Professional Development

Introduction to Mentor Coaching

Putting the Pro in Protégé

Mentoring is introduced as a model of guidance. Head Start and Early Head Start staff will find explanations of the mentoring relationship and its importance in their programs. This overview provides definitions and describes how to use the guide's unique features to optimize the learning experience.

The following is an excerpt from Putting the Pro in Protégé: A Guide to Mentoring in Head Start and Early Head Start.

Introduction to Mentor Coaching

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 Relationships

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:

graphic - mentoring 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 and program.

  • 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 Section 648A: Staff Qualifications and Development for the complete Head Start Act legislation on the definition and requirements of mentor teachers.

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 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 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 program.

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 needs.
  • 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 resources, money, staff, and time to 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.