Mentoring is Good for US – 12 tips for Effective Mentoring

At the beginning of 2013 I was invited to take part in a course about mentoring offered by EVO .To my surprise, I discovered that mentoring is something I have been doing for a long time. Furthermore, it is one of the things I like most as a teacher and a teacher trainer.

The use of mentoring is widespread across the commercial, education and not-for-profit sectors as a developmental, supporting and helping activity. So mentoring is part of our professional development

The origin of the term mentor is found in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey wherein Odysseus gave the responsibility of nurturing his son Telemachus to his loyal friend Mentor. Odysseus ventured off to the Trojan War while Mentor stayed behind to educate Telemachus. This education was not confined to the martial arts but was comprehensive in that it included every facet of Telemachus’ life.

The word ‘mentor’ then came to represent a wise and responsible tutor – an experienced person who advises, guides, teaches, inspires, challenges, corrects and serves as a role model. Mentoring is now a widely used and effective tool for personal, professional and organisational development.

Before I became a teacher trainer, a long time ago, I was invited to mentor the novice teachers and the new teachers at the language institute I used to teach. This was my very first experience as a mentor. I remember I was so excited, but, at the same time, I felt scared and as, for me it seemed to be too much responsibility. And it was! That first experience consisted of standing by those teachers, helping them learning about the institution, to get to know the material and how to use it, revising their lesson plans, reflecting on the choice, sequence and use of some activities or simply adjusting some items of their lessons. I also used to do some peer observations and peer teaching.

As the picture shows, the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is like two people under umbrellas of possibilities reflecting what they share.

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I have experienced mentoring teachers for over 20 years. As in the relationship between Telemachus and Mentor, the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is not always a bed of roses. Feelings such as anxiety and fear sometimes come up and demand wisdom and patience from both parts. Mentoring is a challengeable hard job, it has its ups and downs but it is mostly effective for both sides in the end if you are mind and heart open enough to do such job.

For me mentoring is an ongoing process and as you mentor and lead other to learn, you also learn from the others’ mistakes, creativity and new ideas. In addition, mentoring develops on your feelings such as sympathy and improves your ability of reflection.

From my experience and also based on the literature upon the theme, I suggest  12 tips for effective mentoring:

1. Be inspirational: As much as possible show joy, pleasure and excitement about what you do: mentoring, teaching, learning…

2. Go into your conversation with some ideas you’d like to discuss, but don’t be afraid to stray off course: Sometimes a conversation with your mentee which is not part of the agenda comes up. You’ll notice that later it will turn out to be much more important or actionable than what you envisioned before taking your first sip of coffee.

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3. Use wisdom when setting tasks: Do not aim anything that you would not be able to accomplish (tasks, goals or deadlines to be met)

4. Be helpful, not judgemental

5. Invite your mentees to observe your teaching and give you feedback. You’ll be surprised!

6. Stand by your mentees by giving them personal and professional support in order to improve their teaching.

7. Be a good listener

8. Speak wisely – mainly at feedback time

9. Base your feedback on facts rather than in suppositions

10.  Be prepared to give your shoulder for the other to cry on.

11. Respect above all: The best mentor relationships are reciprocal. It’s expected that the pupil in the relationship will learn something, but like in marriage, there needs to be mutual respect for each other’s strengths and contributions.

12. Be brave: Prepare leaders: Mentee teachers can become mentors and leaders – I do believe this is real professional development. Depending on the teacher, it will be a medium or long term process, but the sense of achievement when we manage to do it is absolutely unique! Believe me!

To sum up, mentoring relates to gratitude, love, sympathy, humbleness, the courage to share your knowledge and the recognition we mentors will always be both teachers and learners. This is what will make the difference.

Roseli Serra

Roseli is an enthusiastic educator in Brazil. Graduated in English and Portuguese, she works as an ELT consultant, teacher trainer, materials writer, Cambridge examiner and e-moderator. She's a member of the IATEFL LT (Learning Technologies) subcommittee and works, teaches and trains professionals in the area of TD and LT. She’s also a psychologist, a mentor and a coach certified by SLAC (Sociedade Latino Americana de Coaching). She has a post-graduate degree in Applied Linguistics and is now doing her MA studies in Science of Languages at UNICAP (Universidade Católica de Pernambuco). She truly believes in life-long learning and teacher development.

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