3 tips for mentoring educators during school closures

To help teachers succeed now, administrators need to reestablish relationships, develop work schedules and set expectations
Matthew X. Joseph is director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for Leicester Public Schools in Massachusetts and a featured speaker at FETC.
Matthew X. Joseph is director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for Leicester Public Schools in Massachusetts and a featured speaker at FETC.

As schools formulate plans for extended leaves due to COVID-19, one priority cannot be forgotten: mentoring educators for their continued growth and success. This is especially true for new teachers as school closures are piggybacking their first-ever experience in education.

Online meetings and digital communication have become the norm for providing learning opportunities to educators now.

Read: Updated: 167 free K-12 resources during coronavirus pandemic

When we talk about mentoring, we think of two educators in a room, talking, planning and collaborating. Unlike traditional mentoring, remote mentoring relies heavily on digital tools that may be new to education leaders and teachers. So how can administrators mentor educators today? Here are three strategies for success.

1. Reestablish the mentor-mentee relationship

As a mentor, you should create a safe environment to reestablish the relationship you’ve built with your mentee thus far. To achieve this, you must pivot and focus on what established the connection in the first place.

Read: Coach approach to K-12 teacher professional development

Start by having conversations as people with a shared experience before talking about digital learning plans. Start with casual, caring conversations. Get your mentee to talk about themselves. They may be dealing with circumstances or hardships you do not know about. Once you’ve initiated these conversations, you can shift to the education side of the relationship.

You can pose questions such as:

  • How would you describe working at home now? Finding commonalities between your situations is vital to building a foundation when you are mentoring from a distance.
  • How do you want to communicate? It will be beneficial to start communication loops in a way that makes your mentee feel comfortable. Maybe they like digital meetings, or maybe phone calls are better. Find out.
  • What is one of your digital strengths? Asking this question will tell you what your mentee is confident about using. You can use such digital skills later on as a motivator to have your mentee teach others, or even you.
  • How do you want to grow? The answer will help you start molding goals and actions to continue mentoring. It will also help you determine if the mentee understands the purpose and magnitude of this unprecedented time in education.
  • What are you passionate about? Finding out about a mentee’s drive will help you to establish motivators when times get tough.

Read: Share your stories of teacher creativity in online learning

2. Develop a work schedule

Next, develop a work schedule. A consistent schedule will provide routine and a sense of normalcy so educators know what to expect every day. With the education world turned upside down now, many of us do not have a set daily routine, and “winging it” isn’t going to offer the consistency we need.

Many educators feel stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, and as if they’re falling short of their goals right now. This is where you, as a mentor, can step in to assist. Carefully design a routine that works best for the mentee. Be sure to take into account family, health and financial circumstances. Designing and adhering to a personal daily routine is the path to productivity, happiness and fulfilling potential. Additionally, having a routine:

  • makes us more efficient
    When we have a routine to follow each day, it reduces the number of decisions we have to make. We know what tasks we need to complete.
  • reduces our need to plan
    A routine eliminates the need to plan our activities every morning as well as budget and allocate our precious time.
  • creates structure in our lives
    This time out of school is rooted in uncertainty. A daily routine provides structure and a logical sequence of activities.
  • helps us become more proficient
    With a routine, we start to become better at doing certain things because we do them regularly.
  • helps with prioritization
    The beauty of a routine is that it forces us to prioritize and decide what is important. Conducting and participating in virtual meetings and lessons means we have to prioritize to stay efficient.
  • reduces procrastination
    When we are home and have the draw of Netflix, for example, it can be hard to stay on task. A routine will allow us to achieve our goals.

Ultimately, when there is routine, there are results. As a mentor, your role is to maximize the results of your mentee.

3. Set expectations

Finally, you must work to shift the mindset of your mentee from “I hope I can be successful as a remote teacher” to “I am going to be successful as a remote teacher.”

Hope is not a strategy. As a mentor, set a time to establish clearly defined goals and turn the hope of success into achievement. Without expectations, educators may find it difficult to understand where they’re supposed to go or what they’re supposed to do during online learning. Your goal as a mentor is to support and grow an educator, no matter the situation.

Just because you are not in the school building does not lessen the need for professional expectations. Online learning during school closures is new for mentors and mentees alike, so discuss expectations, the role of education during this time, and the role of your mentorship while out of school. It is not a one-way street. Both the mentor and mentee will have expectations. Both will have roles and responsibilities as well as accountabilities. Clarifying them for the mentee will aid in success.

A modern mentor can guide a new teacher in turning ideas into action with clear expectations and goals.

Set honest, reachable goals. Push your mentee to perform at the same level they wanted to reach while they were in school. These goals will help your mentee stay motivated and make the necessary changes to show progress. Teachers are pulled in many directions during online learning, so setting a few (no more than three) goals will help them focus on what’s important—and keep them from feeling overwhelmed.

New teachers, for example, come into the profession with a high level of excitement and hope. That excitement may be easily dashed with school closures and not seeing students for months. A modern mentor can guide a new teacher in turning ideas into action with clear expectations and goals.

Remember: All mentees are different. They have different goals, needs, desires and resources. That’s why it is important to continue mentoring, even in a remote setting. Your role as a mentor does not diminish because we are not in school. Reestablish a relationship, set a routine, and then set expectations. Today is a new day, and it is never too late to reestablish the mentoring partnership and be there for your mentee. “You got this.”

Matthew X. Joseph is director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for Leicester Public Schools in Massachusetts and a featured speaker at FETC®

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Matthew X. Joseph
Matthew X. Joseph
Matthew X. Joseph is the director of evaluation, supervision, mentoring, and hiring in Brockton Public Schools. He is also the CEO of X-Factor EDU consulting and publishing.

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