Teacher Preparation

Here’s What Separates the Best Teacher Mentors from the Just-Sort-of-OK Ones

Mentorship matters, but the best mentors have these qualities
By Hayley Hardison — November 29, 2022 2 min read
Black woman watering and growing a flower in which sits a happy white girl.
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From student achievement to teacher attrition, good mentors can make a world of difference in the teaching profession.

A 2017 study found that if new teachers are paired with trained mentors who provide them with regular feedback, “their students may receive the equivalent of up to five months of additional learning.”

In 2021, Education Week Staff Writer Elizabeth Heubeck wrote about the ins and outs of effective mentorship for new teachers. In the article, she cites a 2015 federal study on teacher retention and mobility, which found that a very high percent of first-year teachers who had mentors—more than 9 in 10—returned to the classroom for a second year.

The tricky part? Not all mentorships are created equal. The 2017 study, for example, compared teachers whose mentors had special professional development to those who received business-as-usual supports. Students of teachers in the latter category didn’t improve as much.

We wanted to put the question to you: What key characteristics denote an effective mentor in education?

According to educators on social media, a good mentor:

Actively listens

“Being an active listener and asking good questions.”

Anne McClellan

“Someone who listens first and someone who can learn from their mentee.”

Madison Raine

“Listens. Listen before ‘fixing.’ There is a power in pause. Listen to understand rather than reply.”

Debra Rita

Leads with empathy

“My mentor always helps me find the silver lining when things go wrong, while still validating how I feel. My cooperating teacher during student teaching was the same way. Both spectacular human beings. I really got lucky with them.”

Mikayla Lee

“Is respectful and supportive without making it seem like their way is the only way.”

Bridget Looney, PhD

“Being supportive in ALL ways possible. Mentors not only need to share the ‘need to knows’ of teaching the grade/subject(s), but also introduce their mentee to colleagues, listen to their frustrations/complaints, keep a sense of confidentiality, celebrate their successes and help them when they fail. The first year of teaching is exhausting and scary at times. The sense of being overwhelmed is palpable.”

Rutz Mo

“Empathy and the ability to see the good in people and situations”

Tiffanie Thibodeaux Chiasson

Gives you the opportunity to grow

“Someone who listens and provides you with opportunities to try something new with a safe space for when you fail!”

Dr. Ashley Luther

“Can help the mentee connect the dots between experience and opportunity”

Katie Sconce

“Humble and appropriately vulnerable. Transparent about mistakes, turning them into learning opportunities….teaching the power of honesty and ownership”

Ashley Chitwood

“Someone who wants you to succeed and outgrow your need for them (even though they are always good to have around, even when you are a ‘seasoned veteran’).”

Erin Whalen

Provides hands-on coaching and feedback

“A jump drive/Dropbox/shared drive/etc fullllllllllll of lesson plans you can use/modify/adapt/etc. And empathy, that’s good too.”

Sarah Wintin-Guthrie

“Available. A mentor is available to brainstorm, listen without judging, find the positive, you name it!”

Jennifer Price Carson

“Being able to have tough conversations and give constructive feedback.”

Carli Anne

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