Four dimensions of missionary discipleship are applicable to teacher mentoring.
By Marianne Green
January marks a unique time in life and in the teaching year. It is a time of mid-year reflection while simultaneously a time of hopeful promise. Too often, January is also the time when new teachers discern whether to continue in the profession.
A recent study from the National Education Association notes, “Over 40 percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years” (“Research Spotlight on Recruitment and Retention”). This same study cites that these teachers often feel overwhelmed and lack emotional and professional support from their colleagues and administrators. In addressing this issue, the Alliance for Excellent Education considered three means “to curb turnover,” one of which is mentoring (“On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers”).
Most mentoring programs pair an experienced master level teacher with a protégé. This standard programming model does not consider that today’s teaching profession has transformed due to new and emerging technologies. Newer teachers may possess mastery level technological techniques that the more traditional master level teacher does not and vice versa. Taking this intergenerational shift into account, mentoring programs need to move from maintenance to mission-centered models.
Keeping in mind the spirit of Pope Francis’ address to bishops, mentors should “be shepherds, with the ‘odour of the sheep’, make it real, as shepherds among your flock” (Chrism Mass Homily). Mentors, therefore, should approach their protégés from a missionary disciple stance, one of sharing gifts and talents. This mutual sharing helps address the emotional and professional needs of both teachers and bolsters morale for the whole school community.
How can mission-centered mentoring work? The recent New Evangelization resource “Living as Missionary Disciples” by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis explores four dimensions of missionary discipleship, which are applicable to mentoring: encounter, accompany, community, and send.
- Encounter – Mentoring is relationship driven. We encounter each other like Jesus meeting the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Jesus listened to the disciples concerns and allowed them to express their emotions. Mentor relationships must do the same. In his 2014 TED talk entitled “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe,” Simon Sinek emphasized this same sentiment, “When people feel safe and protected by the leadership in the organization, the natural reaction is to trust and cooperate.” Mission-centered mentoring distinguishes itself as an assessment time where both teachers cooperate and set aside specific times to invest in one another’s professional growth.
- Accompany – Mentoring is a long-term commitment where teaching professionals discuss best practices, share instructional or classroom management challenges, or express emotional concerns. In his Edutopia article “Why New Teachers Need Mentors,” David Cutler points out, “New teachers must feel confident in expressing doubt or admitting mistakes to experienced teachers, without feeling embarrassment or repercussions.” Similarly, Jesus on the Road to Emmaus demonstrates this confidence when he instructs the disciples without reprimanding. He shares the Sacred Scriptures and accompanies them on their journey towards understanding. Mission-centered mentoring should do the same – focus on developing the teachers of tomorrow through on-going accompaniment.
- Community – Mentoring is developmental. Jeremy Knoll in his piece “We’re Not Supporting Each Other Enough” comments that teaching should be a time when colleagues “celebrate a great lesson, talk about being excited to teach a certain unit, and create positive stories” (WeAreTeachers.com). Comparing this developmental design to the Road to Emmaus, Jesus also does not force information onto the disciples- rather he assists their desire within their hearts to know the truth. Therefore, both mentor and protégé should possess an openness to mutual learning, to knowing the truth. In “Forgetting the Pecking Order at Work,” Margaret Heffernan emphasizes this communal spirit, “Now we need everybody, because it is only when we accept that everybody has value that we will liberate the energy and imagination and momentum we need to create the best beyond measure” (TEDWomen 2015). Mission-centered mentoring invites a deeper inquiry of professional goals and share in the spirit of collaboration thus benefiting the whole school community.
- Send – Mentoring leads to greater teacher retention and a desire to continue professional development. The Emmaus disciples, like the mentor and protégé, come to know and recognize one another’s gifts and strengths through Jesus’ breaking of the bread. This recognition speaks to the hearts of the teachers and improves the overall school morale, because the desire to then assist others increases. As Simon Sinek also notes, “if you get the environment right, every single one of us has the capacity to do remarkable things, and more importantly, others have that capacity too” (“Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe”). This recognition then motivates the teachers to share their experiences with others and to build a community based on trust and confidence.
Make this January a time of resolution for your school: one that reflects on current new teacher programming and resolve to build mission-centered mentoring fostering stronger relationships and retaining teachers.
- “28 March 2013: Chrism Mass | Francis.” W2.vatican.va. N. p., 2017. Web. Dec. 2017.
- “Research Spotlight On Recruitment And Retention.” NEA. N. p., 2017. Web. Dec. 2017.
- “On The Path To Equity: Improving The Effectiveness Of Beginning Teachers.” Alliance For Excellent Education. N. p., 2017. Web. Dec. 2017.
- “Living As Missionary Disciples.” usccb.org. N. p., 2017. Web. Dec. 2017.
- “Living As Missionary Disciples.” Catholic Apostolate Center. N. p., 2017. Web. Dec. 2017.
- “Professional Mentoring – Youtube.” YouTube. N. p., 2017. Web. Dec. 2017.
- Cutler, David. “Why New Teachers Need Mentors.” Edutopia. N. p., 2014. Web. Dec. 2017.
- Knoll, Jeremy. “Teachers, We’re Not Supporting Each Other Enough.” WeAreTeachers. N. p., 2017. Web. Dec. 2017.
- Heffernan, Margaret. “Forget The Pecking Order At Work.” Ted.com. N. p., 2017. Web. Dec. 2017.
Marianne Green has been educating Catholic students in K-12 schools for the past 16 years and has collaborated on programming with the Institute of the Incarnate Word’s mission in Hafnarfjöđur, Iceland. She currently works as an independent consultant for the Catholic Apostolate Center in Washington, DC. She strives to help students live their missionary calling through the Ignatian philosophy of “seeing God in all things.”