Think back to your early teaching days. You probably wished you had someone experienced whose brain you could pick, right? Think back even further to your teacher training days. You probably needed someone to help alleviate your fears and concerns about beginning your career as a teacher, right? In both of these situations, having an experienced colleague to share and consult with could have been beneficial for your professional growth and mental health.
Mentoring can help new teachers reduce certain fears that, when left unchecked (or to be solved on their own), can spiral into feelings of isolation; these feelings can negatively affect their professional practice and well-being. Distance, time commitments, and lack of formal structure can make forming meaningful mentoring partnerships with experienced teachers difficult. Virtual mentorship helps circumvent all of these issues.
As both a scholar and practitioner, I believe that virtual mentorships are the way of the future. They provide professional knowledge and emotional support to help holistically prepare our teachers for the profession. I facilitated virtual mentorships between teacher candidates and practising teachers to test my theory. The results were even more positive than I had anticipated.
It can be challenging for future teachers to discuss concerns and issues about teaching in an ungraded and non-threatening situation. They can join chat groups on Twitter or consult with friends who are teachers, but there is currently no formalized, structured mentoring partnership for teacher candidates outside of their practicum placements. Based on the success of mentoring in the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP) implemented in Ontario, I decided to replicate mentorship in the teacher preparation program as a means to extend their learning and provide an external structure for authentic conversations about teaching.
I paired first-term pre-service teachers in the Niagara University teacher education program with experienced (more than five years teaching) OCT teachers into mentoring partnerships. The virtual connection allowed the participants to connect more easily than in a traditional face-to-face setting. Mentors and mentees connected via online mediums such as Skype or Google hangouts for approximately five sessions over a three-month period. I gave the students specific questions and reflection tasks to help guide their mentorship and contribute to their professional knowledge about teaching. I formulated these questions based on course learning objectives, and called them “The 5 Big Concept Questions (5BCQ’s)”:
- What is a good teacher?
- What do teachers do to facilitate learning?
- What is effective teaching?
- What is learning?
- How can we engage and motivate students?
The structure provided a formalized process and direction, and the lack of grades or assessment of the mentorship contributed to genuine, meaningful conversations. As one participant expressed: I have learned so much from my mentor about real experiences in the classroom. My mentor gave me important pointers about teaching that I can use throughout the rest of my teacher education program and teaching career.
For some participants, their mentorship continued beyond the course requirements into a professional partnership. Overall, the teacher candidates noted some specific beneficial features of their experience:
- Ability to have a non-threatening relationship with an experienced teacher;
- Learned about “real life” examples from the classroom;
- Were able to connect their learning from their mentors to what was happening in their teacher education classes;
- Learned the value of time management and organization;
- Gained valuable information/advice and recommendations about moving forward in preparing for their teaching careers; and
- Learned how to use new technology for connecting and professional growth (e.g., engaging with Twitter).
The findings from my duplicate trials confirmed my belief that virtual mentorships between teacher candidates and teachers during teacher education programs help effectively prepare new teachers for a career in the classroom. Virtual mentoring is an effective way for educators to engage with each other, bounce ideas around, and grow professionally. Without the constraints of distance and time, all levels of educators are able to pair with other professionals throughout the world—the possibilities are endless.
If you are interested in becoming a virtual mentor for a teacher candidate, please contact me at Niagara University at 905-294-7260. You are supporting the next generation of teachers!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Patricia Briscoe
Dr. Patricia Briscoe is an Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Masters of Educational Leadership at the College of Education, Niagara University in Toronto. She teaches in both the teacher education and the Master of Educational leadership program. One of her areas of specialization is developing opportunities for mentoring and teacher leadership. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Telephone: 905-294-7260 Fax 416-533-3029 Twitter: @drpbriscoe
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Fall 2018 Issue.