Selecting and Retaining Teacher Mentors
ERIC Identifier: ED477728
Publication Date: 2002-12-00
Author: Mullinix, Bonnie B.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education Washington DC.
The last decade has produced a great deal of literature and research documenting the
importance of teacher mentors in teacher training and retention programs. This digest
offers some collected wisdom regarding considerations and strategies for selecting and
retaining teacher mentors. Related sub-issues of recruitment and compensation are
also addressed. While presented in a sequential pattern, selection and retention of
mentors are, in reality, integrated features of an on-going and spiraling process.
Mentors continually cycle into and out of teacher education, induction and retention
programs. The degree to which these critical participants are meaningfully engaged in
the mentoring process may have a significant impact on a program's success.
RECRUITING AND SELECTING MENTORS
Strategies for recruiting mentors appear to range from opportunistic appointment to
promoting self-nomination to tying mentorship status to a developmental career ladder.
These strategies, buoyed primarily by support, incentives, and compensation
mechanisms, are a less prominently reported thread in the literature than the selection
criteria and desired characteristics for mentor participation in programs; there are fewer
documented articulations of recruitment strategies to draw from than there are selection
Various programs identify selection criteria based on their vision of the purposes of
mentoring and the factors they most wish to promote. Feiman-Nemser and Parker
(1992) identified such purposes and associated expectations as including:
Consideration of special needs and contexts can also influence the approach to
recruiting and selecting mentors. Programs supporting bilingual teachers in the
southwest for example, will have different needs, foci and characteristics for its mentors
than those trying to recruit and retain teachers in the rural Midwest or urban subcultural
settings across the country. Nationwide, programs supporting teacher induction in such
wide-ranging areas as early childhood education (Breunig & Bellm, 1996), special
education (Reid, 1994), integration of technology and assessment (Nichols & Singer,
2000) report on how their strategic use of mentors enhances their programs.
- labor market
improvement strategies (for improving trainees classroom performance and
strengthening commitment to remain in teaching);
- an institutionalized buddy system (to
provide emotional and material support to decrease isolation of new teachers);
- on-the-job training (to introduce curriculum materials, management systems, program
goals, and school culture);
- collegiality (to encourage reflective practice, action research
and participation in collaborative learning communities); or
- clinical teacher education
(that focuses on student learning, pedagogical reasoning in connecting practical
clustering based issues to larger social political and moral questions) (p 20-21).
One of the most influential criterions for selection of mentors is their reputation as
effective classroom teachers. Some additional common characteristics of and criteria for
selecting mentor teachers are: a clearly articulated vision of teaching and learning,
knowledge of content, accomplished curriculum developer, professional interests,
expressed educational philosophies, and compatible personalities (1986;
Feiman-Nemser, 1996; Tillman, 2000). Awareness and facility with mentoring processes
are seldom among selection criteria, but are often handled through mentor training
Orientation of mentors and their inclusion in the participatory design and modification of
mentoring programs can serve as its own recruitment and selection mechanism. Mauer
and Zimmerman (1996) describe how self-selection of mentors coupled with solid
training and an embedded understanding of Ellen Moir's five phases characterizing
first-year teacher experiences (anticipation, survival, disillusionment, rejuvenation,
reflection) helped veteran teachers and administrators recognize areas that needed to
be addressed in the mentoring process and contributed to the overall success of the
program (Mauer & Zimmerman, 2000).
RETAINING AND COMPENSATING MENTORS
The benefits of mentoring programs are substantial for both novice and mentor teachers. This reality has important implications for funding decisions made by administrators and staff development personnel. Principals need to understand that creating a structure that allows experienced teachers to work with novice teachers will ultimately benefit the students of both novices and mentors, and the overall organization will be stronger as a result of the increased capacity of teachers serving as mentors. As staff developers grow in their understanding of comprehensive professional development that extends well beyond training workshops, they can begin to embrace mentoring programs not only as a valuable resource for novice teachers, but also as a growth-promoting experience for mentors as well. When administrators grapple with funding decisions related to mentoring programs, they need to recognize the dual benefits of their investments. Finally, because mentors can exert substantially greater influence on the school organization than novices, the benefits mentors derive from mentoring may be of equal, or even greater, importance than those experienced by novice teachers.
In general, retaining quality teachers within school systems remains the core concern.
In this light, mentoring is perhaps most appropriately perceived as a way to engage,
challenge and retain effective teachers. As practicing teachers, mentors appreciate and
value the opportunities to interact, share their expertise and develop as they support
new teachers (Tillman, 2000). Mentoring can offer teachers the opportunity to shine and
share where they might otherwise hesitate or hide. Innovators isolated in their
classrooms who may appear threatening to their peers, are transformed into
inspirational role models for new teachers and feel appreciated and are renewed
through the process of mentoring. By the same token, when not strategically selected,
mentors can serve to perpetuate stagnant educational approaches, undermined teacher
education, and stifle reform efforts (Feiman-Nemser, 1996). So just as good mentors
should be retained, it is important to evaluate mentor effectiveness and establish clear
and objective criteria for differentially encouraging or discouraging continued
participation of mentors.
Once a mentor has been recruited and identified as effective, however, experts agree
the mentor should be retained. Even so, there is currently little documentation of
strategies utilized to retain mentors. A Mentor Teacher program in Los Angeles
designed to retain capable teachers by expanding their rewards and opportunities,
conceptualized mentors as educational companions and worked to maximize
opportunities for professionally rewarding interactions with colleagues (Feiman-Nemser,
1992). Recognizing the expertise of mentors and acknowledging and compensating
their contribution to professional development of new teachers can go a long way
toward ensuring their retention. If appropriately valued and integrated into administrative
and program structures, mentor retention and advancement can be a natural byproduct
of a teacher mentoring program (Purdue, 1986).
In the last half-decade a significant amount of research has been focused on the
benefits experienced teachers receive from serving as mentors. Best categorized as
professional development, these benefits fall into seven categories: improved
professional competency; reflective practice; professional renewal; psychological
benefits (enhanced self-esteem); collaboration and collegiality; contributions to teacher
leadership; and pedagogical inquiry/teacher research (Huling & Resta, 2001). These
appear to be the key reasons mentors continue to serve in this capacity.
The issue of appropriately matching mentors to proteges is one that often receives
attention as it also can impact retention of both teacher and teacher mentor. This is not
surprising given that mentors can provide the emotional and professional support that
often influences teachers' decisions to remain in the profession. With teachers of color
decreasing in number and leaving the profession early (Lewis, 1996), maximizing
support for this cohort involves integrating strategies for multicultural mentoring
(Rodriguez & Sjostrom, 2000). While there remains disagreement over the advantages
and disadvantages of matching characteristics in mentoring relationships, it has been
noted that the personal relationship at the heart of mentoring can be problematic when
mentor and protege are of different genders, races, or ethnic backgrounds (Kerka,
1998). Where few veteran teachers of color exist, program developers are advised to
consider creating optimal conditions for mentoring rather than trying to promote optimal
matches (Tauer, 1996). Implementing programmatic structures to ensure that mentoring
facilitates professional empowerment and promotes diversity may be a vital key to a
On-going training and support designed specifically for mentors often serves as an
important mechanism for retaining mentors. Practical scenarios and strategies shared in
a timely manner can work to increase mentor effectiveness and help to differentiate
between the various roles and responsibilities of mentors. Requirements for mentors
operating within various programs often differ, but generally the distinction between
evaluation, supervision and mentoring are important considerations to understand and
address in training programs. Training that provides experiential orientation to
techniques of observation, consultation, coaching and theories of adult learning help
acquaint mentors with their new roles (Feiman-Nemser, 1996). Periodic workshops
addressing leadership styles, time management and balancing teaching and mentoring
responsibilities as well as sessions that share current research applications can help
support mentor development. Ongoing dialogue groups for mentors also serve as
excellent support mechanisms for collaborative reflection and shared learning regarding
the mentoring process.
While many of the retention strategies highlighted above certainly provide
compensatory support to mentors, compensation is traditionally viewed as financial in
nature. Recognition of the need to restructure compensation programs to reward
teacher knowledge and skill was directly addressed in "What Matters Most: Improving
Teaching and Learning", the 1996 report of the National Commission on Teaching &
America's Future (NCTAF), as it recommended reallocating $10 billion towards such
ends (1996). Mentors represent a vital component of this latent potential for educational
renewal and reform. The February 2001 State Higher Education Executive Officers'
research-based report on teacher recruitment, continues this thread, adding that
compensation of teacher mentors should extend to enabling in-class support of novice
teachers in their initial years of teaching (Hirsch, 2001). Innovative programs in various
states continue to experiment with the most effective combination of incentive and
compensation strategies to complement the inherent benefits of mentoring and
appropriately acknowledge the contributions and efforts of mentors (Ballinger, 2000;
Carr & Dunne, 1991; Smith, 2000). These authors and others note that compensation of
mentors generally takes the following forms:
Other non-financial and unplanned outcome compensation cited by the researchers
above include increased involvement in decision-making, increased status and respect
and, longer-term, recruitment into administrative and supervisory positions. Creative
options for additional compensation as well as more careful evaluation of current
strategies are worthy of future exploration.
- Stipends paid directly to mentors;
- Time--release time for mentoring, observation, in-class support, joint planning and
teaching; additional compensatory personal time;
- Allocations of funds to schools and districts to support associated implementation
costs such as mentor release time, substitutes and travel between schools or even
percentages of augmented mentor salaries;
- Additional classroom assistance and support for teaching and non-teaching
- Financial support and priority access to professional development in the form of
university courses, training workshops and conferences.
Mentors may well provide the turnkey to educational renewal and reform. If so, the
attention paid to appropriately structuring programs that support their strategic
recruitment, thoughtful retention, and appropriate compensation will represent time well
This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, under contract number ED-99-COO-0007. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views of or policies of the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced.
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