Whether you are a first-year teacher or have been expanding young minds for decades, every educator can benefit from mentorship. Teaching mentors can answer questions, provide invaluable feedback, help you identify blind spots and see things from a different perspective, develop your educational voice and completely transform your teaching experience. Feeling like you have someone in your corner—whether it’s to bounce ideas off of, celebrate your teaching wins or vent to when things get tough—is critical. Connecting with a teacher who truly understands what you’re going through (and has made it to the other side of it themselves) is an invaluable tool for growth.
When looking for an ideal teaching mentor, consider educators who:
- Are inspirational to you
- Genuinely enjoy teaching and care about students
- Are eternal learners themselves
- Aren’t afraid to share their own experiences and failures
- Are collaborative with other teachers
- Are as good at listening as giving advice
While some schools and districts have formal programs for matching new teachers with more experienced educators, most efforts to find a teaching mentor will likely fall on your own shoulders. Even if you are assigned a mentor, you might find this structured, inorganic relationship doesn’t provide the same benefits as one you’ve managed to forge naturally on your own. Regardless, there are several places you can explore to find a mentor that’s right for you:
- Start your search within your school. The most convenient place to begin is in your own school. You’ll not only have easier access to a mentor that’s on the same campus, but they’ll also have a better understanding of the unique ways your school operates—and the people you work with. The proximity also provides a greater chance of being able to observe their teaching and vice versa.
- Consider looking at other schools where you’ve taught. Teaching alma maters are another good place to find a mentor. Just like your current school, there’s a level of familiarity you’ll have of how that school works—and you’ll probably still know some of the staff there. These colleagues may be able to suggest possible mentors, even if they themselves aren’t what you’re looking for.
- Consult professional organizations to which you belong. And if you’re not a member of any, look into joining one. After all, these organizations are all about providing the resources and connections to help you succeed in your field. So even if they don’t have any formal mentorship programs in place, that doesn’t mean they won’t know about possible opportunities to find one—either through another member or some other avenue.
- Ask your principal, co-workers and fellow teaching friends. These are often the people who know you best—and what you might need in a mentor. Your principal may have areas in mind in which they’d like to see you focus, while your peers and friends might have insights into the personality types you would respond most positively to. Any one of them might be the link between you and your future mentor.
- Scour your local community. Getting involved in your community is another fruitful way to meet potential mentors. Meetup.com offers opportunities for teachers to join local groups with other teachers. And if there isn’t already a “meet up” in your area that appeals to you, you can always start your own and make it as specific as you like. In fact, forming a “Teaching mentors & mentees” group could wind up helping other teachers as well as yourself. Bonus!
- Open up your search online. If you haven’t had any luck within your own circles, consider expanding your hunt online. Sites like FindAMentor.com allow you to select your industry or specific area of interest to connect with likeminded individuals in your own city or via phone or video call. Facebook also has a group you can join called “Business Educators,” that can provide access to a variety of teachers. Searching the web can greatly expand the types and variety of teaching mentors you can find. After all, not all mentorships are locally based.
Now that you know what to look for in a teaching mentor and where to find one, it’s important to think about how to navigate and grow this valuable relationship—which includes casting aside some preconceived notions of what that relationship has to be. As you enter a mentor-mentee relationship, avoid limiting yourself by believing you:
- Must be in a formalized mentorship in order for it to be of benefit
- Can only have one mentor (After all, we learn different things from different people.)
- Won’t get anything from a teacher who’s not a 20+-year veteran (Many younger teachers can provide well-established educators with valuable information about incorporating technology into their teaching.)
- Must have a mentor that teaches the same subject or grade as you
- Have to limit the scope of your questions to what happens in the classroom (Mentors can also provide input for matters with co-workers, tips for dealing with parents, etc.)
- Can’t show your appreciation (Whether it’s in the form of sweet notes, a meal, school supplies or a small gift card, showing your mentor you appreciate their time and input will make them more likely to want to continue the relationship.)
Once you’ve experienced a valuable mentorship that provides you with advice, actionable feedback and support, the best thing you can do is turn around and find another teacher who is looking for a mentor—and pay it forward by becoming theirs.