Standard 5.1: Mentor selection and processes
Programs should first consider the ratio of mentors to beginning teachers in order to determine how many mentors they will need. There are several possible models that address this including the following.
Full-time Teachers/Administrators as Mentors
Classroom teachers and full-time administrators can mentor beginning teachers before and after school, during lunch or planning periods, or during specially-arranged release time. This is the most common mentoring model in Illinois schools and often the least expensive. It works best when each mentor works with only a single beginning teacher. When the mentoring load for a full time teacher exceeds a 1:1 ratio, it can reduce the quality of the mentoring provided, thus compromising the potential for beginning teacher growth. When classroom teachers are used in this capacity, it is important to consider reducing the other extra duties and responsibilities for the mentors, as free time before and after school as well as during the school day will likely be used for mentoring purposes. Classroom coverage will also be needed when mentors observe the beginning teachers.
Half-time Released Mentors
This model is best implemented when the ratio of mentors to beginning teachers is no more than 1:5. Releasing the mentors half time allows them to spend more time with each beginning teacher and offers more flexibility in scheduling observations. The disadvantage is the extra costs related to providing instruction for students when the mentor is released.
Full-time Released Mentors
This model allows for a mentor/beginning teacher ratio of up to 1:15. Training for full time mentors can be ongoing and much more in-depth. In this model there is much more comprehensive, in-depth beginning teacher support. Research has shown that this model can produce the best results in improving beginning teacher effectiveness; however, it is the most expensive of the possible models.
Recent Retirees and Other Types of Mentors
Some induction/mentoring programs also make use of recent retirees as they are familiar with the program and often have flexible schedules. Some programs also use university faculty, special hires, and other arrangements that make sense in their contexts.
Many mentors become re-energized through their work with beginning teachers, and mentors who are also full-time teachers often see improvements in their own classroom performance. However, the mentor role involves a serious commitment of time, energy, and effort. Thus, providing incentives for teachers willing to mentor beginning teachers will usually make mentor recruitment more successful. Stipends should be provided if funds are available. Other incentives include reduced responsibilities and extra duties, classroom supplies and professional resources, CPDUs, and other non-monetary compensation.
Selection of mentors for beginning teachers must be done in a purposeful, focused manner. While it is important that a mentor be an effective teacher, that is not the only factor to take into consideration in a rigorous mentor selection process. A clear set of research-based mentor selection criteria must be established and shared with all key stakeholders to ensure that the teachers who are selected to be mentors will be effective in that role. Some essential selection criteria include the following:
- Evidence of outstanding teaching practice
- Strong personal and interpersonal skills
- Knowledge of content and context appropriate for the age span of the students the beginning teacher will teach
- Openness and flexibility
- Ability to maintain a confidential and professional relationship
- Knowledge of school and district policies and procedures
- Genuine desire and interest in supporting the diverse learning needs of beginning teachers
- Respect of peers
- Current knowledge of professional development and experience with adult learners
While these are important criteria, program planners can also take the time to study current research on mentor selection. This will help to ensure that the established criteria meet the needs of the school/district/consortium. It is also essential that the established criteria are clearly understood by all in charge of selecting the mentor teachers.
The recruitment of mentors is absolutely critical to an effective induction/mentoring program. While there are many strategies that a mentor committee can use to build a rich and deep mentor pool, it is important that any recruitment strategy is multi-faceted so as to appeal to all potential mentor candidates. Some effective recruitment strategies include the following:
- Advertisement in local district publications (weekly, monthly, etc.)
- Collaborating with local district committees and constituent groups to enlist their help to recruit prospective mentors
- Site visits by mentor committee members to lead Q and A sessions about the induction/mentoring program
- The creation of a local district website which includes nomination, application, and program information
- Tapping certain highly effective teachers to apply for the role of mentor teacher
- Create a mentor video which includes testimonials from mentors and beginning teachers about the value of the induction/mentoring program
It is important that the mentor recruitment and selection process be consistent at each site. Recruitment information can include the following:
- Benefits of mentoring (for the mentor and the beginning teacher)
- How to apply to be a mentor
- Expectations for mentors and an introduction to the induction/mentoring program in general
Formal application and selection process
Prospective mentors should go through a formal application process which can include any of the following:
- Face-to-face interviews
- Essay questions or personal statements written by potential mentors
- Letters of recommendation
- Detailed resumes
- Observation and/or analysis of videotaped teaching
Interview protocols vary. Other issues to consider include scheduling and length of time for interviews, who will be on the interview team, and how the team will work together to conduct interviews and discuss the applicants.
Selection should be evidence-based and not random in nature. It can include the following:
- A mentor selection rubric
- A matrix for documenting evidence that a teacher would be well suited for the mentoring role
If such documents are created, training should be provided for those who will be using the tools. Clearly defined procedures also will provide for program continuity (in the case of leadership change) and documentation/accountability for program procedures.
Clearly, time must be spent in designing the mentor recruitment and selection process and providing training for those who will select mentors. “Short-cutting” this process will lead to great inconsistencies in the quality of the mentors selected, potentially preventing beginning teachers from receiving the support they need to succeed.
Other issues to consider include the following:
- Will the selection of mentors occur only when a need arises, or will a pool of trained mentors be established so mentors can be matched with a beginning teacher at any time of year?
- Will prospective mentors be nominated by administrators or colleagues, or can teachers self-nominate?
Once consensus is arrived at by the mentor committee and the mentor applicant has been approved, the new mentor will need the following:
- An “official” congratulations and welcome to the induction/mentoring program
- Information about initial mentor training
- Information about logistics (when matching occurs, compensation, times for on-going training, specific expectations about work with beginning teachers, etc.)
- Information about the beginning teacher (if that determination has been made)
If a prospective mentor candidate is not selected, it is appropriate to give him/her timely notification and sound reasons as to why the application or applicant did not meet the selection criteria. Prospective mentors should also be informed whether they are allowed and/or encouraged to reapply in the future.
Another consideration in mentor recruitment and selection is the need for developing quality mentoring practices in the program. If the program is constantly recruiting new mentors every year, this may result in a shallow level of mentor practice. Mentoring is as complex as the teaching process. It takes time to develop effective mentor practice. Therefore, it may be wise to build a pool of trained mentors from whom to recruit. New mentors can be added to the pool as needed. Once mentors are in the pool, they should receive follow-up training on a regular basis to keep the practice of mentoring current and effective. Having a revolving door of mentors each year will not result in quality mentoring.