Career Advice: Mentor Relationships and Team Building
Suzanne Tingley on communicating with your mentor and using team-building excercises to adjust to leadership changes.
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Q | I don’t want to implement all of my mentor’s suggestions but I worry about offending her. Help!
A | This is a delicate situation for a new teacher. Your mentor feels she knows what works best, and you don’t want to appear ungrateful. But the role of mentor is to give advice, not to create a mini-me!
I’m guessing she’s suggesting classroom management procedures. Should kids sit in rows or small groups? Do they lose recess time if they don’t finish their work? Are they allowed to choose independent reading books? These issues may seem small, but they set the tone for the classroom. The tone you want to set may be different from your mentor’s.
Still, classroom management is often the biggest challenge for new teachers, so it might be a good idea to try implementing some of your mentor’s ideas, at least in the beginning. Mentors, after all, are usually chosen for their expertise. And, candidly speaking, you do not want her to report to your principal that you are uncooperative. Adopt or modify the suggestions you can live with but strive to implement your own ideas as well. If your mentor has worked with new teachers before, she may recognize that while they appreciate a little advice, they also have lots of ideas they’ve been waiting to try out.
Q | My school has had a lot of leadership changes recently, which has created tension and affected our sense of community. I’d love to initiate some team building. What’s the best way to get started?
A | Schools that are good for kids are also good for the adults who work there. The tension and lack of camaraderie that teachers at your school are experiencing can affect the quality of education they are providing.
Team building is a great idea, but you can’t do it alone. First, find a few like-minded teachers or staff to work with you. Start small, and start social. For example, some schools have a casual monthly breakfast for faculty. Maybe your parents’ association would sponsor the first one. Other schools designate a local watering hole as a Friday meeting place.
A key player in improving school culture is your principal. Maybe she’s not aware of faculty concerns, or maybe she doesn’t know what to do about them. Maybe she’s part of the problem. You might form a small group of teachers to meet with your principal to talk about the impact leadership changes have had on your sense of community. The principal’s job, after all, is easier when the faculty works together. Instead of finger pointing, focus on ways you can improve the culture of your school socially and academically. Many schools find that forming an advisory group to meet with the principal on a regular basis helps keep the lines of communication open.
It’s not easy to reestablish trust and good working relations in a school, but it can be done. If you’re successful, everyone benefits—students, teachers, and even the principal.
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Suzanne Tingley is a former teacher, principal, superintendent, and education professor. Her Practical Leadership blog can be found at scholastic.com/administrator.