It’s common for teachers to be drawn to the idea of principals—but it’s rare for principals to be drawn to the idea of teachers. Most principals are drawn to their roles because of the power they have to shape their students’ lives. They want to be able to make a difference, and to show that they are leaders—and that leaders can make a difference. And if you are a teacher, you are drawn to principals because they are smart, driven, and committed.
A couple of years ago I was in Washington DC for a conference. It was hard to get around, and the hotel I was staying in was in the middle of nowhere. I was in the hotel lobby waiting for someone when I began to notice the group of teachers in the hotel. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen so many people in their 20’s teach in Washington DC, so I got curious. I figured they must be in the hotel to attend the same conference I was in town for. I asked one of the teachers if they were all in town for the same conference, and she told me they were all teachers. I was shocked. I quickly realized that the teachers in the hotel lobby where I was standing were principals (
The average teacher has six principals in his/her career. While principals seem to be harsh rulers, they actually serve a purpose: they help teachers get the most out of students. They push teachers to do more than what they can, and to improve their teaching skills. They help teachers develop their leadership skills. They help teachers know their strengths and weaknesses and help them to improve.
At the start of each school year, I am frequently introspective. And recently, when I reflect on the six years I’ve been teaching and leading, I’m amazed by how far I’ve come and thankful for the mentors who have guided me along the way. Mentorship is so important in the field of education, therefore why is it still so underused as a strategy for school improvement?
According to research, providing new teachers with mentors reduces teacher attrition. Receiving a mentor should be a rite of passage for teachers, but this isn’t always the case. It is on to those of us in the profession to do what we can until that changes. This is something I believe in not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because it has the potential to greatly enhance our school communities and experiences.
My own experience may be informative. I began my career as a kindergarten teacher at an Atlanta public charter school. I started in the middle of the year and was nervous on my first day. The school’s math curriculum coordinator took me under her wing after seeing my uneasiness. She made time and space for me to work through my concerns and evaluate my teaching in a non-judgmental, non-evaluative manner.
I am certain that her encouraging and understanding mentorship aided me in achieving my present position as an elementary school math expert. It’s simply not the kind of position I had in mind for myself. The fact is that I was terrified of teaching arithmetic, a subject in which I had struggled as a child. My curriculum coordinator, Nikki, though, provided ideas and methods that have helped me build confidence and a true passion for math—and math instruction—today.
I went to first grade after that year of teaching kindergarten, and another mentor, my school’s instructional coach, assisted me in my development. Again, she wasn’t designated to be my mentor, but we worked in a collaborative atmosphere, so it was easy for her to take on this position informally. She provided resources with me and encouraged me to participate in professional development programs. Knowing that someone cared about me and wanted me to succeed had a significant effect on my work with kids.
My time in the classroom with mentors didn’t stop there. More recently, while I was teaching third grade, a coach and assistant principal helped me with additional coaching, which resulted in excellent math improvements among my kids. A previous principal also recommended that I conduct professional development workshops and join a fun committee. After working as an assistant principle and math instructional coach at my school, these mentors helped me obtain my present position as Achievement Director of Primary School Math for our citywide network.
Not every teacher aspires to be an assistant principle or to serve in a leadership position in their school or district. Everyone, on the other hand, wants to improve and grow in order to be the greatest teacher they can be for their pupils. It doesn’t have to be difficult to become a mentor. There are actions you can do to get started, enhance the culture of your school, and assist new teachers. Here are my top five recommendations.
- Ask a colleague, especially a new one, what they want to accomplish in the long run and assist them map out a route to get there.
- Resources should be shared. For an organization, one individual does not win. Share any useful tools, websites, or curricular resources that have improved your teaching. To distribute materials, create a Google Drive folder or a landing page.
- Engage your mentee in a modest job to give them a taste of a larger responsibility and see whether they like it. Leading a PD for the school or district is an example. Alternatively, have them conduct a meeting or a co-observation to begin with.
- Encourage your teammates. Make a place for them to come to you when they’re feeling lost. Do a weekly check-in, for example, to see how they’re doing. Google Forms is an excellent tool for creating quick surveys. Always inquire first about their personal situation. I provide time for instructors to discuss whatever is on their minds.
- Spend some time searching for local teacher professional development options. Summer employment opportunities for educators are available from certain organizations, such as curriculum creators, and may assist educators improve their teaching skills.
Teaching is demanding, and when the bell sounds at 3 p.m., the work is barely done. Taking on a mentee, on the other hand, does not have to be tough and will be rewarding. It’s a proven approach, and unlike some other school improvement levers, it’s within your control to implement.
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