Growing Teachers Through Site-Based Mentoring


By Chris Bennett

Growing Teachers Through Site-Based MentoringIn a school with nearly 40 percent of teachers classified as beginning teachers—at least one per grade level—strategic mentoring has played a large role in not only cultivating our teachers but also helping them remain mentally focused and prepared to stay strong throughout the school year. Our school has implemented multiple strategies in an effort to help our beginning teachers grow professionally and personally.

Site-Based Mentoring

Our district pairs a mentor with each beginning teacher (teachers in their first three years); however, given our numbers and desire to execute our school’s mission, we chose to provide additional supports in order to ensure success for teachers and, ultimately, students.

Our new math interventionist has been an effective mentor for young educators. In lieu of assigning her a specific mentee, we chose to use her expertise to create our own site-based mentoring program, with her taking on a lead mentor role. She conducts monthly meetings with all of our beginning teachers that are creatively themed and always include food. Thus far, themes have included the following:

  • September: Things You Will Love to Know
    • Sharing basic back-to-school information and understanding the logistics of pay checks and leave time
  • October: Love, Life, n’ PBJ
    • How everyone works together to blend in the school
  • November: Ideas to Make School Life Easier
    • Communication with parents—specific ideas and templates to use immediately
  • December: Christmas Party
    • Off-campus get together—dinner, games, and secret pal reveal
  • January: We Are All Unique
    • How each of us is special and valued—we are all different but have a common goal
  • February: Conversation Hearts
    • Communicating with everyone at the school to make a connection with people you do not know
  • March: Spring Has Sprung
    • Keeping students and teachers focused after spring break
  • April: Reflections
    • Letter reveal
  • May: Spring Celebration
    • Off-campus get together—dinner, games, and secret pal reveal

At the initial meeting, the lead mentor had teachers write letters to themselves. Letters were signed and sealed and read by teachers during April’s meeting, allowing teachers to see the personal and professional growth they have made throughout the school year. An end of year celebration will take place in May. Additionally, a secret pal program was created: beginning teachers provided treats to one another periodically throughout the first semester and pals were revealed at the Christmas party. This program is underway again with new pals for the spring semester. During each monthly session, the lead mentor provides practical tips, tricks, and ideas on a variety of topics chosen by teachers. She is readily available to coach teachers through difficult situations and leaves teachers “pick-me-ups” in their boxes (such as notes and other treats). She is also able to serve as a sounding board and liaison between the beginning teachers and administration.

Professional Development and Leadership Opportunities

It is my goal to offer all teachers some type of off-campus professional development opportunity during the course of the school year. Although being away from the classroom is difficult, I feel it is a positive experience for teachers to be able to see master teachers in action or attend a conference and bring back new, research-based ideas. This is especially important for beginning teachers.

In addition to helping teachers learn new strategies, off-campus professional development has allowed me to pair master teachers with beginning teachers to provide a relationship-building opportunity for both teachers. This combination has lasting effects throughout the school year and provides the opportunity for me to see how they bond and may potentially work together in the future.

Our school has transformed traditional faculty meetings into professional development events. Instead of merely passing on “administrivia,” we ask teachers to showcase best practices they are using or have learned during professional development opportunities. I realize that asking beginning teachers to present to a room full of colleagues can be an intimidating task, but it provides an excellent leadership and personal/professional growth opportunity for those new to the profession. Additionally, it helps them gain trust and respect from colleagues.

Administrative Support

As an administrator, I try to spend as much time in classrooms as possible. This is especially true for beginning teachers’ classrooms. I try to conduct multiple informal walkthroughs and have conversations about what I notice prior to the first formal observation, in an attempt to ease nervousness about the first observation. As a new principal, I quickly realized my presence in a classroom multiple times a week takes acclimation on the part of teachers. However, once they realize I am in their room for support and not a “got ya,” they expect and welcome the visits.

With diminishing numbers of college students seeking education as a profession and an increasing number of teachers choosing a different career path within the first three years of being in the classroom, supporting beginning teachers has never been as important as it is right now. My school is fortunate to be in a position to implement several strategies in order to not only retain but also grow educators.


Chris Bennett is currently the principal of Washington Elementary School in Shelby, N.C. He is a former high school assistant principal and middle school teacher.


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