A mentor is a knowledgeable, experienced, highly effective teacher who works with or alongside a beginning teacher or less experienced colleague. It is a structured relationship with clear planning for the type of support sought and the goals of the relationship. However, mentoring is not just for new teachers; experienced teachers may also hone aspects of their teaching and leadership skills in partnership with a mentor
Mentoring can involve regular meetings and check-ins, classroom observations and debriefs as well as other shared professional learning discussions and activities. It can be helpful for a beginning teacher to have a mentor observe their class and provide feedback. It can also be beneficial for the mentee to observe their mentor in action and see them model different aspects of classroom teaching.
Learning in partnership with another teacher can increase your engagement with, and understanding of, teaching strategies. Both the mentor and the mentee benefit from this pivotal professional learning relationship. Highly successful mentoring of beginning teachers :
- is based on the teacher and mentor having common teaching areas
- helps improve practice through coaching, supporting, and challenging the beginning teacher
- addresses agreed upon subject content and teaching practices
- focuses on learner outcomes and encourages reflection on the part of the beginning teacher through the use of observations and data
- extends over a period of two years
- is embedded in daily practice
- is practice-focused to develop pedagogical skills.
For more information on the mentoring of early career teachers, refer to AITSL’s Graduate to Proficient: Australian guidelines for teacher induction into the profession.
Mentoring has many benefits for the mentor, the mentee, and the teaching profession.
Mentoring helps beginning teachers feel connected to their profession and their school and helps foster the development of a professional identity. Other benefits include:
- teachers who are mentored are more likely to stay in teaching
- high-quality mentoring can lead to improved learner achievement
- highlighting areas for future professional learning for both the mentor and the mentee
- the opportunity to evaluate and reflect on learning
- it can be part of evidence used for certification as a Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher.
Mentoring is also a form of tailored professional learning, where a mentor can see their mentee in the classroom and provide immediate feedback and support.
Mentors are skilled teachers who are committed to supporting another teacher. A skilled teacher is not defined necessarily by years of experience, but by learner outcome success. Many skilled teachers could be operating at a Highly Accomplished or Lead level, either having achieved another form of formal recognition of their skills, or without having undergone any formal process.
A Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher (HALT) is a certified role that recognises and promotes the development of collaborative learning professionals who strive to continually reflect upon and improve their practice. For more information on HALTs, see Understand certification and HALT status.
The role of a mentor is to work with their mentee and support them towards a professional goal. A mentor may:
- provide advice and help the mentee resolve issues they are facing
- model different teaching strategies
- observe the mentee and provide constructive and meaningful feedback
- check in on the wellbeing of the mentee and provide emotional support.
As a mentee there are steps you can take to get the most from your partnership with a mentor. Through active analysis and reflection on your own practice, you can come to mentoring meetings focused and prepared. Regularly review your goals and progress with your mentor to ensure you are staying on track.
If you are a beginning teacher working at the Graduate career stage, your reflections and the goals you set with your mentor should be aligned to achieving the Proficient career stage in each of the Standards. This will allow you to move to full registration.
Be honest and open with your mentor about any issues you are experiencing in your teaching setting/practice. A great part of mentoring is regularly receiving feedback, but it can be confronting at times. For more information on receiving feedback, go to AITSL's resource on supporting effective peer feedback.
It is important that your mentor's practice and experience aligns with the specific growth areas you would like them to observe and advise on. The mentor should have a good knowledge of these areas and reflect high quality teaching or leading in their own practice.
- Find someone you respect and have, or can build, a positive rapport with.
- Establish a set of goals with your mentor. Track these goals through your relationship.
- Make sure you leave each mentoring session with at least one action. This ensures that you remain focused and on track towards your goals.
- Do not be scared to ask questions.
- Prepare for mentoring meetings. Write down achievements since you last met and an area you would like guidance on.
- Ask your mentor to connect you with other teachers with expertise in areas you would like to develop.
- Regularly evaluate your mentoring relationship. Are you achieving the goals you have set? Is the relationship providing the support you need? What could you try with your mentor to improve your relationship?
- It is necessary for both the mentor and mentee to set aside dedicated mentoring time, ensuring the time is privileged.
- Be clear on what you need. If you are not sure, that can be part of the conversation.
A starting point for your mentoring relationship can simply be how you are feeling or what you are managing at that point in time. Make sure at the end of the conversation you have a next step, even if that is just making a time to meet again and continue the discussion.
Most jurisdictions and regulatory bodies have established mentoring programs for new teachers, but some teachers face barriers to accessing high quality mentoring. Those teachers can connect with experienced teachers through other means, such as through remote mentoring. Working with a remote mentor opens a range of possibilities for how a teacher works, and who with.
Early career teachers find remote coaching beneficial. It offers teachers a “safe zone” where they can openly ask questions without fear of judgment. Teachers who are in remote locations or are the only teacher of their kind in their context, also find online mentoring particularly beneficial.
Working online requires deliberate planning as it is not as straightforward as working with a colleague in the same school/setting. As remote mentoring allows you to connect with a mentor anywhere, you can be deliberate about what you need. Do you need/want a mentor:
- in a similar context – regional/rural/metropolitan?
- of a specific year level?
- of a specific subject area?
- with a similar background/lived experience?
Before beginning, you should work with your mentor to identify and agree on the medium you will use for the mentoring conversations. Once this has been decided, you should both spend some time getting familiar with the app/technology and how it works. While this seems obvious, frustration with technology while learning something new can limit engagement, so some practice and preparation may be required to ensure both sides get the most out of the online mentoring.
While remote mentoring can be helpful, there are some aspects of mentoring that are lost through mentoring online. These can include:
- the mentor being unable to observe the mentee’s practice
- the mentee not having access to the mentor for informal feedback or advice due to their being at a different location
- the mentor being unable to informally check in with their mentee’s colleagues and students.
Some potential ways to mitigate some of these are:
- for the mentee to record themselves teaching and send the recording to their mentor
- establishment of five-minute check in times between meetings where the mentee can ask their mentor any urgent questions
- development of student feedback surveys or 360˚ surveys, the results of which can be shared with the mentor. Examples of these are available online.