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Mentorship can help teachers and residents establish tangible connections between their coursework to experiences working with children.

Investing in mentorship can help the teacher retention crisis

In formal training programs, mentorship can help residents establish tangible connections between their coursework to experiences working with children

Key points:

  • While mentorship is key for professional growth, it is often missing from training programs
  • Mentorship can provide crucial help to early childhood educators in navigating challenges and overcoming obstacles
  • See related article: Empowering educators through holistic teacher PD
  • Get the latest news on teacher PD by visiting eSN’s Educational Leadership page

Mentorship is an essential aspect of professional growth and development for early childhood educators, but for many training programs, mentorship components are either not well supported or are missing altogether. Experience shows that it can be highly valuable for both the mentee and the mentor as well. Being a mentor to someone else is a rewarding leadership experience that allows one to give back to the profession and help shape the future of early childhood education.

If structured and designed well, a mentorship program can help early childhood educators grow and develop in their current careers by gaining new insights, knowledge, and skills from a more experienced colleague. The early childhood education field and its many training programs, certifications, specializations and professional training should invest in a quality mentorship component.

Mentorship programs are common across many industries and offer a structured and supportive approach to professional development. A mentor can provide guidance on best practices, share knowledge and experiences, and offer constructive feedback in the context of a deeper, more trusted relationship. Early childhood educators can benefit from a mentor’s expertise in areas such as child development, curriculum planning, and parent engagement, and often receive more practical and personal tips rooted in experience. 

Mentorship can also provide crucial help to early childhood educators in navigating challenges and overcoming obstacles in their professional lives. A mentor can provide emotional support, helping educators deal with the stresses and challenges of their work. They can also provide guidance on career advancement, helping educators set goals and achieve their professional aspirations. These supports help to retain educators, many of whom leave the field after just a few years on the job.

Historically, one reason coaching and mentorship programs are not standardized is because of the high cost associated with this additional component. Cost cutting or cost avoidance is symptomatic of broader underinvestment in early childhood educators. Mentorship programs, however, are important to building the foundation of childhood education and should be viewed through the lens of overall benefit as opposed to just cost. They strengthen and amplify the content of instruction and should be viewed as a core component and a best practice – not a nice-to-have add-on. 

Through partnerships with networks of schools, Bank Street College of Education has designed degree programs that add a mentoring component to the combination of coursework and coaching all aspiring teachers receive as part of their degree. Our report, Cultivating Powerful Mentorship in Educator Credential Programs, takes a close look at the different ways these programs were designed to identify key components critical to the development of an effective approach to mentoring. We found that:

1. Strong educators aren’t automatically strong mentors; they need training

Mentors are typically teachers who have been in the field for several years, but they may not be familiar with adult development or have experience working with a student teacher in their classroom. In order to make mentorship a powerful experience, programs need to provide sustained training to prepare mentor teachers to effectively support residents. Opportunities to reflect and learn with other mentors help them to continually grow their practice throughout the residency year. 

2. Mentor training can provide experienced teachers access to the latest professional standards

The field of education moves quickly, with new concepts or philosophies guiding teacher preparation. One of our programs supported new teachers learning how to teach English as a second language. When introducing the concepts of translanguaging, mentors were able to learn alongside residents and deepen their own practice. 

3. Mentoring can be designed as a paid leadership pathway to attract and retain highly qualified educators

Mentors should be well-compensated for their work in recognition of their time and the additional work required in the role. This should include paid time for training as well as mentoring hours – aligned with hourly rates for similar work. In addition, the opportunity to mentor a new educator needs to be valued and recognized as a leadership role to attract experienced educators to the role. If done effectively, this can create meaningful responsibilities for educators we want to retain in their teaching roles.

4. Set schedules and routines for mentor-resident engagement and collaboration are critical 

Scheduled time during the day for co-planning, reflective discussions, and learning together is essential for mentoring to be impactful. 

5. New teachers say a mentoring relationship kept them in the job

For many educators, the first few years of teaching are the most challenging. Given these obstacles, earlier career teachers are more likely to leave the field. Mentorship can support residents and prepare them to be lead teachers by providing them with real world experience. When in formal training programs, mentors can also help residents establish tangible connections between their coursework to experiences working with children.

Early childhood education is a profession that’s all about forging meaningful connections–between the educator and the child, social bonds among the children, bonds to new concepts and connections to communities, values, and new ideas. Mentoring builds those same meaningful connections between new and experienced early childhood educators–cementing lessons learned in coursework so they can be replicated in the classroom.

At a time of strained resources, burnout, and a teacher shortage, now is the time to invest in forging those connections through stronger, more personal approaches to professional development.

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