Mentorship Matters: 8 Tips for Developing a Strong Mentor Program-Series 1

This blog series is being written from my perspective as I am a Mentor Coordinator K-12 in a school district in Long Island, N.Y. I will share my experiences as my mission and vision is to continuously develop a Mentor Program that will build a strong foundation to support educators during their first years of teaching and for the rest of their educational journeys. Refer to the Mentor Program tabs, #LBLeads 2019-2020 and #LBLeads 2020-21 in my digital portfolio as a window into my experiences.

Making the Commitment

Every year, school districts around the world entrust thousands of new educators to serve their communities as they hire and provide them with a special opportunity to begin long, meaningful educational careers. Most likely, these educators have endured rigorous processes that have determined that they are capable of making an unmistakable and everlasting impact on the lives of the world’s most precious gifts….children.  Make no mistake about it, when one makes a commitment to becoming an educator, they are assuming a tremendous responsibility to create pathways of promise that have the power to influence learners for the rest of their lives. 

A Calling
Teaching is not just something you do, it’s a calling; it’s a beautiful gift; it’s an opportunity to unleash the talents within every human being you encounter; it’s a time to cultivate powerful relationships that have the chance to stand the test of time; teaching creates a space to collaborate with colleagues and builds bridges to connect previous learning to new and innovative ideas. Educators are responsible for shaping significant moments in time that can leave profound imprints in the hearts and minds of every learner they touch. Teaching is also hard work. It can be extremely emotional. It can be draining. But, it’s so incredibly rewarding. That being said, how can school districts build on the strengths of new teachers while providing them with the appropriate support for continuous growth and development? There is one phrase that comes to mind: Mentorship Matters!

Why Mentorship Matters

Developing a strong mentor program has one of the highest returns on investment. Leveraging the creation of powerful professional learning communities will foster the next generation of teacher leaders and help educators see the value of being in a constant state of learning and transformation. According to the New York State Mentoring Standards, “Teacher induction is critical to the overall preparation and professional development of beginning teachers and builds on their continuum of experiences from pre-service programs to ongoing career development spanning time as described within the Teacher Career Development Continuum. Coupled with mentoring standards, induction accelerates the process of creating highly effective teachers whose goal is to enhance student learning and achievement.” Establishing and implementing a strong mentor program enables novice teachers to be guided by mentors to help learners reach their maximum social-emotional, cognitive, and academic growth throughout their school years and beyond. This distinguished responsibility empowers more experienced educators to take everything they have learned and “pay it forward,” to help new teachers acclimate to the culture and climate of an organization, shatter the walls of isolation during the inception of their careers, and shape the next generation of teacher leaders.

8 Tips for Developing a Strong Mentor Program

8 Tips for Developing a Strong Mentor Program

  1. Align with State Mentoring Standards– It is paramount to refer to the Mentoring Standards provided by the state/country you reside in. These standards offer a set of guidelines that are critical to teacher induction and to the design and implementation of relevant and meaningful learning experiences. This enables the Mentor Coordinator to establish systemic efforts that will shape and sustain the first experiences in the careers of new teachers. 
  1. Voice and Choice– It is vital to include educators in the decision making process to share what kinds of professional learning they want to experience. It is also critical to recognize that educators enter the teaching profession with many strengths and areas for growth. It is also the responsibility of the Mentor Coordinator to ensure that the professional learning choices are grounded in the vision and mission of your school district. As an example, providing educators with a Google Form with a list of choices as well as a space to add any additional thoughts/ideas for professional growth will empower them to take ownership over their learning.
  1. Professional Learning Communities- By establishing a learner-centered culture of trust, connection, communication, and collaboration, educators have an opportunity to see the value in intentionally creating spaces to collectively set reasonable, learner-driven, evidence informed goals and share ideas of instructional practice that will benefit ALL learners in their organizations they live in. Not only will this improve the skills, expertise, and knowledge through professional dialogue, it will foster a desire to improve educational aspirations, achievement, and cultivate the next generation of teacher leaders. These teacher leaders will become an integral part of a cycle that improves and encourages innovative teaching and learning practices.
  1. Select a Professional Book as a Framework- One of the most valuable components of a strong Mentor Program is to find timeless professional books by outstanding authors who can share their authentic experiences as educators at different levels of an organization. These are books that encompass innovative and relevant messages that will stand the test of time regardless of what transpires in education. These leaders in education bring a special and unique value to the learning experiences you commit to embark on. Take a deep dive into these books and be sure to connect the messages of the authors with your district’s mission and vision. These are the books that will serve as frameworks to drive the learning process. The books I intentionally chose are The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros and Personal and Authentic by Thomas C. Murray. Both of these authors have shared incredible resources and have been continuously accessible and supportive to the new teachers, their mentors, and me in our efforts to keep learners at the heart of decision-making and implement lifelong practices that will prepare learners for any path they choose to create.
  1. Invite Other Voices- It is crucial to highlight the educators within your organization to facilitate professional learning experiences. This provides new teachers with opportunities to connect with other educators across the school district, but also elevates the teacher leaders and administrators that can share their knowledge and best teaching and learning practices with your educational community. Additionally, you will want to invite educators/speakers outside of your school district who can offer a fresh perspective on various topics in education. Those voices are also valued as they have seen the work of other school districts around the world and can share a lens that can push your thinking outside of your comfort zones!
  1. Create a Digital Footprint: I have always stressed the importance of making your learning visible by sharing best teaching and learning practices with colleagues in your organization and beyond. By creating a Mentor Program hashtag and Twitter handle, this allows participants in the program to showcase the incredible work within their learning spaces to a larger community. This will in turn help other educators create and form ideas that will ultimately benefit all learners! Feel free to check out the #LBLeads and @LBMentorProgram hashtag I created for the Mentor Program I facilitate.
  1. Connected and Networked: In The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros says, “Being in spaces where people actively share ideas makes us smarter.” Social media provides a space to connect with other educators who can share our mindsets, but also push our thinking to create new and better ideas. It is in these spaces where we can get inspiration from other educators and organizations outside of education to try something we haven’t thought of before. Creating a culture of learning and innovation happens when meaningful connections are made beyond the walls of the organizations we live in. It is within these spaces that new possibilities are discovered to benefit learners who have the potential to make change today and in the future!
  1. Give Recognition: Everyone within an educational organization works tirelessly to meet the needs of their learners. New teachers are acclimating to the culture and climate of a district, are learning to understand their community, are building new relationships, learning new standards, and a new curriculum, while meeting the needs of all families and students. They deserve all the recognition in the world! Celebrate your teacher leaders. It is human nature to want to feel valued and recognized. At Mentor Meetings, highlight the work they have been doing by looking through the hashtag you created and put those tweets on a few slides! Have them explain their “why” behind their practices. For the educators who are not on social media, have them send pictures of their work and get their permission to share! The return on this investment of time will be monumental! 
Chapter 1 Book Quote– Personal and Authentic by Thomas C. Murray

Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 1: Inviting Change

A Special Note: Many months ago, I was encouraged by George Couros to create a digital portfolio in order to highlight and archive my learning. These conversations started before the COVID-19 global pandemic emerged as one of the most challenging and life-changing events in history. During the quarantine, I connected with Kristen Nan and Jacie Maslyk, co-authors of All In: Taking a Gamble on Education in a book study Voxer group. This is when Kristen invited me to co-blog on her website. This was a great opportunity to test drive blogging. The experience was incredible and gave me the confidence to take George’s advice and create my own platform. One of the first blogs I wrote during this time was Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. The purpose of this blog was to keep the workshop model alive during emergency remote learning. I wanted to share my experiences with other educators and show them that what may seem impossible is in fact, possible.

With that being said, as I learn more about implementing the workshop model in physical and virtual learning spaces simultaneously, I want to share my process with other educators. So, I welcome you to the beginning of a series of blogs titled: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. I will break up my learning process and the workshop model framework into various components so that they are easier to digest. Please understand that my learning is constantly evolving and all of these ideas may be revised over the course of time!

This blog series is dedicated to George Couros, Jacie Maslyk, Thomas C. MurrayKristen Nan, my PLN: #Read2Lead, #EdCampLI, #LBLeads, and my Long Beach colleagues who have inspired, motivated, supported, and encouraged me to write and share my learning and voice with the rest of the world. I am forever grateful.

What Happened to the Magic?

There is a certain kind of magic that lives within an educational universe. If you orbit around an organization and open the doors, you will find sparks of light. These sparks of light shine brightly because they are ignited by communities of educators who pour their souls into maximizing and elevating learning experiences for kids. It’s that spark that ignites into flames when curiosity and wonder spread like wildfire. It’s that spark that rallies a community of learners together to support one another through the learning process. It’s that spark that embraces the idea of agency, voice, choice, and productive struggle. It’s that spark that empowers and guides learners towards independence. And just as the flames happily dance and spread around our magical learning hubs, the intensity of the flames can just as easily be disrupted, startled, dimmed, faded. What happened to the magic? I’ll tell you in one word: CHANGE. When change invites itself through our doors, it can be paralyzing. It can be suffocating. It can be stressful. It can be shocking. It can also be eye-opening.

Change is the Epicenter of the Journey

I have been in education for 15 years and I can assure you that change has been the epicenter of my journey. Most of the time, change has been a gradual occurrence that happens over a steady course of time. It’s so slow, that at times, it cannot be recognized until it’s looking you straight in the eyes. However, recently change has looked quite different in the world of education. Across the globe, educators have been pushed to rethink education. Educators have been challenged to question their core values. Educators have been pushed to revisit their philosophical beliefs. Educators have been remixing existing teaching and learning practices that have lived in the nucleus of their daily lives and in the book Innovate Inside the Box, George Couros brilliantly states, “I’ve long believed that change isn’t to be feared; it is an opportunity to do something amazing…Change will come our way. We can “go” through it or “grow” through it. We grow when we seek out solutions rather than letting those obstacles hinder us.” This quote resonates even more deeply since the Covid-19 global pandemic has jolted the more traditional educational landscape we have always lived and known. I’ll admit when shifting to emergency remote learning and now teaching in physical and virtual spaces simultaneously, I have paused multiple times and questioned the what and the how. I have questioned whether or not the philosophy of the workshop model can live on in virtual environments. I have questioned if I can make the workshop model come alive for learners the same way I did in physical learning environments. Katie Martin, author of Learner-Centered Innovation confirms how vital developing solutions are to the barriers of change with this astute notion, “If the world is changing, the evidence and research become irrelevant if you don’t consider a new context.” And if we want to reach learners effectively, we MUST consider the new educational contexts that have been thrust upon us. We cannot look back, we must keep moving forward! And then, I came across a tweet from Thomas C. Murray, author of Personal & Authentic that spoke to my core, solidified these ideas, and reminded me of my why. And when I revisited my WHY, I knew it is to continuously cultivate lifelong learners who feel empowered to reach their social, emotional, and academic potential. And then, I realized that through the workshop model, I can continue to rally together a community of learners and build community by prioritizing the social-emotional needs of students and keeping “who” we teach at the heart of the learning journey.

Choosing What is Right

I have encountered many people who have embraced different educational philosophies. I have listened to theories and have read multiple books and articles by countless leaders and experts in the field of education. I have indulged in and have digested several perspectives about various topics with the intention of catapulting learners to academic success through multiple kinds of curricula and teaching and learning practices. And every time I have read an article, a book, or listened to a podcast, I used to think, wow, this must be the magic prescription for success. In my earlier years of teaching, when I was handed a curriculum, I followed it to a T. I thought that the curriculum itself was the key driver of developing a learner’s social, emotional, and academic potential. I thought that the people who were responsible for making decisions about the curriculum knew best and I looked to them as the experts. Now I know better. Now I know that the learners are the curriculum. They tell you what they need. I learned that there is not one single curriculum that works best for all learners. I know that every curriculum must be viewed as flexible and should be modified to meet learners’ needs. Knowing this made me realize that I can adapt the Workshop Model in both physical and virtual spaces. Knowing this helped me understand that I can revise the implementation and the process at any time. Knowing this made me feel more comfortable with taking risks, sometimes meet those risks with failure, share and reflect on those experiences with colleagues, and recognize that it’s an opportunity for growth.

Thomas C. Murray invites Kristen Nan to share how important it is to take risks and step out of your comfort zone in this #LeadershipMinute!

The Workshop Model Will Live On

Suddenly, a spark was ignited within me…I knew that by inviting this change, I was still going to continue to honor my belief system and keep the magic of the workshop model alive. I felt committed to implementing what I have known to be best practices in the new context we are living in. It is because I believe that this is the framework that empowers learners to become confident readers and writers. This is the framework that guides them towards independence. On October 17, 2020, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project held their first virtual Saturday Reunion. When I logged in to watch and listen from the comfort of my own home, Lucy Calkins was delivering her opening remarks. She said “We need to be as connected as we can be…Teaching is about holding onto the faith that the work we do matters. This is hard to hold onto right now. Even if it feels that nothing is going well, we need to show up.” These are powerful words that made me ask myself again…How can I rally learners together and build community when we are teaching in both physical and virtual learning spaces simultaneously? What can I do to cultivate meaningful connections and develop relationships with face-to-face and virtual learners? What new and existing tools can I utilize to support the execution of the gradual release of responsibility? I know that while navigating this learning journey, I must continue to be patient, I must continue to give myself grace, I must continue to be open to feedback from my colleagues, my PLN, and my students who are living this with me, and I must show up. And as Calkins suggests, I will show up for my students, their families, my community, and my country. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. The fact of the matter is that change has already invited itself through our doors. As George Couros says, “You can fight change, adapt to change, embrace change, create change, or lead change. No matter your choice, change is not going away.” And do you know what else I will not let go away? The Magic of the Workshop Model.

Lucy Calkins passionately delivered her introduction at the October 17, 2020 TCRWP
Saturday Virtual Reunion.

Stay tuned for the next blog in this series: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 2: Rallying Learners and Building Community

Unlocking Significant Moments in Time

Manifesting Significant Moments

Have you ever experienced significant moments in time that have transformed your perspectives and altered the path you were walking on?  These significant moments often engender a multitude of feelings and encourage us to make choices that impact the direction we choose to take. These are the moments that are difficult to see in real-time because you are so consumed with the experience itself. These are the moments that unlock our potential and catapult us to stand in our power and continuously evolve.  Very often these moments are revealed with the various people we encounter throughout our lives. And whether these interactions are perceived to be productive or unfavorable, they empower us to reflect on who we are, who we want to be, and expose our true purpose in life.  

Getting Personal and Authentic

As I read Thomas C. Murray’s book, Personal and Authentic: Designing Learning Experiences That Impact a Lifetime, I was immediately captivated by the first chapter where he passionately states, “A life-changing moment happens in a blink. It’s that moment where faith overcomes fear.  It’s the first step towards a new reality, a step that permanently alters your dreams and changes the way you think about your life-forever.” Tom shared a powerful personal story in Chapter 1 of his book and most recently on the George Couros Innovator’s Mindset podcast: Personal & Authentic During Coronavirus- A convo with Tom Murray about how his relationship with his mentor shaped the legacy he would want to leave with his students and colleagues. It was his mentor who created compelling significant moments that were focused on the quality of relationships, leading with empathy, and loving and caring about kids. It was his mentor who supported him and helped him understand that although being an educator is hard work, it is crucial to have patience throughout the journey and own the experience. It was this mentor/mentee relationship that influenced the educator he was going to be and helped define and create his path to success.  It is because of this relationship that Tom has been able to unlock the potential in others and inspire educators around the world with dynamic, influential stories from within.

The Spark that Ignites a Fire 

The stories in the book Personal and Authentic encouraged me to think a lot about the relationship I had with my own mentor when I was just a brand new teacher at P.S. 65, in Ozone Park, Queens.  My mentor was one of the people who helped me step toward a new reality and pushed me to manifest my own dreams. And, although it is sometimes hard to recall every detail about our significant moments together; I am certain that she created a spark that still ignites a fire in my relentless spirit. It is because of my positive experience with my own mentor, that makes the pairing of Mentors and Mentees in my own school district so important and special. These significant relationships are built on trust, hope, and promise; the promise to provide opportunities that will empower the next generation of teachers leaders to thrive.  It has been wonderful to observe the evolution and strength of these partnerships. For this reason, I am happy to highlight my experience with MY mentor and a few of the Mentors and Mentees in the Long Beach Public School’s Mentor Program. They were happy to share some of their significant moments together!

Barbara                                 laurenpicture2

Barbara Herman (Mentor)         Lauren Kaufman (Mentee)

As I began working with Lauren I soon realized that she was a natural for the teaching profession. She was not only bright, but compassionate, organized, willing to learn, and accepting of advice, as well as, (I hope) constructive criticism. I loved the way she spoke with her students, making each one feel special. You could see them glow after a conversation, even if she was correcting a behavior. Lauren also developed a great rapport with her colleagues. She was my first mentee after many, many years in the classroom. As the relationship grew we both benefitted. I imparted to Lauren what I had learned throughout my career and Lauren brought to me a fresh perspective and enthusiasm. I suppose you could say this is collaboration at its best. This is what the mentor/mentee program is all about. -Barbara

When I was a first-year teacher, Barbara gave me the confidence I craved as I journeyed through my first year teaching successes, challenges, and failures. Some of the qualities that Barbara possessed were her genuine kindness, patience, and content knowledge.  She was extremely approachable and gave me the confidence and advice I needed to navigate relationships, protocols, and teaching and learning practices. One day, I vividly remember standing in front of the overhead projector (remember those?) “ready” to teach a writing lesson. After all, I had it written in my planbook, the learning objective was clearly written on a sentence strip, and was posted on the chalkboard, “Students will be able to write a good beginning of their story by hooking the reader.” I looked around the room, stated the learning objective (that’s what we called it at the time), and then…I completely froze.  My inner voice said, “I know how to write, but how do I TEACH writing?” I pretended to look completely cool; I turned off the overhead projector and called Barbara.  I whispered into the phone, “Barbara, how do you teach writing?” She laughed in the most supportive way possible, “I’ll be right there, don’t worry!” she responded. –Lauren

Long Beach Public Schools Mentor/Mentee Relationships

Stacey                                    Christina

Stacey Mason (Mentor)                  Christina Gardrvits (Mentee)

Being a teacher is one of the most rewarding careers to have, but helping other teachers hone their craft and improve their practice is almost equally as rewarding. Signing up to be a mentor for the third time was a little daunting because my two previous experiences were picture-perfect; both of my former mentees are very close friends of mine to this day! As soon as I was paired with Christina, I knew that this time would be no different. She is an eager and motivated sponge, soaking up all there is to learn and know about teaching middle school while navigating the challenges of being a permanent substitute teacher. This includes following other teachers’ lesson plans and procedures, while still making the classroom environment her own each time she walks into a new classroom. This is not an easy task and in many ways, is way more difficult than being a typical first-year teacher! Her drive and desire to grow professionally is evident. This is all while she takes on new challenges, commitments, and certifications! She also volunteers her time and shares her expertise around the building… and still, she (somehow!) finds time to be an amazing mom to two young daughters. On top of all of that, she has become my friend and one that I know will become lifelong, just like my other two mentees. Three for three!! I am so proud of all that Christina has accomplished so far and can’t wait to see what her professional future holds! -Stacey

Most of us can think back and remember a teacher who made a difference in their lives.  You don’t remember exactly what they taught you but how they made you feel.  That is exactly how I would describe my experience this year having Stacey as my mentor. On my first day, I came into the classroom that I was teaching in and found a gift bag from her waiting on the desk filled with fancy post its, a beautiful notebook, and other teacher essentials with a card that couldn’t be more encouraging. The part that was even more important to mention was that I am a permanent substitute in the building so she had to track down which teacher I would be covering for. That is just one example of what I have learned from her this year. She made me feel like I mattered, that she cared and that’s exactly how she makes her students feel.  

The support and encouragement that Stacey has given me are what I will carry over to my students one day. I want them to feel that they matter, that I am rooting for them, and I have their back. I have learned that relationships are the backbone of the school community; if you can establish them from the beginning, then learning comes naturally.  With our mentor coordinator, Lauren, creating such a strong bond with all of the mentors/mentees, we always know that we never have to do it alone! I really feel like I found my fellow educator soulmate.  I couldn’t have asked or needed a better person.  She doesn’t preach her expertise but instead gives me the confidence to try myself and is there when I need her.  We need to model the behavior we want to see in our students and I have been lucky enough to be one of her ‘students.’  It doesn’t hurt either that she is also an extremely talented reading teacher! -Christina

Brianna                            Ashley

Brianna Carnevale (Mentor)               Ashley Garry  (Mentee)

As the committee prepared for another round of interviews, Ashley Garry entered the room beaming with passion, enthusiasm, and a high level of professionalism. As she spoke about her teaching experiences and her expertise in the field of ENL, I remember thinking WOW!! Long Beach High School would be the perfect home for Ashley. Since day one, being Ashley’s mentor has been such a rewarding experience because of the bond that we share. Not only do we get to plan lessons together and engage in professional learning opportunities like presenting, but I truly consider Ashley to be a lifelong friend. She has helped me to grow so much by bringing in new ideas with technology and innovative teaching practices that would never have crossed my mind without our dedication to working as a team. I value her strong work ethic and how compassionate she is when working with our ENL students.  We build each other up and support one another each day; even during the most stressful times. We laugh together, we vent together, we call each other; but more importantly, we have taken on a journey that I am forever grateful for. -Brianna

The first day I walked into Long Beach High School for my interview, I felt a sense of belonging. There was something about the culture and climate of the school, the friendly faces, and the warm welcome from anyone I passed. The first person I spoke to was Brianna Carnevale, as she and I were both early (no surprise there). Brianna’s enthusiasm and love for LBHS shone through her bright personality; her confidence and professionalism was something I truly admired. Fast forward to the days before school, where we spent time on the phone, exchanging emails, and lesson planning, sometimes by the beach. I felt confident and secure knowing that my journey at Long Beach would be an incredible one, having Brianna supporting me from day one. Brianna has not only been a phenomenal mentor, but she has truly become one of my lifelong friends. She pushes me to do my best work, day in and day out and is always there for me, whether it’s been the best day or a hard one. I can’t imagine my journey without her and am forever grateful for her knowledge and friendship. -Ashley

Arlyne                                Nicolette

Arlyne Skolnik (Mentor)              Nicolette Samardich (Mentee)

I wondered and hoped as I awaited meeting my mentee. Would she be receptive to support? Flexible? Enthusiastic? A team player?  Now that I’ve had the pleasure of working with Nicolette over the past year, she is all of those things and more. Nicolette is the full package! Spending time with my mentee continues to be a very rewarding experience and especially in our “new normal” world; we are each other’s support with all the new challenges that COVID-19 has presented to us as educators. I love that she’s enthusiastic to try anything new to engage her young first-grade distance learners. I adore that she explores every avenue and leaves no stone unturned. I also love when our roles switch and Nicolette mentors me when I have a technological glitch! Like a spring flower, Nicolette continues to blossom into a truly fine, caring teacher. She is among our newest shining stars at West School!  We are so fortunate to have her and I am proud to call her my colleague! -Arlyne

As I approach the end of my first year, I think back to how much my Mentor meant to me. At first, I thought: A reading teacher and a classroom teacher? How will she be able to answer all the questions I have?  Boy was I wrong. Arlyne is a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and positive energy. She knows the answers to everything I have asked, and if she didn’t, she always pointed me in the direction of someone who would. Arlyne is so cordial and helped me to feel comfortable the day I walked into school. She gave me the confidence and support each and every day to help drive my relationships with colleagues, students, and families. She consistently supports my growth as an educator by sharing new practices, resources, and applications with me. Arlyne pushes me on a daily basis to be the best teacher I can be and constantly applauds my achievements. Best of all, each morning she walks by my classroom, pops her head in with a bright smile, and says good morning; always starting my day off on a happy note. -Nicolette

No Interaction is too small

#AuthenticEDU Callouts