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How Being a Mentor Has Sharpened My Teaching

They say the best way to learn is to teach and that's why we put such a high emphasis in the classroom on giving students the power to work with each other.

Whether creating tutorials or actually tutoring, the opportunity to explain what you know and can do in a way another can learn from provides powerful growth experiences.

The same is true for teachers and colleagues.

This year I was given the opportunity to work with a new teacher and seeing teaching through his fresh eyes has made me acutely aware of things I must always stay vigilant too.

Here are some examples:

  • Choices in the classroom must be intentional, as everything we do impacts our learners. It is sometimes easier to see this in other people's classrooms, so even if you aren't mentoring, try to visit with a colleague from time to time and see how your students behave and learn in other settings.

  • Our mood and mental state have a large impact on the class. Students are intuitive about how we are and when we are unfocused or distracted, it is evident in our teaching. So it is important to leave the worries at the door and focus on the tasks at hand as much as possible.

  • When working with a peer, we need to be clear in our expectations and strategies if we want them to grow and this is so with the feedback we provide to students as well. If it can't be applicable, it doesn't make sense to say it. Pretty words are nice to hear, but they won't increase learning. This is a great reminder, all of the time.

  • Patience is essential in the classroom when setting expectations for myself or others. Sometimes I may not communicate them well-enough and there are consequences for that. It is my job as a mentor to ensure that my mentee is getting what he needs and I must be able to problem-solve with him when my solutions aren't working.

  • Since I'm working with a new teacher who doesn't teach in my content area, this is very much a learning experience for both of us. I can't help him with his content per se, but I can help with the pedagogy. Like in my own classroom, it isn't always about content knowledge. There is an essential collaboration that must exist with my students and colleagues to grow. The smartest person in the room is always the room, so why not utilize it to the best of our abilities.

  • Follow-up is necessary. When we say we are going to do something, and our mentee or students are counting on us, we must remain reliable so that they can do what they need to do as a result of it. Fortunately, this is one of my better skills, always making sure to take good notes when we speak, following up with any questions, and updating my logs as needed as I go.

  • I don't need to have all of the answers, I just need to know where or who to find them with. Because my mentee teaches math, I can't help him with explicit math teaching questions, but I have a wealth of colleagues whom I trust that do teach math. I can either use those resources or brainstorm with my mentee until he has what he needs to improve.

  • Daily check-ins are a great way to ensure that your mentee is doing well and with some of my students, the daily, "how are you doing?" makes a big impact. Everyone wants to feel like they matter, and that is one easy way to show that you notice and care.

Every relationship developed in a school environment is one that requires care. With the reciprocal nature of relationships, giving and taking works wonders for all folks involved when done correctly.

Working with my mentee has offered countless moments of reflection in my own practice, forcing me to consider if what I'm asking him to do is realistic and what does it look like in my classroom. Not afraid of having my mentee come visit or question my practices is another really efficient way to get him thinking about his own practice.

How do you collaborate with colleagues to improve your own teaching or job? Please share

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in November of 2015


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