The Nature of Mentoring Relationships
Mentoring for Head Start and Early Head Start
Principles of a Quality Mentoring Program
A mentor teacher is... an individual responsible
for observing and assessing the class room activities of a Head Start program
and providing on-the-job guidance and training to the Head Start program staff
and volunteers, in order to improve the qualifications and training of classroom
staff, to maintain high-quality education services, and to promote career development
in Head Start programs. Head Start Act 1
Remember: The word teacher as used in this guide includes
individual teachers, teaching teams, family child care teachers, and home visitors.
Everyone knows what to call a mentor... but what
do you call a person who has a mentor? Mentee, apprentice, mentoree, student,
learner, or peer are some common terms. This guide uses protégé, which
Webster's Dictionary defines as someone "whose welfare,
training or career is promoted by an influential person."
Promoting continuous quality improvement and building local
capacity are primary goals of Head Start and Early Head Start. Developing teacher
and home visitor capacity is key to promoting high-quality educational services
and to improving child outcomes. An excellent way to enhance teacher capacity
and to promote developmentally appropriate practice is through mentoring. The
individualized nature of mentoring makes it a particularly valuable approach
for all teachers and home visitors, whether they are new to the profession or
have years of experience. Mentoring provides a model of on-the-job training,
guidance, and apprenticeship that is well suited to staff in Head Start and
Early Head Start.
The purpose of this publication is to provide a hands-on mentoring
guide for grantee and delegate agencies and their partners in early childhood
education. It discusses the nature of the mentoring relationship and provides
a rationale for why mentoring is appropriate for teachers, teaching teams, and
home visitors in Head Start and Early Head Start programs. The guide is designed
to help managers, supervisors, and mentors plan, implement, and evaluate mentoring.
It can also help agencies make decisions about integrating mentoring with their
organizational structures, resources, and needs.
In addition, the guide is useful for mentors. The section on
mentoring content, for example, provides information on ways to identify the
focus of the mentoring, while the section on mentoring strategies describes
effective ways in which mentors can work with protégés (the most
commonly used term for the person who is being mentored) to develop and enhance
the protégés' skills. The guide also discusses the nature of the
mentoring relationship to help mentors, as well as protégés, understand
that relationships change over time as protégés become more skilled
and self-confident. The guide draws on research in the field and on the experiences
of Head Start agencies, Head Start Quality Improvement Centers, and other organizations
that have implemented mentoring programs.
Although teachers and home visitors are the focus of this guide,
we recognize that mentoring can be effective at other levels within organizations.
For example, organizations can apply the concepts to teacher aides, service
area managers, or directors.
The Nature of Mentoring
Mentoring can be traced back to Greek mythology and Homer's
tale of Odysseus. When Odysseus left home to participate in the Trojan War,
he entrusted Mentor, his friend and advisor, to protect, advise, guide, and
train his son Telemachus.
Mentoring for Head Start and Early Head Start can be seen as
a relationship between new or current teachers or home visitors and more experienced
individuals that has the following characteristics:
Ongoing: The mentoring relationship occurs over a period of time,
and it changes as the protégé emerges as a more competent,
self-confident, and self-reflective practitioner. The ongoing nature of
the relationship reinforces good practices.
Individualized: The content areas and strategies on which mentoring
is based are tailored to the needs of the individual protégé
Developmental: Mentoring builds on the strengths of individual
teachers and home visitors and enhances areas that need improvement. The
focus of the mentoring evolves as new skills and knowledge are gained.
Reciprocal: The mentor-protégé relationship is reciprocal,
since mentors also learn as they gain insight from their protégés
and reflect on their own and their protégé's practices.
Nonevaluative: Mentoring provides constructive feedback and support
for learning and growth. Mentors assess and evaluate protégés,
but the feedback is not used to influence employment decisions.
1 See Appendix
A for the complete Head Start Act legislation on the definition and requirements
of mentor teachers.
Mentoring for Head
Start and Early Head Start
The Advisory Committee on Quality and Expansion recommended
that Head Start "develop a new initiative to encourage qualified mentor
teachers to support classroom staff."
Head Start teachers working directly with children should receive adequate levels
of observation, feedback, and support to promote developmentally appropriate
practice. A sufficient number of master teachers with B.A. degrees in early
childhood education or equivalent and appropriate experience should be available
to supervise and support classroom staff. In addition to providing more decentralized,
qualified supervision to classroom staff, the master teacher position could
serve as a career development opportunity for classroom teachers. A "mentor"
position should also be developed for home visitors and family service workers.
Mentoring is ideally suited to the Head Start philosophy and
approach to staff development. Consider the following:
Mentoring fits in with Head Start Program Performance Standards that
require grantee and delegate agencies to implement a formalized approach
to staff training and development. Mentoring offers an approach to teacher
training within the context of the teaching environment and emphasizes excellence
in daily practice. It increases the internal capacity of grantee and delegate
agencies to meet the Program Performance Standards.
Mentoring supports Head Start's concept of career ladders. Mentoring
is one way to recognize experienced staff for their expertise. Being a mentor
teacher requires an additional set of responsibilities for staff who take
on the role. Mentoring offers the possibility of new rewards, such as salary
increases and promotions, additional training opportunities, the ability
to attend conferences, and the opportunity to meet with other master teachers.
Mentoring also helps protégés advance on the career ladder
as their knowledge and skills are enhanced.
Mentoring reflects the principles of adult learning that guide Head
Start training and staff development. Training in Head Start builds
on teachers' experiences, provides opportunities for peer interaction and
problem solving, is relevant to the work in which staff are engaged, and
uses a variety of learning strategies. The mentoring process incorporates
these principles of adult learning.
Mentoring is a strategy to ensure the implementation of curricula and
best practices in teaching and home visiting. It is a field-based approach
to professional development that encourages staff to build their skills
in these areas within a supportive environment. By enhancing staff skills,
mentoring fosters positive child outcomes and school readiness.
Mentoring fits in well with Head Start's philosophy of individualizing
programs to meet the needs of children and their families. Head Start
promotes individuality and flexibility in many ways. For example, Head Start
offers a variety of options for delivering servicescenter-based,
home-based, and family child careto meet the needs of a diverse population.
Mentoring also is individualized to meet the needs of both the program and
the protégé. There is no one mentoring model but rather many
different approaches depending on the goals of the mentoring relationship,
the resources available, the grantee and delegate agencies structure,
and the like.
Mentoring encourages reflective practice for both mentors and protégés
and supports effective practices for Head Start teachers. Good teachers
think about their own practices and use the experience to reshape their
behaviors. Mentors ask questions that help protégés think
about what is working or not working in the protégés' learning
environment. At the same time, mentors reflect on their own practices and
how they can improve them.
Mentoring reflects the philosophy of partnership building that is characteristic
of Head Start programs. Head Start encourages building partnerships
within and outside the program. Mentoring is about building relationships
among individuals to foster learning while on the job. Mentors model best
practices in their own classrooms or work alongside protégés
in protégés' classrooms, family child care homes, or on home
visits, demonstrating how skills and practices may be applied.
For these reasons, mentoring is a good match for Head Start
and Early Head Start programs.
Reflective practice, defined as the ability to think
about one's daily life, is important because it provides an opportunity to -
Discuss relevant issues in relation to past and present experiences.
Set goals and determine areas for improvement.
Change practices in a supportive and caring environment.
There is no "one size fits all" way to design a mentoring
Principles of a
Quality Mentoring Program
Mentoring will not look the same in all grantee and delegate
agencies because each organization tailors mentoring to its unique characteristics
and needs. There are, however, some underlying principles that provide the foundation
for quality mentoring programs. Effective mentoring requires the following elements:
Collaborative planning and evaluation systems to foster continuous
improvement. Organizations gain buy-in for mentoring by bringing stakeholders
into the planning, goal-setting, and evaluating processes. These processes
are key to the cycle of continuous program improvement.
Careful selection of qualified mentors. Capable mentors are key
to successful mentoring. Education, experience, and performance are important
considerations in choosing mentors.
Specific processes to match mentors and protégés.
Processes will vary. Selecting and matching mentors and protégés
depend on the agency's goals, organizational structure, resources, and protégé
Mentor training and ongoing support. Individuals who are excellent
teachers may need assistance to work effectively with adults. Preservice
or orientation training is important for mentors prior to assuming their
new roles. Ongoing support for practicing mentors is also essential.
Mentoring content based on recognized early childhood teaching skills
and knowledge. Professional groups within the early childhood community
have identified core knowledge and skills that can be the focus of mentoring.
Content and strategies individualized to the needs of protégés.
Once core skills have been identified, mentors use a variety of assessment
strategies to tailor the specific content of the mentoring to the needs
of individual protégés. The most effective mentoring strategies
provide ongoing opportunities for mentor feedback and self-assessment and
promote reflective practice among protégés.
Agency commitment and support to the mentoring process. Agencies
must demonstrate commitment to mentoring by committing resourcesmoney,
staff, and timeto develop and sustain mentoring.
These principles form the framework for discussing mentoring
in this guide.
Features of This Guide
This guide has several features that contribute to its usefulness.
First, the chapters are divided into distinct topic areas. Agencies may read
the guide from start to finish or simply choose to explore those topics on which
they seek further information or guidance.
Second, throughout the text are examples of how mentoring is
being implemented in a variety of programs both in Head Start and in other agencies.
Sometimes, information is presented in tables so that agencies can compare how
different programs are implementing different aspects of mentoring. At other
times, information about programs is presented in short vignettes. Appendix
B contains an in-depth discussion of several mentoring programs, each with distinct
features, to provide agencies with information on different ways to implement
mentoring. Appendix C includes a chart that gives an overview of key mentoring
features in a variety of agencies.
Third, the guide provides a strategic planning tool, Take Stock,
to help agencies reflect on their programs and identify options they have in
implementing mentoring. Take Stock is in Appendix D. Using this tool is meant
to be a collaborative activity, so as agencies Take Stock, it is important for
them to work with teachers, supervisors, parents, and other stakeholders. In
addition, throughout the guide the following icon appears:
Take Stock! This ... presents questions that ask readers to Take Stock
of their programs and to think about various aspects of mentoring. An effective
mentoring program requires careful thought and planning and will be enhanced
by input from multiple perspectives.