Effective Practices : Mentoring
Mentor Qualifications and Scheduling
Mentoring Section 2
1. How are mentors assigned? In what way does your school match the needs of a teacher or staff member with the skills possessed by a mentor?
2. How does your school ensure that the mentor has sufficient experience to guide his or her colleague?
3. In what way does your school ensure that the mentor is committed to the success of his/her colleague?
4. How does your school help train or prepare mentors for the work that they will be doing with colleagues?
5. Describe the way in which your school’s mentoring program is grounded in an Anthroposophical perspective. Is classroom mentoring based on an understanding of Waldorf education and an Anthroposophic understanding of child development? Is the mentoring of staff members rooted in a threefold perspective of social activity?
6. Are time and space allowed for in the weekly schedule to ensure adequate time for visits and meetings? Are mentoring responsibilities considered when other responsibilities such as committee work are assigned?
7. What is working particularly well at your school with regard to mentoring qualifications and scheduling?
8. Is there anything that you would like to see changed regarding the qualifications of mentors and their scheduling at your school?
How are mentors assigned? In what way does your school match the needs of a teacher or staff member with the skills possessed by a mentor?
When selecting people to serve as mentors we look for people with a number of years of teaching experience and who have had good evaluations of their work. We expect mentors to understand the anthroposophic principles behind Waldorf education and to have good communication skills. It is important that the gesture of mentoring work is understood by the individual, and he or she is able to act in a non-judgmental way that is intended to provide support, protection and advocacy when needed. Many schools report that their mentors have participated in the pedagogical advisor’s colloquium or in other regional training sessions for mentors.
Mentors are matched with advisees from the same section of the school whenever possible. A high school teacher will be paired with another high school teacher or two early childhood teachers would work together. Schools try to match the personalities of the mentor and his advisee. In other cases a school will try to match a mentor with particular strength in an area where a young teacher needs support. For example, a mentor who has had real success in his middle school teaching might be paired with a newer teacher who is just entering this stage of teaching for the first time.
Schools noted that it seems that foreign language and music teachers often need more mentoring support than other teachers. It is thought that this is because they often come to the Waldorf school through their technical expertise, rather than through a commitment to Waldorf education and an understanding of child development from an anthroposophic perspective. Schools need to be creative to find the best ways to support these teachers. One school mentioned that it pulled a teacher with previous experience teaching foreign language off of one of her committee assignments and asked her to serve instead as a mentor to a young teacher who needed this extra level of support.
How does your school ensure that the mentor has sufficient experience to guide his or her colleague?
In the case of internal mentors the school is well aware of the mentor’s strengths as a teacher and as a colleague, making it fairly easy to match a mentor with the needs of an advisee. In the case of outside mentors the school must be careful to get good referrals from those it is connected with in the movement. Schools typically select their most experienced teachers to serve as mentors, and then support them in this work by allowing them to attend the pedagogical advisors’ colloquium or other training sessions on the topic of mentoring.
In what way does your school ensure that the mentor is committed to the success of his/her colleague?
Schools have a variety of methods to ensure that the mentor is committed to the success of his advisee: The pedagogical chair and the personnel committee (or leadership team) follow up on the effectiveness of each mentoring relationship early in the school year and at regular intervals thereafter.
Often the pedagogical chair has scheduled observational rounds when he observes teachers in the classroom. He will check in with the teacher and the mentor prior to the visit, and this helps to ensure that the mentoring relationship is on track.
Schools have learned to be careful about who is asked to serve as a mentor, and generally will not allow anyone who is teaching 1st or 8th grade to serve as a mentor due to the special burdens experienced in those years. At the end of the year each advisee is asked to complete a self-evaluation that includes comments about the quality of the mentoring support received. If a particular mentor receives negative feedback in a few cases then he will be excused from future mentoring work.
How does your school help train or prepare mentors for the work that they will be doing with colleagues?
Many schools have found that attendance at the pedagogical advisors’ colloquium has been very helpful to their mentors. One school mentioned that after attending the pedagogical advisors’ colloquium the information was brought back to the local adult education program. A mentoring training program was developed that has been very helpful to teachers in their mentoring work, and which has the added convenience of being offered close to home so that the maximum number of mentors from a school can participate in the training. Oftentimes presentations are made at faculty meetings about the role of the mentor and what is needed or expected from individuals in this role.
Describe the way in which your school’s mentoring program is grounded in an Anthroposophical perspective. Is classroom mentoring based on an understanding of Waldorf education and an Anthroposophic understanding of child development? Is the mentoring of staff members rooted in a threefold perspective of social activity?
The anthroposophic deepening of a teacher’s work is one of the key elements that is hoped for in a mentoring relationship. This aspect of the work is built up over time as the young teacher feels safe and confident in his mentoring relationship. The questions come naturally when the relationship has been built up. Of course schools would never select someone to serve as a mentor who is not a trained Waldorf teacher so mentors are well qualified to answer the various questions that may come up. In general schools expect that any teacher hired who has not yet completed the Waldorf teacher training will continue on this path, so questions about child development from an anthroposophic understanding will come up as a matter of course.
Mentors are aided in this work to bring an anthroposophic perspective to the conversation when the faculty is engaged in study. The Study of Man (Rudolf Steiner) and books about the threefold social order are frequent topics in faculty study. Schools also distribute copies of And Who Shall Teach the Teachers? and Working Together: An Introduction to Pedagogical Mentoring in Waldorf Schools.
All mentors are able to speak with their advisees about the development of the child and the role of the temperaments. The mentors often help the teachers prepare for parent evenings, which include a discussion with the parents about how the curriculum meets the needs of the child at a particular stage of development. Because the mentor is always present at the advisee’s parent nights the mentor can see whether the young teacher is able to communicate this perspective clearly to others or whether additional conversation in the mentoring sessions would be helpful.
In addition to the work of the mentor, some schools have had success by hiring a member of the local anthroposophic community to meet regularly with young, untrained teachers to cover the basic books and anthroposophic leading thoughts.
Are time and space allowed for in the weekly schedule to ensure adequate time for visits and meetings? Are mentoring responsibilities considered when other responsibilities such as committee work are assigned?
The schools with strong mentoring programs all reported that a critical part of the effectiveness of a mentoring program is that mentoring meetings must be included on the school schedule during the regular school day. However, any training done by a local member of the anthroposophic community for small groups of new teachers takes place after school to maximize the number of people who are able to attend.
What is working particularly well at your school with regard to mentoring qualifications and scheduling?
We are well served in that we have really experienced people who are quite capable at mentoring.
Mentoring time periods are a set part of the schedule, and part of our established protocol. We will not allow a school schedule to be approved until the time for all mentoring meetings has been included.
We do a good job of matching mentors with their advisees. Whenever possible we match people from the same parts of the school (high school, early childhood, foreign language, etc.) We are generally able to find skills in our mentors that match the young teacher’s needs.
The social collegial element of the mentoring partnership leads to productive relationships among colleagues. They help each other with their professional development, and the younger teachers feel as though they are being supported by the most experienced teachers.
The members of the Teacher Development committee have a great deal of experience and know what it takes to be a good mentor. Providing quality mentoring to our new teachers is an important responsibility, and the members of our committee understand and accept that.
Is there anything that you would like to see changed regarding the qualifications of mentors and their scheduling at your school?
We should be providing an opportunity for conversation between the mentors so they have an opportunity to speak with each other about this work and how it might be improved.
We can always use more qualified mentors to support the specialty subject teachers.
We have just merged with another Waldorf high school, so we need to provide more intensive support to our growing high school faculty.
The subject teacher area is the most difficult one for us to support well. When we get new teachers from the outside they often do not have an understanding of the developmental stages of the child and what is appropriate. They may have great skills, but don’t understand how our view of child development stands behind everything that we do with the children. To help subject teachers succeed, especially, language and music teachers, they need to observe experienced faculty teaching. They need the ongoing support of the class teachers whose children they teach as well as the mentor’s help. They also need to be observed and to get feedback on what needs improving. This takes a large amount of time and effort. The bottom line, however, is that these teachers need a set of Waldorf skills such as music and singing or storytelling and drama or art and experience that can be employed in their lessons, including other mainstream elements. The children expect to be taught using Waldorf methods.