Podcast: Hearing the voices of mentor teachers

February 10, 2020

While mentoring novice teachers is a complex task, particularly as it happens inside the action of teaching, mentor teachers typically have little preparation for their role. 

Addressing that gap was the focus of a recent effort by University of Washington teacher educators in the UW Accelerated Certification for Teachers (U-ACT) program that will be presented during the 2020 meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

In a new podcast, Megan Kelley-Petersen, U-ACT director, and Taylor Stafford, U-ACT instructor and doctoral student in teacher education and math education, discuss findings of their work to create opportunities for mentors to become both teachers of teachers and learners of teaching.

In the pilot effort with Federal Way School District, U-ACT hired mentor teachers who were alumni of the program working in the district to support novice teachers during a month-long summer school experience at the start of their preparation experience.

Building upon previous work to elevate the practice of teacher mentorship through the UW College of Education’s Ackerley Partner School Network, the mentors took part in a half-day lab exploring how to enact mentoring routines with their U-ACT mentees in the classroom.

“Instead of taking mentoring outside of the moment of teaching, which is typically what happens,” Kelley-Petersen said, “the work happening here at the College around these mentoring routines is putting the practice of mentoring in the moment.”

Stafford noted that while mentors were excited to try on the mentoring routines, they also asked deep questions about how to do so in ways that were productive and felt safe for mentees.

“They had really thoughtful questions about how to make this a routine that was really supporting inquiry with teacher candidates and didn’t feel evaluative or some kind of correction in the moment, but instead like two people having inquiry about practice in the moment,” Stafford said.

Providing the supports mentor teachers need to feel truly comfortable engaging in practice during practice with novice teachers, she said, presents an opportunity for teacher education programs to support continued refinement and improvement of instruction.

“The findings we had related to how folks conceptualize what it means to teach — Is this a performance or is this an act of inquiry? Am I learning when I teach or am I showing you what I already know? — that’s so helpful to think about working with teacher candidates,” Stafford said.

The U-ACT case study also has implications for how to support mentor teachers’ continued growth in their own practice and as leaders within their district.

“Mentoring is an incredible amount of work for a teacher who’s already responsible for teaching every day to kids,” Kelley-Petersen said. “If we can learn from our mentors’ experiences — to make it generative, to make it exciting for them to not feel like it’s just something else I do, but something else I get to do and I get to learn from — that could be another way of continuing to engage in conversation in the profession to see mentorship is a place of power and learning for all of us.” 

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Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications
206-543-1035, dwunder@uw.edu