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Teacher Training:
Staff Development Through Peer Mentoring

Mentor: In Greek mythology, a friend of Odysseus and a tutor of his son Telemachus; a name proverbial for a wise and faithful adviser. Included: A case study of a technology mentoring program that can work for all grades and all subject areas.

As any staff developer or administrator knows, K-12 teachers can be a challenging group to train. On one hand, they're deeply committed to their students and to the learning environment. On the other hand, they often feel overwhelmed by demands on their time and energy, and they can be reluctant to make significant changes in their teaching practices. Establishing peer mentor relationships can help overcome that hesitancy and encourage teachers to implement change in their classrooms.

WHO'S A MENTOR?

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A mentor is simply a knowledgeable individual who can provide guidance, inspiration, and consolation to his or her colleagues. Mentors should be

  • competent in the skills they will be expected to share.
  • respected by their peers.
  • able to lead both by modeling outstanding practices in their own classrooms and by guiding other teachers through classroom observations and dialogue.

Mentors don't manage; they guide. They offer positive solutions to challenges that other teachers identify in their own classrooms, or to challenges observed in those classrooms.

 

Note: For ideas on conducting classroom observations, check out the Critical Friends Feedback Form.

Mentoring isn't easy. Although mentors can and should be encouraging and supportive, the ultimate training goal often is implementation of a school initiative, skill set, or other administrative agenda that requires a change in classroom practices and not a validation of existing practices.

MENTORING IN ACTION: A CASE STUDY

So, how does peer mentoring work, and how can you or your staff developer design, implement, evaluate, and refine a peer-mentoring program? A look at the successes and challenges faced by such a program might help you decide whether peer mentoring can fit your school's needs and goals.

The Rationale:
The tech mentoring program cited in this case study was established in 2002 at Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tennessee, as a way to support and enhance the ongoing integration of technology into the regular classrooms. At Lausanne, a pre-K-12 coeducational, independent school with a strong commitment to technology, both students and teachers have constant access to technology in their classrooms. That technology includes student-owned laptops in grades 7-12, laptop carts in grades 5-6, and pre-K-4 classroom technology centers. Classroom printers, projectors, scanners, and electronic whiteboards provide further support for technology integration in all content areas.

The National Staff Development Council has developed 12 Standards for Staff Development that will improve the learning of all students. In this series, staff development expert Lorrie Jackson discusses those standards and their practical implications for the educators in your learning community. For more information on the 12 NSDC standards for staff development, go to NSDC Standards for Staff Development .

Such an abundance of technology also presents a challenge. Most of today's educators entered the field planning to teach a specific subject or grade level. Few expected to teach classroom technology; some even are reluctant to use computers for such teacher-based tasks as classroom management and grading.

To help its teachers discover and implement ways to use technology in their classrooms, Lausanne has provided them with a wide range of staff development opportunities -- including inservice training, distribution of print and online materials, and funding for attendance at conferences and workshops. In addition, technology staff members have served as teacher trainers and made themselves available for one-on-one help as needed. Those approaches were successful for many teachers; other teachers still find the use of technology in their classrooms overwhelming.

The Program:
In the fall of 2002, the Lausanne technology department and school administrators agreed to create the TechMentor program, in which "tech-expert" teachers would provide their fellow teachers with supportive and non-threatening technology guidance. Two teachers from each division (elementary, middle, and high schools) were selected for their proficiency with technology and their use of technology in the classroom as well as for their ability to influence and guide their fellow teachers. Each TechMentor was charged with:

  • demonstrating outstanding technology integration and good teaching practices;
  • attending and participating in monthly technology committee meetings;
  • conducting a summer independent study project on a topic that would integrate technology into their classrooms;
  • presenting the results of that summer study project to the entire faculty;
  • presenting their technology integration strategies at professional conferences and workshops;
  • working as a mentor to fellow teachers; and
  • providing input on technology purchases and decisions as needed.

The Implementation:
The six TechMentors

  • provide colleagues with assistance with technology tools and tasks such as grading programs, teacher homework pages, and new classroom equipment.
  • offer one-on-one help with questions or concerns about integrating technology in a particular content area or grade level.
  • serve as mouthpieces for the entire faculty, providing feedback on existing programs and issues.
  • act as beta-testers, evaluating new technology tools and initiatives.
  • provide administrators with suggestions for new strategies for training teachers, based on what they observe in individual classrooms.

In addition, the TechMentors have completed the following summer independent study projects:
-- Non-Math ideas for Excel in the K-4 Classroom
-- Making Interactive PowerPoints for the Elementary Classroom
-- Using e-Portfolios in the 7-12 Classroom
-- Videotaping and Publishing Online Science Labs for Grades 7-12
-- Math Web Resources for Grades 9-12
-- Using PowerPoint for Critical Thinking and Discussion in Grades 9-12

They share the results and products of those projects with Lausanne faculty and with educators at national, state, and local conferences and workshops.

In return, TechMentors receive the same salary as department heads during the current school year; they also were paid a small stipend for their time and work on their summer projects.

Program Evaluation:
The TechMentor program's success already is evident. Teachers who were hesitant to contact technology staff members willingly work one-on-one with the TechMentors. Improvements to the teacher homework pages have been implemented quickly by the entire faculty, thanks in part to the TechMentors' impromptu training sessions and to their ongoing help as problems arise.

The summer projects offer another sign of success. As TechMentors shared their projects with the Lausanne faculty and offered ways for others to duplicate them, several teachers were visibly energized by the innovative approaches to classroom technology. Many have gone beyond the minimum expectations to create classroom projects of their own.

The results indicate that a mentoring program can push the envelope in encouraging effective teaching practices, not just maintain the status quo.

FUTURE CHANGES

During the next school year, new TechMentors will be selected. Although it's tempting to continue with mentors who have a proven track record, selecting new mentors will ensure that additional successful teaching practices will be highlighted; that more teachers will be recognized for their ongoing efforts; and that more faculty members will be influenced by the program. In addition, rotating tech mentors will help all teachers find a mentor who best fits their personality, teaching style, and needs.

LEARN MORE

Mentors, such as those in this case study, are an effective and valuable component in all K-12 staff development -- not just in the area of technology integration. The TechMentor model, which identifies those who are competent with a skill, highlights their successes, and provides supportive and collaborative assistance for the rest of the faculty, can work whether the initiative is whole language, multiple intelligences, core essentials, or teaching to standardized tests.

To learn how peer mentoring can provide your school with an affordable and effective tool for enhancing the learning environment while improving teacher morale and supporting training efforts, contact this author at ljackson@educationworld.com or explore one of the additional resources below.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  • Designing a Mentor Program
  • Best Practices of Mentors
  • The Good Mentor
  • My Mentor, Myself: District Uses Data Collection and Analysis to Create and Refine a Program to Help Teachers and Students
  • Mentoring the Mentor: A Challenge for Staff Development
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