What makes a good mentor? Is an effective mentor born or made? What values, attitudes, beliefs and qualities characterise the best mentors?
Most of us have had at least one mentor during our lives, whether this is a formal arrangement or an informal relationship. Reflecting on my own experience of being mentored, I can now pinpoint several key qualities and skills which my various mentors exhibited and which caused me to flourish or flounder at different stages during my own professional transitions, initially from EFL teacher to FE lecturer and later from lecturer to teacher educator.
So what tips would you give a new mentor? Here are a few of my own ideas:
- Above all, encourage your mentee to be themselves. Teacher authenticity is something which learners often comment on positively. I remember desperately trying to emulate one of my mentors and just as determinedly trying not to act like another. In both situations I wasn't being true to myself and as a result was unhappy, depriving my learners of the experience of being taught by the real me.
- Consider beginnings and endings. Just as a good lesson will feature both a starter and plenary activity, so a mentoring relationship can fly or fall depending on the way that it starts and finishes. Contracting the relationship and setting ground rules can sound very dull, but will ultimately pay off as both sides are clear as to what is expected.
- Be ready to learn and be ready to admit your own mistakes. I've often realised mid-feedback that I've phrased something in a clumsy way, or have myself gained insight from observing a trainee teacher. Share this with them. It is a privilege to work with a new teacher, so do them the honour of acknowledging this.
- Develop coaching skills. Coaching and mentoring are often viewed as distinct roles, but a combination of the two can have powerful results. Asking the right questions, encouraging mentees to explore all possible options, then selecting their preferred one will help to develop not only confidence but professional responsibility which will last them their whole career.
- Enjoy the experience. Talking about teaching with another professional may sometimes feel like a luxury, but is a vital part of what I call "grassroots CPD". Enormous pleasure can be derived from accompanying another teacher on the early part of their journey, encouraging them to take risks, helping them to solve problems and building their confidence along the way.