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Mentoring Programs That Work!


Karen Hessel has worked as a national trainer for an Educational Testing Service professional development program called Pathwise. She shares her thoughts about the value of mentoring in this week's Wire Side Chat. Included: Tips for developing a mentoring programs that works!

Karen Hessel, director of the School Leadership Series and principal-in-residence (on a two-year loan from Palisades Middle School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania) at the Educational Testing Service (ETS), says mentoring is a critical contributor to a teacher's classroom success and longevity and, ultimately, to student achievement.

Hessel began her career at ETS as a national trainer in the Pathwise program, which provides professional development for teachers at all levels, including beginning teachers and mentors.

"The ability to recruit and retain effective teachers is reaching a crisis point due to retirement of veteran teachers compounded, in some areas, with exploding student growth," adds Hessel. "With the assistance of mentors, I believe, it is possible to provide support for new teachers in their first few years. Without this support, statistics show that a large percentage of teachers will leave the profession within the first three years."

In addition to learning about the unique work of Pathwise, Ed World recently tapped into Hessel's experience to find out what works best in mentoring programs.

Education World: How long has peer mentoring for teachers been around? How is the Pathwise program different from others?

Karen Hessel: Many schools have experimented with "buddy system" programs for years. The Pathwise Induction program came out of an identified need to proactively provide job-embedded training for beginning teachers so they would have more success in their first years of teaching. This program is designed to increase teacher retention by reducing teacher frustration and providing support. At the same time, it increases the possibility of student achievement for students with teachers experiencing a steep learning curve in their first years of teaching.

EW: Who benefits from mentoring?

Hessel's Helpful Hints!

Starting a mentoring program? Karen Hessel offers the following tips for producing a successful program: * Select a program based on a defensible definition of good teaching.
* Provide mentors training in formal observation, cognitive coaching, and formative assessment.
* Select mentors based on credible service, experience, empathy, and collaborative skills. Those who "know it all" may be capable only of imposing what they know on others. The important skill is to help others formulate, advance, and analyze their own practice.
* Select a program that provides both a road map for improving practice and a means for analyzing and interpreting teaching performance.
* Have in mind staff development options that support the improvement of teaching practice at teachers' individual points of need.
* Provide adequate time and resources to support the mentoring efforts. There must be time for the mentoring process to occur, and time for teachers to evolve their practice as a result of the mentoring efforts. The results are usually small, incremental improvements over time.
Hessel: Beginning teachers often operate at the level of "unconscious incompetence." They don't know what they don't know. A mentor can assist a beginning teacher in identifying areas for concern and growth and designing a reasonable plan of attack for investigating those areas of growth. Without that assistance, the task overwhelms many beginning teachers, and they are unable to manage their growth needs. Mentors also assist beginning teachers through the cognitive coaching process in visualizing and verbalizing their growth and identifying their current levels of teaching practice. Mentors are evidence-collecting experts who help beginning teachers establish a knowledge base regarding their teaching practices.

EW: OK, the beginning teachers clearly benefit. Do the mentors?

Hessel: Mentors themselves benefit from the work. Often at the level of "conscious incompetence or unconscious competence" in their own practice, they either know their own growth needs but do not know how to meet them or sense that things are going well without knowing why. By assisting a beginning teacher, mentors often find insights into their own practice and are able to move it forward.

EW: The school benefits all around from mentoring programs?

Hessel: School sites and districts often benefit from the mentoring process by establishing a collaborative culture in which all teachers work together and share information regarding good teaching practices and the sharing of resources. Mentoring programs at sites allow for opportunities for professional dialogue and observation of teaching within the site or district in a search for best practices. Of course, students at a site at which mentoring occurs benefit from the enhanced quality of teaching.

EW: What are the deficits of mentoring? When does mentoring not work and why?

Hessel: Mentoring is a time-intensive process. It requires schools to arrange release time for teachers to work together. There also must be professionalism among the staff and a built-in system of confidentiality between mentor and mentee for the system to work. If there is inadequate time, the experience may be rushed, not adequately comprehensive, or fragmented. Without release time, mentors cannot interact with their teacher partners in a hands-on manner during the school day, except for the occasional moment during a prep period if prep periods exist.

Confidentiality of the conversations and interactions of mentors and partner teachers is essential to the establishment of trust necessary for risk-taking and growth. Without this element of trust, growth is likely to be superficial at best.

EW: What makes a mentoring relationship work?

Hessel: Time, trust, and tenacity are all key. Empathy and skill at reflective listening and cognitive coaching also are key assets for mentors to build a strong mentoring relationship. Mentors must be in the relationship for the long haul, to celebrate both successes and times when a partner teacher may feel discouraged. Mentors work as cheerleaders, coaches, and time managers for their mentees.

EW: What are the barriers to effectiveness?

Hessel: Mentors who do not have adequate time for the relationship and the work, who want to impose their own style or solutions on their partner teacher, or who do not take a leadership role in the structure of the relationship are not likely to be successful.

EW: How must a mentoring program be structured? Could peer mentoring and evaluation become an entire new field of study in education?

Hessel: There are several models of mentoring structures now in play in different parts of the country. Although one-on-one may seem the best model, some districts have a teacher who has a shortened day and works with several teachers, and some districts have full-time mentors working with a "case load" of mentees. Mentoring is being used both for job-embedded learning programs, such as Pathwise, and peer assistance and review models. In all situations, mentors must have adequate training in classroom observation skills, good teaching practice analysis, and cognitive coaching skills. It is also essential that they have adequate background in the subject matter and grade level area to be seen as credible.

EW: Mentoring seems to have increased as teacher attrition rates have risen. Is mentoring the best approach to attrition?

Hessel: Induction programs are one response to the increasing teacher shortage across the country. Helping new teachers be successful in their first or second years may be the impetus that keeps them in the profession. Of course, there are other issues that cause teachers to leave the profession -- higher pay being one.

EW: Should mentoring be viewed in a more comprehensive fashion?

Hessel: If you liken mentoring to residency and internship programs in other professions, it fits as part of a comprehensive model of teacher training. No other profession expects new professionals to come into the work fully prepared. Likewise, evaluation systems should not judge new professionals on the same scale as experienced professionals. Mentoring is one approach to ensuring the most up-to-date and current practices in the profession by expanding collegiality for both new and experienced teachers.

EW: What are the most typical needs of mentees?

Hessel: Mentors in education typically work to improve teaching practice. Before that can happen, there must be a definition of good teaching practice and competency levels to describe what good teaching practice looks like and how it might be assessed. A number of states now have standards in place for the teaching profession. Charlotte Danielson has produced possibly the most comprehensive description of teaching practice in her book Enhancing Professional Practice, a Framework for Teaching. Without such definitions, teachers are left to guess at best practices and to glean from professional readings what they might look like in a classroom. The results are often fragmented, sketchy, or ill informed.

The needs of mentees are as varied as their backgrounds and personalities. If they have a definition of good practice, mentees can assess their current practice, set realistic goals for improvement, and work toward those goals with the assistance of an objective mentor who can collect evidentiary data for them, and help them formatively assess their progress.

EW: What are the best mentoring models? Practices? Programs?

Hessel: That question requires research and review of programs in existence. My personal preference is of course the National Induction Program by Pathwise.

EW: How is Pathwise structured?

Hessel: The Pathwise Induction Program is a sequentially organized series of events. Teachers participate in action research called inquiries to increase their knowledge base and try out procedures, strategies, and techniques in the classroom. Those inquiries are based on the components of teaching described in Danielson's Enhancing Professional Practice. Following each inquiry, teachers have an opportunity -- called a Profile of Practice -- to assess their current practice. The profile of practice allows for formative assessment of 22 well-defined components of teaching in four levels of practice. The assessments are then analyzed, and a teacher decides on one or two growth areas to pursue. There are four inquiries and three opportunities for assessments that may be accomplished in a one-, two-, or three-year program model.

One of the most important aspects of the program is the mentoring component. Each participant has a mentor who is trained in the program model and can assist the beginning teacher in working through the ten events. The mentor is also trained to do objective observations of teaching so that evidence may be collected of a teacher's current practice. Teaching artifacts also are collected, analyzed, and evaluated against the levels of performance to gather information about the behind-the-scenes components of teaching that cannot be observed.

At the completion of the program, the beginning teacher has assembled a collection of work that is suitable for a teaching portfolio.

EW: Who are mentoring opponents? What are their arguments?

Hessel: Although mentoring programs are positively viewed by most, there are some who caution that mentoring, when linked in any way to evaluation, is a subversive process that threatens teachers status, tenure, or probationary employment. For that reason, it is imperative that mentoring programs be kept formative in nature. Teacher evaluation and summative assessment must be separate from the mentoring process.

This e-interview with Karen Hessel is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Article by Michele Israel
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