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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

The Impact of Mentoring on Our Professional Learning
Theresa London Cooper

One of the smartest things I’ve ever done as a learner was to surround myself with knowledgeable and wise people who are passionate about the teaching profession. I cannot impress upon you the importance of having not just one mentor, but several mentors. In my first year of teaching, I realized how essential it was to connect with other colleagues who possessed effective tips and strategies to promote student learning, who were highly organized and well-informed in pedagogy and child development.

You may not find one person who can mentor you in all your areas of need; therefore, it is important to identify various colleagues who can support the development of the essential skill sets required for effective teaching and learning. As a new teacher, I was fortunate enough to work with a paraprofessional who had many years of experience. Although I earned a college degree, she had expertise in classroom routines and years of classroom experience that I lacked. Another mentor allowed me to sit in on her lessons so that I could observe how a successful developmental lesson was performed. Both mentors taught me a great deal about preparation, planning and informal observation. Another mentor, who was my principal, guided me through effective lesson planning. I attended seminars and workshops to deepen my content knowledge and connected with other colleagues who shared their abilities. I read children’s literature and identified several mentor texts to build my content knowledge. And, I read magazines, articles and journals as mentor texts to strengthen my knowledge on current and best practices. (See my article What Have You Read Lately?)

After many years of teaching, I continue to believe in the value of mentors as I adjust my professional development plan to reflect my needs as a learner. I now realize that mentors may come in the form of colleagues with less teaching experience who have more information in a particular area. For example, some of my colleagues have greater knowledge in technology as it relates to student learning with fewer years in teaching.

Seeking support from mentors is a professional practice that facilitates our desire to remain passionate about our work, informs us about current and best practice, and enables us to gather varied ideas on how to engage students in learning. Often we talk about scaffolding as an essential step for our students in the learning process. It is equally important for us as learners. Mentors help us scaffold our learning. It is imperative that we be life-long learners if we are to promote student learning and achievement.

Who are your mentors? Do you need additional mentors? How will you select them?

Do you have a question or comment about this article? E-mail Theresa.


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