At West Seattle’s Arbor Heights Elementary, teacher candidate Emma Cornwell is delivering a small-group math lesson in the classroom of her mentor, veteran teacher Cate Simmers. Earlier, Cornwell watched as Simmers delivered the same lesson—followed by a brief session where Simmers explained the thinking behind her approach. Now Cornwell works with a new group of kids, using the teaching techniques Simmers just shared.
Simmers created this mentoring strategy, called “repeated teaching,” which was recorded on video by UW College of Education instructor Adrian Cunard. Cunard has been watching experienced mentors in action, looking for effective strategies like this. Since very few researchers focus on how the best mentors actually do their work in the classroom, Cunard said, novel and useful techniques like this don’t often get widely shared.
And while many novice teachers, like Cornwell, report that their mentoring experience is one of the most impactful parts of their teacher training, most universities and alternative teacher training pathways offer little or no actual training for mentors in effective practices—in part because of the lack of research about what those effective practices are.
That’s changing, Cunard said, thanks to the Mentor Labs Project, an innovative venture led by UW research scientist Sarah Schneider Kavanagh. The project is a partnership across all five College of Education teacher training programs.
“We’ve shown up in spaces, we’ve got people working together, we’ve tried things on,” Kavanagh said. “Because we’ve had a mindset of experimentation, of learning from teachers in classrooms, we’ve been able to create bounded activities that other mentors can learn and try—and do it with a culture of playfulness and experimentation that feels great.”