Characteristics of the Mentoring Process


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Insight can be life changing. Insight is not learned in the way we learn to ride a bike or hit a ball. It is a deep and immediate perception of something completely new. The essence of real learning has this quality, a moment-to-moment adventure of relationship and trust. The more we know, the greater the challenge to remain open.

For this opening to occur we must be sensitive, watchful, and willing to question what we think is true, about ourselves and others. Real learning is an open state of relationship and wonder. It is not knowing, but wanting to see what will happen next, without prejudging the outcome. Real learning is being open to surprise. It is complete attention, infinite possibilities without fear of judgment or failure.

- from Michael Mendizza, Touch the Future, Summer 1998

These thoughts, originally written about the intelligence of children’s play, could become powerful tools to aid adults in breaking through old patterns and inviting new insight. How can we, in our Waldorf pedagogical work, create a professional practice together with our colleagues which will further the development of our attention, sensitivity and awareness in daily life in the classroom-one which quickens the vital inner life of soul and spirit? How can we promote a climate in each school that will aid each colleague to maintain the balance between responsibility and enthusiasm that Rudolf Steiner speaks of as essential to the task of the teacher?

Today the media has brought attention to an urgent call for accountability from the teachers of our children, in public and independent schools. Teacher testing and evaluation have become a focus of conversation between public school officials, teachers’ unions and politicians. In such a climate, parents of Waldorf students need assurance that their children are being well served, not just by an incredible curriculum, but also by competent and effective teachers.

As we continue to work together towards increased excellence in our Waldorf schools we have been searching for the last three years, through the Mentor Collaboration Seminars, for new paradigms in our pedagogical practices. Through an open and honest sharing of effective and non-effective practices in many schools, we have come to some basic principles upon which we are exploring new methods of professional development.

Yes, accountability and evaluation are essential and must provide a fair and objective foundation for our staffing decisions. A faculty can agree upon the criteria for evaluation that is applied fairly and consequently to all teachers. But evaluation of teachers, sup-ported by a consequent program of mentoring aimed at furthering the artistic practice of the teacher, can lead to aiding all teachers, even very experienced, to find refreshing new insights. That these two processes (evaluation and mentoring) have very different characteristics is one of the basic principles. That an individual who is mentoring a colleague should never be asked to be the evaluator of that colleague or to give a report about the progress of that colleague is essential to the integrity of the mentoring process.

So far, in the Mentor Collaboration Seminars, we have tried to focus on the mentoring process. Next year we will spend some time working together on evaluations. We have also been concentrating on the curriculum for the class teachers. Hopefully we can work in the future on the special subjects curriculums as well. The principles of the mentoring relationship generally apply to all teachers. The following is a summary of some of the characteristics of a healthy mentoring program.

Characteristics of the Mentoring Process

The purpose of the mentoring process is to improve the educational experience of the children or students through improved pedagogical skills, techniques and perceptions of the teacher.

Effective mentoring can only take place in conjunction with classroom observation.

There should be prior conversations with the teacher and mentor, whenever possible, but most importantly, with a reflecting conversation normally on the same day as the visit.

The relationship between the teacher and the mentor should be a nonjudgmental, confidential one. The observation and information gained by the mentor are only shared with the colleague being mentored.

In certain circumstances, the mentor may have the responsibility to inform the teacher in advance that the mentor will need to suggest to the faculty or College of Teachers that there is a need for an evaluation. The mentor, as an advocate for the colleague, can be involved in many aspects of the work of the teacher-with students, curriculum, classroom interaction, with artistic and creative aspects, with activity with the faculty, parents, etc.

The teacher can ask the mentor to observe particular aspects during the visit and reflect together afterwards.

The mentor could, with the agreement of the teacher, demonstrate by taking over a particular aspect of the lesson.

Ideally, out of this kind of relationship, the teacher strengthens his/her self-evaluation process of reflecting on the pedagogical work, finding new perspectives and practices through his/her own personal development and inner growth.

The mentor is “empowered” by the teacher seeking support out of respect and mutual trust of two colleagues working creatively together.

Support for the First Grade Teacher

It is important to establish clearly how the teacher will begin to develop the habit life and the memory of the children. There must be a clear idea of the transition from the imitation by the child to the doing by the child, not out of imitation. Out of a mental picture or imagination the teacher at first shows the child how to do something. Then the teacher withdraws and watches while the child does it, on his or her own. Out of the watching, the teacher looks for what is being done incorrectly. Then, out of a mental picture, whenever possible, the teacher tries (verbally) to correct the child. The child needs to learn to use the memory and so must make the effort alone. Later, he comes to understand.

We must be sure that the children are expected to learn. The teacher should never do anything that the children can do themselves.

List of Good Habits to be established from the First Day of School

How to enter the classroom properly

Walking only through the classroom

Using an “indoor” voice and an “outdoor” voice

How to lift the chair and put it under the desk (not drag it)

Care for the materials from the moment when they are given (resulting from the careful instructions given by the teacher about the way to handle each of the materials)

There is a place for everything-order is important

Touching the chalkboard, only with permission

The teacher’s table or desk is private

Latecomers must knock at the door (but not during the morning verse- perhaps there could be an indicator outside during the verse)

On the first day, tell about the morning verse which will come on the second day

We raise hands and wait to be called on when we want to speak

We remain seated during the snack time

Gestures (rather than words) are used by the teacher for discipline

To be established by the end of the first term (Christmas break)

How to stand when speaking the morning verse

How to stand still at the end of the main lesson with perhaps a song, a thought, a poem, or silence (and not necessarily a verse) so that the children have time to internalize what they have learned.

In common activities, every child is meant to join in

How we tidy up the room-before we leave it

How we leave the room

The faculty room is only for the teachers

Eating habits, with serviette or place mat

Cleaning up after themselves

Establishing a method of taking out crayons, books, etc. and putting them away

Bathroom use-perhaps a chain by the door, worn by one at a time, to indicate that someone is out of the room

That the teacher visualizes each situation, so that it is already in the habit life of the teacher beforehand

Things to work with throughout the first term

Children learn to put up the chairs, keep the cupboards tidy, sweep the floor, etc.

Develop a plan for “chores” leaving room for remedial tasks to be assigned to particular children.

How to manage the painting lesson, the modeling lesson, etc.

Handling transitions

Dismissal procedure

Organizing the transition to another classroom

Passing out supplies

Where to put shoes, coats, toys

What to do with flowers

Bringing notes from home

Working together with a new teacher in clearly establishing ways to build good habits in the children is as essential as going over detailed instructions in our Waldorf methods of teaching reading and number skills, which, of course, should also be done.

Notes from AWSNA Mentor Collaboration Seminar, Sacramento Group, April 1997-Ann Matthews and Else Gottgens

Association of Waldorf Schools of North America
Effective Practices Research Project
HR Document HR 5-1.3a


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