflected on this I realised I went through roughly ten steps. My actual process of mentoring tends to be a bit messier and less linear than what I present, but these simple steps help me to understand what I do.

  1. First meeting. I first meet with the mentee to gauge where they are at in relation to teaching: How do they feel about teaching and about themselves as a teacher? How confident are they? What do they think they are doing well and what can be improved? What are they concerned about and what are they interested in? and, finally, What do they want from the mentoring relationship?
  2. Assist the mentee to move to a space where they can tackle improvement and enhancement. Some mentees aren’t ready for mentoring because they are in an unsuitable frame of mind, so the next three steps are about how I help them take a different perspective about their teaching.
  3. Reassure and build confidence. If a mentee lacks confidence or doesn’t feel efficacious as a teacher, then they will find it difficult, if not impossible to improve. So, my first step is to create a foundation of “I’m OK as a teacher” so that my mentee is able to undertake improvement. This requires them to see their teaching difficulties as opportunities for learning, not as indicators that they are bad teachers.
    • Normalise the struggle in teaching. I point out that all teachers struggle with their teaching. These problems and issues don’t make them a ‘bad’ teacher, they are an inevitable and essential part of being a teacher.
    • Difficulties are necessary for learning to teach. I emphasise that we learn to teach in a University by trying something, noticing problems and difficulties, and then improving and enhancing what we do. Thus any problems the mentee may be facing are just one step on the journey to learning to be a teacher.
    • All teaching is a learning process. I also point out that teaching is always a learning process. For example, all teachers have to learn how to teach the particular students they are faced with. No matter how good a teacher is, they will face students who do not respond to the methods they normally use, and who expect something different from what the teacher expects. All teachers have to learn to deal with this challenge every time they teach.
  4. Invite them to take an enhancement attitude to their teaching. I invite my mentee to see their teaching as a process of improvement and development. All teachers, no matter how novice or how experienced, can develop, improve and enhance their teaching. When we take an ‘enhancement attitude’, we look at evaluation evidence like student evaluation questionnaires as an indicator of what worked and what didn’t work for students, and so as an indicator of how we might improve student learning. Thus I encourage my mentee to see that evaluation evidence is not about them, but about the impact of their teaching on their students. I want my mentee to see the evidence we gather about the impact of their teaching as information they can use to improve, rather than seeing the evidence as implying a judgment about them being a good or a bad teacher.
  5. Identify something to enhance, work on, or inquire into. I assist my mentees to find something that we can focus on that will motivate them to improve and enhance their teaching. This will likely be something about teaching that they are interested in, concerned about, or which they want to improve or enhance. Relating to them as if they are ‘broken’ or ‘bad teachers’ will not inspire them to improve, so we need to assist them to identify some inspiring result they want to achieve. See my other post, Promising leads for improving teaching, about three of the most common issues I focus on when mentoring another teacher.
  6. Gather evidence about the impact of their teaching on their students, for example:
    • Observe their teaching
    • Read evaluation data from student questionnaires or other student feedback
    • Talk with my mentee about how they teach and what they do
    • Read their course documents and assessments
    • Talk with their students
  7. Judge what might be changed to improve or enhance student learning.
    • We first hypothesise about what might be ‘blocking’ or ‘restricting’ student learning. For example, the evaluation questionnaires may indicate that the students think the mentee is ineffective as a teacher. But after talking with students and watching a lecture, we might realise that the underlying issue is actually that the mentee is speaking too quietly for students, and there are too many slides in their powerpoint presentation so students don’t have enough time to understand anything, and the result is that students don’t follow what the mentee is saying.
    • Then, we hypothesise about what might enhance the teaching to deal with the ‘blocks’ or ‘restrictions’. For example, my mentee could use a microphone or get some voice projection lessons, and they might cut down the number of slides in their presentation so they focus on the fundamentals without distracting students with irrelevant details (which can instead go into further readings).
    • If we are not sure about what might be blocking or restricting learning then we need to gather more evidence. For example, after discussing the mentee’s teaching, and reading student questionnaires, it might be obvious that students are not engaged, but we don’t yet know why. So, we go back to step six and talk with students to find out why they are not engaged.
  8. Action plan. I assist my mentee to design what they will do differently in their teaching, and how they will evaluate whether these changes have enhanced student learning.
  9. Action. They make the changes in their teaching!
  10. Evaluation and feedback: We finish by considering what they did and what happened as a result, including what they observed and any other evaluation evidence they gathered, and we use this to judge if the changes worked. If the changes worked, I congratulate them and assist them to refine and embed the changes so they become part of their normal teaching practice. If the changes had no impact, then we go back to step 6.

About Clinton Golding

Clinton Golding is Associate Professor at the University of Otago Higher Education Development Centre. His previous positions include Philosopher in Residence at Rangitoto College in Auckland, and Thinking Coordinator at Queen Margaret College in Wellington and St. Cuthbert’s College in Auckland, where he worked to develop the thinking of staff and students. He was also a senior lecturer at The University of Melbourne where he received 5 local and national teaching awards.
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