Mentoring: Customized Professional Support and Learning

  • Posted on: 29 January 2014
  • By: Tina McCoy

How often are key professionals thrown into their positions without the support they need to grow and flourish? Are these important individuals provided with professional learning that is sustained, collaborative and relevant?  There is an alternative to the 'good luck' approach to induction that is often the norm for professionals who hold unique roles within our school systems.

There's an elephant in the room.  Often the employees with the most unique and significant responsibilities have the least support and the most irrelevant professional learning opportunities.  We hire these educators and therapists, and then they 'hit the ground running'.  We expect them to 'step up the plate' and learn in a 'sink or swim' situation.  Is this an attempt to cram as many trite sayings as possible into one paragraph?  No! Rather, I'd like to point out that we are so accustomed to this problem, that we often accept it as normal; as something that we cannot change. This is not the case.

Mentoring is a realistic solution that can provide your new employees with the support, guidance and professional learning that they need to not only survive in their positions, but flourish in them. Regardless of their experience or skill level, everyone can benefit from customized professional learning and the support of a critical friend (someone who cares about the professional growth of the mentee and provides honest feedback in a safe environment).

Mentoring is rarely used for the people who may need it most.  Special education directors, preschool coordinators, LEA representatives, special education teachers, speech/language pathologists who work with students who use AAC devices...these people often have very few supports. Time is short, and most of their co-workers don't have the background or expertise to help these professionals increase their skills in the context of their current responsibilities. 

We all know that 'throwing people' in without support doesn't help our students or our school systems.  We try to offer professional development in the form of off-site workshops.  Unfortunately, traditional professional development often misses the mark.  It takes time away from professional duties without getting at the issues that are of real concern to our professionals. The generic information provided, even when it is of high quality, doesn't often translate into practice.

Mentoring is 1) sustained over time 2) collaborative (due to the mentee/mentor relationship) and 3) job-embedded.  These are the attributes of effective professional learning, as we know from the research base.  Invest wisely in the success of your important employees by providing mentoring as an alternative to less effective, traditional professional development. If you are interested in mentoring for your school system, call McCoy Educational Consulting, LLC at (603) 490-5874 or email Dr. McCoy at mccoyedcon@gmail.com.