being a teacher, collaboration, control, trust

Don’t You Mentor Me! Will Teachers Ever Embrace the Role of a Coach?

This year I was asked to mentor a new teacher in our building and although I willingly accepted part of me trembled just a little bit with fear.  See being a mentor implies that you know what you are doing and since I keep changing what it is I am doing, I don’t know if I fall into that category.  However, I also knew that I wouldn’t be a mentor to a brand new impressionable teacher but rather to someone who actually has a year more teaching experience than I do.  So it wasn’t a case of me spilling my infinite wisdom of how to thrive in your first year of teaching, but rather to communicate ideas and offer discussion opportunities to help us both.  So being a mentor has been a reflective practice, mostly because Mark has given me as much food for thought as I hope I have him.  At the same time though I know that I have not fully acted as a mentor because I am afraid to step on toes, not that he would mind, but I just don’t feel right.  And I don’t think I am alone.

So what is our problem with mentors or coaches in education?  Why do we like the idea of them as long as we are not the ones being mentored?  We tell our students to work together, to learn from others, and yet our defensive hairs stand up on our necks the minute someone mentions a coaching or mentoring opportunity involving us.  I happen to know that I have a lot to learn and yet the reaction even comes from me; what do you mean you are going to teach me something?  I am doing just fine on my own, thank you, take your concern to someone who really needs it.

Perhaps this is our achilles heel as a community; the inability to take advice or have a discussion on how to improve ourselves.  Sure we say we want to get better as teachers, but often that means on our own, not with someone coaching us.  We, of all professions, should be embracing the very nature of the coach or mentor, or whatever you want to call it.  We should celebrate when we actually have the opportunity to learn from others, with others, and yet most of us get defensive instead.  Are we just too competitive to take advice?  Or have we lost our sense of trust when it comes to others wanting to help us?  Do we really think that we are doing our very best teaching every day?  I, for one, do not, just look at yesterday’s post, but still why I am not asking people to come in and discuss my teaching?  Why am I not the one out soliciting feedback from my local colleagues?  Why do I hide behind my classroom walls as much as anyone?

So how do we build the trust?  Where do we start as a mentor or as a coach or whatever other title may be bestowed upon us?  Can teachers ever learn to trust each other enough to know that we are are here to be be the best teachers we possibly can be?  I just don’t know but I hope someone else does.

For a wonderful perspective on lessons learned from being a coach, please read John T. Spencer’s post “10 Things I Learned From Coaching.”

5 thoughts on “Don’t You Mentor Me! Will Teachers Ever Embrace the Role of a Coach?”

  1. Thanks for posting this food for thought. We want help but are afraid to ask — might make us look ineffective somehow. Or expose what we've known all along — we're not perfect. But coaches have a lot to offer! We just need to find ways to improve communication and attitudes toward those who have been hired to help!

  2. As a first year teacher this next year, I appreciate this post! I just recently met my mentor and was immediately nervous. "Is he going to shoot down all my ideas?" "Will he treat me like a student?"I think often a fear is that our professional opinions and ideas will not be validated, when in reality coaching is a great opportunity to expand upon ideas and make them better.

  3. Before we consider how to build trust in a mentor-mentee rela¬tionship—and why trust is an important part of that relationship—we need to be clear as to what constitutes trust. What does trust mean to you? What is it like to be in a relationship where trust exists? In what ways do you relate differently to a person you trust from the way you relate to someone you do not particularly trust? “When I want someone to trust me, I … ““walk the talk; that is, I do what I said I would do.” As a friend of mine puts it, “trust is the residue of promises kept.”“respect confidentiality.”“respond to to the other person’s statements and questions to their satisfaction before introducing another topic.”“express my feelings as well as my thoughts.”“recognize and respect his or her feelings and ideas, even though I may not agree with them.”Why is trust so important an ingredient in a relationship? It is important because it allows both the mentor and mentee to recognize, accept, discuss, and consequently work to improve ineffective practices. After all, it takes trust to ask for help, to expose your inse¬curities and inexperience to a coworker, and to leave yourself vulner¬able and open to ridicule. It may well be necessary for your mentee to risk these behaviors in order to help you understand the crux of a situation.

  4. I think we are so uncomfortable with it in part because there are so many ways to teach and do it well – just like anything. If someone is good about it then it is collaborative and reflective, but most people just try to propagate their own way. I don’t think teachers are bad at the mentor/mentee thing; I think all people are. Is it possible that the relationship/process is meant to be one that arises more organically that is usually implemented? I need to think about this more myself. Great post.

  5. I have to wonder, because I believe it is the case for me, if the problem is the fear of being judged and found lacking. I embrace learning from others. I love Twitter, FB, blogs, etc…. I enjoy workshops and conferences. But put a colleague in my room and I feel as if I’m being critiqued, evaluated, judged… and will I come up short?

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