Mentor Tensions 1In our partner districts across the country, education leaders are successfully tapping into the expertise of their top teachers – extending their talents beyond one classroom and into many. Thousands of accomplished teachers have been carefully chosen and expertly trained to mentor new teachers, helping them become effective from the start, as part of a comprehensive induction program. These master teachers are embarking on one of the most exciting and challenging chapters of their careers.

Ellen Moir, our CEO, observes that “the best teacher mentors are often pulled kicking and screaming from their classrooms.” After all, as exemplary teachers, deeply committed to their students, what role could match the professional satisfaction and personal fulfillment they derive from being leaders of small, intimate classroom communities? That soul-satisfying work fills hearts and minds.

Not only that, the professional detour to mentoring involves risk, especially in an uncertain economy, when budgets are tight and cutbacks are common. Those choosing to become mentors have to trust that they will always have the opportunity to return to the classroom or explore other career pathways, perhaps into leadership roles.

Ultimately, mentors realize the opportunity to impact the profession on a broader scale by becoming teachers of teachers, is a unique leadership role. They often come to find that working in many classrooms fills the void of not having their own.

Through mentoring, exemplary teachers reaffirm themselves as lifelong learners when they choose this path to teacher leadership.

But initially, like the transition into any new leadership role, the transition from classroom teacher to mentor is not seamless.

Indeed, we’ve identified five common “tensions” that mentors experience when they assume their new role: building a new identity; developing trusting relationships; accelerating teacher development; mentoring in challenging contexts; and learning leadership skills.

I outline these below for all new mentors who are currently making this transition. Knowing them in advance and having the opportunity to reflect on them can help to you navigate your new role.

New mentors quickly realize that the role is more complex and challenging than they had anticipated, and the transition to being an “outsider” in the many schools they serve more difficult. In that first year, it is not uncommon for new mentors to feel a sense of loss and longing for the comfort of their own classroom, where they were confident about their ability to adapt to or handle just about any situation, solve problems, and skillfully position their students for success.

As mentors grow into their role, they confront and resolve the first four tensions in episodes that are identifiable and memorable. They find that the tensions are interconnected. Mentors’ new identity builds as they begin to perceive the value of their knowledge and expertise to novice teachers. A crisis for a beginning teacher is often a problem easily resolved for an experienced teacher. Trusting relationships result from building a new identity that positions a mentor not as a “know-it-all,” but as a respectful collaborator. These relationships mirror the deep and lasting connections of a classroom community, and mentors are often surprised at how invested they become in their teachers and their students. As a teacher is the “parent” of a classroom, the mentor is the “grandparent”! In Chicago, where high-needs schools often have high mobility rates, I have many times encountered students I know from my teachers’ classrooms in one part of the city at different schools the next year. How excited these “new kids” were to see a familiar face at their new school! Every last one took me up on my offer to deliver notes to their former teachers, a small but real affirmation of the lasting impact of their work.

By far, the deepest satisfaction from the mentoring role comes from seeing our beginning teachers growing as reflective, persistent and curious practitioners who demonstrate improvement week by week in service to their students.

The fifth tension, learning leadership skills, builds more stealthily, as a cumulative result of mentoring experiences in the other four tensions. Sustained mentor professional development helps mentors shift and broaden their perspective. They begin to develop a vision of good schools and good teaching, and become confident and intuitive about choosing the right supports at the right time for each new teacher’s developing practice.

By its nature, mentoring is a “quiet” leadership: reflective listener, coach, resource, advocate, problem-solver, collaborator, facilitator, assessor, teacher, and, always, learner. Because mentoring is highly collaborative, is often in retrospect that mentors are able to see the evidence of their leadership. Mentors sometimes do not recognize their influence until it reflects off their teachers -- as they present a lesson with authority and finesse, or come out of a difficult parent conference with an ally and not an adversary, or advocate for their students using data to make their case. These are moments when mentors are mindful of their leadership, and the power of their example and guidance.

Mentors are true change agents, developing the next generation of exemplary teachers, the very teachers who in the future might be enticed (or perhaps “pulled kicking and screaming”) from their classrooms by the opportunity to extend their influence on teaching and learning as mentors.


Career and Technical Education


Great article! It really resonated with me because I did experience a sense of loss the first few weeks in my new role. While I was not forced out of the classroom, the signs were all there that I should stretch my wings. I love my new role as a coach. I do have some angst about meeting people for the first time, but once I get over the initial meeting, I am all good. It is also nice to travel from school to school and see the good work the district is doing in Chicago. Sometimes its hard to appreciate that when you are in one classroom at one school.

Keep writing

A nice article to read at the

A nice article to read at the beginning of the year.

great read

great read


Mentoring is a process that should include diversity. This is something that I think is controversial and needed especially for preparing teachers of all racial backgrounds to teach in urban communities. Mentoring is something that should be voluntary and those chose to mentor must remember at one time they were new teachers. Also taking into consideration is the ability of mentors to influence new teachers in a positive way to enter the profession without stereotyping or forming bias against certain cultural groups because it hinder the opportunities of providing a quality education for students in urban communities.

Mentor Tensions

Mentoring other teachers is not only an opportunity to share best practices, but to enrich and revitalize our own vision with the input and fresh ideas of new teachers. Mentors should quietly inspire and guide others into a profession responsible for creating life long learners.

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