A Mentoring Disposition

The Oxford Reference dictionary explains the origin of the word mentor:

In Greek mythology and Homer’s Odyssey, Mentor was the guide and counsellor for Odysseus’s son Telemachus. Educators and others have adopted the word to describe a formal or informal attachment between a teacher and a student or small group of students that goes beyond mere teaching or tutoring to include advice and guidance about many other issues and problems encountered by students.

We love that this definition identifies the importance of attachment (what we refer to as relationship) in mentoring, along with the understanding that mentoring extends beyond “mere teaching or tutoring.” While a mentor may share knowledge and demonstrate skills, a true mentoring disposition moves the mentor to support mentees in broader ways.

We believe that all teachers supporting preservice, novice, or experienced teachers are mentors. Our research demonstrates that the mentors we encountered wanted to better understand and enhance their practice in order to better support their mentees. We also observed that effective teachers and effective mentors share a disposition that includes the following elements:

  • Honest Self-Reflection: A mentor has greater experience in the field, yet has not forgotten that much of that experience has been gained from mistakes made and learning accumulated over time.
  • Openness to Listening and Sharing: A mentor is a strong listener who takes time to appreciate with an open mind the cultural, social, emotional, and economic factors that influence newcomers to the profession, regardless of their age or prior experience.
  • Willingness to Make Professional Practice Public: A mentor reaches beyond the sharing of knowledge and the demonstration of skills to support a mentee in understanding the thinking processes and the rationale that underpin the responsibilities, actions, and activities a teacher implements in the classroom. In doing so, a mentor deprivatizes and makes visible their practice, even though it may mean exposing their own vulnerability.
  • Recognition of the Value of Reciprocal and Active Learning: A mentor is a willing learner who understands that a person inexperienced in the field of education brings skills and talents from which both the mentor and the students in the classroom can learn, and that learning is internalized through active engagement and meaningful feedback, rather than from passive observation and critical judgment.
  • Collaboration within Professional Communities: A mentor is a partner in teaching and learning who inspires, motivates, counsels, and guides to allow a mentee to develop their independence, experience, knowledge, and skills in a safe, inclusive, welcoming, and supportive environment.

The concept of the mentoring role as one of partnership, particularly with a newcomer to the profession, may seem discordant at first. Partnerships generally mean equity in a relationship, and an experienced mentor may seem to bring more to the table in terms of pedagogy and understandings. A mentor who is able to honestly self-reflect will come to see that professional growth and development flows naturally from a mentoring situation. Mentees also have much to share to enrich the partnership.

In essence, the role of the mentor is to offer an invitation to an inclusive, safe, and welcoming physical and intellectual space within which both mentor and mentee can thrive and explore creative new ways to enhance their practice and develop their teaching excellence together. To become comfortable in the role of mentor, it is helpful to begin by getting to know the mentee as an individual with unique qualities, interests, and experiences that can enhance learning for everyone in the classroom (mentor, mentee, and students).

*taken from Mentoring Each Other, by Lana Parker & Diane Vetter