Mentoring in Head Start programs offers a number of advantages including training opportunities, career advancement, and the ability to exchange ideas with other master teachers. Human resources and senior staff can learn how to individualize personnel through training and development.
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 services–center-based, home-based, and family child care–to 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 their 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.
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.
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 program.