Effective Practices : Mentoring


The Mentoring Program
Mentoring Section 1

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1. Which person or group in the school holds the responsibility for the mentoring and renewal program for faculty and staff?
2. How does the mentoring program work as part of the school’s complete development plan for its employees? Describe how the mentoring process is coordinated with other aspects of personal development such as evaluation and outside training through conferences, workshops and courses.
3. How does the school ensure that all teachers and staff members receive mentoring in a manner that is appropriate for their situation and level of expertise?
4. How is the mentoring program supported in the school’s financial plan?
5. How does the school determine when an individual’s mentoring needs exceed what is available among other faculty or staff members? How and when are outside mentors used?
6. Are mentors used to support teachers and staff in all areas of the work, or is mentoring support limited to the classroom or technical areas of the staff member’s work?
7. Is the mentoring program recognized and supported by the school calendar, policies and practices? Is there written documentation regarding the mentoring program, and the roles and responsibilities of each participant?
8. With regard to the above issues, what is working particularly well at your school?
9. Is there something that you would like to see changed at your school with regard to the above issues?

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Which person or group in the school holds the responsibility for the mentoring and renewal program for faculty and staff?
In most schools the responsibility for mentoring and renewal of faculty members is held by the Personnel, Human Resources, or Teacher Development Committee. It is typical for the committee to include teachers from each section of the school (Early Childhood, Lower School, and High School). Schools which have a pedagogical dean include this individual on the committee, and it is often the dean who serves as the committee chairman. Individuals selected for this committee must be good leaders who are effective in implementing decisions and who are well respected by their fellow teachers. Oftentimes the committee has a staff member designated as the coordinator for the faculty mentoring program. Less frequently the responsibility for mentoring and renewal is held by the school’s governance council or leadership team.

The responsibility for mentoring and renewal for staff members is the responsibility of the school’s administrator. This is due to the fact that each staff position is unique and so there is little opportunity for in-house peer mentoring to take place. Most of the professional development opportunities for staff members come in the form of attendance at outside conferences and workshops.

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How does the mentoring program work as part of the school’s complete development plan for its employees? Describe how the mentoring process is coordinated with other aspects of personal development such as evaluation and outside training through conferences, workshops and courses.
Every school in our study assigns a mentor to each teacher who is new to the school, regardless of the amount of experience a teacher may have had in prior schools. The Teacher Development Committee has a preliminary conversation with the new employee to find out what kinds of support the teacher hopes to receive from the mentor, and then assigns someone who is best matched with the person’s needs and desires. Listening carefully to the new employee’s needs helps to ensure that the mentor and her advisee are well matched. In those rare instances in which a mentor and her advisee can not work well together, it is the responsibility of the Teacher Development Committee to assign a new mentor.

It is usual for a new employee to have a mentor assigned for the first three to five years of employment, although some schools require a mentor for the full eight years of a class teacher’s cycle.

It is often easier for schools to provide mentors for class teachers than for subject and early childhood teachers, just because there are more class teachers in a school. For this reason it is sometimes necessary for schools to find outside mentors for subject and early childhood teachers.

Schools work hard at maintaining the integrity of the mentoring process, and work to keep the mentoring and evaluation processes separate. In situations where a mentor is concerned about the quality of an advisee’s work, it is the mentor’s responsibility to notify the chair of the teacher development committee of the concern and to request that an evaluation be performed by someone else. The mentor is never asked to do an evaluation of her advisee.

At the end of this period of school assigned mentoring, teachers move into a new relationship with a peer speaking partner. The timing of this change is typically a result of the evaluation and professional development planning process. Most schools require those teachers who do not have a school assigned mentor to select a peer speaking partner, although a few leave this decision up to the individual teacher.

It is typical for the same committee at the school to be responsible for overseeing the evaluation process, the creation and implementation of the teachers’ professional development plans, and the mentoring program, so the overlap in these processes is well managed with little difficulty.

Learning Circles
One school in our study reported the implementation of a new program called Learning Circles. Although this program is still in its infancy it appears to be working well, and we include a detailed description of how the program works so that other schools may consider adopting some or all of the program’s features.

Every teacher, new and old, is also assigned to a learning group. The learning groups have four or five people in each circle. Today the following learning groups exist at the school: Grades 1-5
Grades 6-8
Music Teachers
Early Childhood Teachers
High School Humanities
High School Math and Science
World Languages
Subject Teachers

These learning circles meet once a week and all members are expected to attend on a weekly basis. To ensure that these meetings are regularly attended they take place during the school day and the schedule is arranged in such a way that all members of a circle are available at a designated time.

One of the responsibilities of the learning groups is to hear each member’s own self assessment and then to work together to create a professional development plan for the teacher. The self assessment is simple in format, asking the individual to describe what he or she does, to list one’s strengths and weaknesses, to describe what is most satisfying about the work, what is the least satisfying, and what the school and the teacher can each do to improve the teacher’s performance and make him or her better at teaching.

The self assessments and the professional development plans created for each colleague are done in writing, and are turned in to the Personnel Committee.

Newer colleagues that are involved in the one-on-one mentoring program receive formal evaluations rather than participating in the self assessment/peer development process described above. The school uses both inside and outside evaluators for this work. The evaluators make observations, listing commendations and opportunities for improvement and listing recommendations for professional development. These newer colleagues will still participate with their peers in the learning circle for purposes of hearing others’ self assessments and the creation of the peer professional development plan, but are exempt from doing a self assessment as this evaluation is taking place in a different way.

In addition to reviewing each member’s self assessment, the learning circles are a place where various questions can be addressed. Sometimes these questions are sent from the school; in other cases they are issues that the group is interested in exploring.

In order to make this aspect of the group’s work real we require that the groups present the results of their work to the whole faculty. For example, at a recent in-service day we had a focus on parent education. We asked each learning group to look at the list of topics that we address with parents as a part of our parent education program, and asked them what else should be brought to the parents and what changes should be made in the way in which the material is presented. In this way all of the learning groups were able to participate effectively in a whole school pedagogical topic.

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How does the school ensure that all teachers and staff members receive mentoring in a manner that is appropriate for their situation and level of expertise?
A frequent approach to following up on the effectiveness of mentoring relationships is the mentoring log. The log shows the date of each mentoring conversation and describes in a general way the topics that were discussed at the meetings. No personal details are included; it just may note that the topics discussed include the temperaments, the class play and an upcoming parent evening. Both the mentor and her advisee initial the log. The logs are turned in to the Teacher Development Committee coordinator so that the committee members are aware that the meetings are taking place and that appropriate topics are being discussed.

The Teacher Development Committee gives a monthly update to the College or Leadership Team on its work, and the College/Leadership Team ensures that the committee is serving effectively.

Most schools include the times of the weekly mentoring meetings on the official school schedules so that this work happens on a regular basis. These times are considered sacred, and are not used for other meetings.

It is usually the Teacher Development Committee that coordinates all of the peer visits and evaluations for teachers. This allows the Committee members to be quite aware of each teacher’s particular development needs and can take this into consideration when assigning mentors.

In the annual self evaluation a portion of that evaluation is focused on the quality of the mentoring relationship, giving the Teacher Development committee good feedback on who is serving as an effective mentor and whether a particular teacher’s needs are being met.

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How is the mentoring program supported in the school’s financial plan?
The first line of financial support for mentoring is to ensure that the time for mentoring meetings is scheduled during the school day for all teachers. In addition to this, whenever outside mentors are used they are compensated by the school for their time and travel expenses. Most schools report that serving as a mentor is considered when calculating a teacher’s workload, and that serving as a mentor may be considered as part of a teacher’s additional non-teaching duties.

Most schools provide additional funding for outside professional development as well. The amount of these budgets varies from school to school. Several schools mentioned having a budget of approximately $500 per person per year. One school mentioned that an adult education program uses its facilities rent free. In exchange that school’s teachers are allowed to attend all programs and classes offered through that program for free. One very large school with classes in early childhood through high school has a budget for mentoring and professional development of $20,000 to $30,000 a year.

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How does the school determine when an individual’s mentoring needs exceed what is available among other faculty or staff members? How and when are outside mentors used?
Most schools report using in-house mentors whenever possible. This is most common in schools with experienced faculty members and when resources exist to send the teachers to attend the pedagogical advisor’s colloquium.

An outside mentor can be brought in for a variety of reasons.

  • In some cases a teacher has had a series of mentors and none of them have worked out.
  • In other cases the evaluations show a serious concern that needs intense remediation if the teacher is to be retained on staff. In these cases an outside mentor is brought in to take a fresh look at the teacher’s work and to try a fresh approach to the work with the teacher. This outside mentoring must be built into the school’s budget. In extreme cases it is possible for the school to arrange a year-long intensive relationship.
  • In yet other situations the school does not have someone on the staff that is a good match with the young teacher’s needs.

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Are mentors used to support teachers and staff in all areas of the work, or is mentoring support limited to the classroom or technical areas of the staff member’s work?
Teacher mentoring takes place in all areas of the work including work with parents and other non-classroom activities. Typically mentors are required to attend all parent evenings and can be requested to sit in on parent conferences.

Mentoring conversations may address the meditative aspects of teaching work, or topics such as student temperaments. The mentor is required to review all communications the teacher sends out for accuracy, tone and completeness. The mentor also makes recommendations as to which courses and summer work might be helpful to the teacher. The mentor will also sit in when there are serious issues with colleagues or with parents.

The school that is using Learning Circles as part of its professional development program reports that the work of the Learning Circles is intended to be primarily focused on work in the classroom. At times the conversations in the Circles stray from the pedagogical into the operational as the school struggles with how to implement some of the new ideas being discussed. It is the intent though that these Learning Circles be used to address the burning pedagogical issues - how does one teach this, how do you assess that, what is taught in one block or another.

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Is the mentoring program recognized and supported by the school calendar, policies and practices? Is there written documentation regarding the mentoring program, and the roles and responsibilities of each participant?
Schools with effective mentoring programs report that those programs are recognized as being of key importance, and that the programs are well documented. Mentoring sessions are included in the school schedules both for one-on-one sessions and for Learning circle meetings. These meetings take place during the school day, and are never scheduled to occur in the afternoon after school has been dismissed for the day.

One school described its program this way: The school has a significant amount of documentation on the subject of mentoring, evaluation and professional development. Some of it is already in the employee handbook, and other documents are intended for future inclusion there.

The Teacher Development Committee makes presentations to the full faculty several times a year and ensures that the faculty is fully informed bout the mentoring program and the school’s perspective on professional development opportunities.

In addition the Teacher Development Committee meets weekly for 1-1/2 hours. A portion of this meeting time (15 to 20 minutes) is used touching base with every teacher in the school during the course of the year. The Teacher Development Committee is interested in hearing directly from the teachers about how things are going in all aspects of their work so that each colleague can be properly supported.

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With regard to the above issues, what is working particularly well at your school?
The school has a large supply of Waldorf trained teachers with good experience, and the young teachers appreciate the support and guidance they receive. The mentoring program is working very well and the teachers feel well supported by it.

Mentoring is helpful as its focus is on professional development, rather than being seen as a punitive approach to performance improvement. There is good will about the program from both the mentors and the colleagues they support.

The Teacher Development Committee has a strong presence in the school. People come to the committee for guidance and advice.

The reporting to the College on a monthly basis by the Teacher Development Committee has been really helpful. It ensures that College members are in the loop on difficulties and the needs of various individuals. It is the responsibility of the College chair to share some of the highlights of this work with the Board of Trustees, again helping to ensure that everyone is fully and appropriately informed.

The fact that every new teacher is assigned a mentor is a real plus. In the case of a class teacher this mentoring support will continue for eight years until the teacher has completed an entire cycle of classes.

The mentoring policy, created by faculty in the context of the Pedagogical Carrying Group (pedagogical management) gives very clear guidelines and expectations which are implemented by the mentoring program coordinator, giving more form and consciousness for the program.

A lot of our mentors have been through the Sound Circle Mentoring Seminar, so we have trained mentors who are sensitive to the issues that mentoring presents.

We are fortunate to receive a grant from the city for funding through the No Child Left Behind Act (legislation in the United States). This funding is substantial and can be used for professional development. These funds, plus those the school designates out of its own operating budget, are used for a variety of professional development options. In some cases the teacher’s mentor may suggest an appropriate course or opportunity; in other cases the idea for professional development comes from the review process.

The school tries to schedule main lesson for two of our grades later in the morning so that it is possible for teachers to do observations of another teacher’s classroom.

The scheduling of the Learning Circle meetings is working well and is a key element in the program’s success.

It is very easy for the full faculty meetings to be filled up with business issues and leave teachers feeling that there is not enough time to discuss pedagogical matters. The Learning Circle meetings solve this problem by providing a space that is dedicated to this pedagogical focus. Teachers feel they are able to talk about the questions they have about their work.

The Learning Circles also present teachers with the opportunity to do some visioning work around the curriculum. They can discuss some aspect of the pedagogy and agree together about where they would like to take a particular subject or topic in the future.

The Learning Circles provide a place where a pedagogical conversation can be sustained over time so that teachers are able to really get to the heart of an issue.

The Learning Circles provide a place where we can talk about the school’s scope and sequence documents for learning. Discussions take place about how something is really approached in first grade and then second grade. We can talk about whether we are really following the scope and sequence documents, whether these documents need changing, or whether there is room for improvement in our teaching work.

Research has shown that a peer sharing process is more effective in creating change in teacher performance than is a traditional peer evaluation process. People are more likely to hear one another and act on recommendations when they come from peers than when they are top down in direction. In the past we were doing fifteen evaluations a year which was an administrative nightmare and caused a lot of collegial distrust.

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Is there something that you would like to see changed at your school with regard to the above issues?
We have to be careful to keep the conversations in our Learning Circles focused on the pedagogy. We are often tempted to allow too much operational conversation to seep in, which detracts from the intent of our time together.

We have a group that coordinates the formal evaluation portion of the program for our teachers, but we are still working on developing this part of the program.

We are still struggling with how to get parent input into the evaluation process.

There is no Learning Circle for the administrative staff. People would like to have one, and sometimes express resentment at the “old style” of management used in this area of the school evaluation and professional development work.

We are worried about the members of our administrative staff from a developmental perspective. We have had an interim administrative structure in place for some time and it is not clear that our administrative staff members are receiving the development opportunities they deserve and that will allow them to really understand and speak clearly about the work we are doing with the young people in our school. One of the questions for the future is whether the Teacher Development Committee should become a Professional Development Committee and extend its responsibilities to all employees of the school.

The schedule of classes needs to be more refined to support the mentoring work. We should actually write the scheduled mentoring meetings onto each teacher’s schedule so that when changes are made to the teaching schedules we do not compromise the mentoring relationship in the process.

It would be helpful for the mentors to meet together more frequently to discuss their work and discuss overall problems. This kind of sharing is invaluable, but doesn’t happen as often as might be preferred.

Our school would be well served by an increase in funding for professional development. The current budget of $500 per person barely covers an airfare, let alone the cost of a program and lodging while in attendance.


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