Supporting Teachers as Learners: A Guide for Mentors and Coaches in Early Care and Education (2013) by Marcy Whitebook, Dan Bellm, and Diana Schaack, Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.

July 2014

As a former primary teacher who taught literacy in kindergarten through second grade, I was often asked to mentor early childhood teachers.  What I did during that time was replicate what I was taught in mentor training.  This approach was the observation and conferencing model.  In this model, I would observe the teacher and then set a teacher behavior focus on which to concentrate.  The next time, I would observe the teacher and focus on this one behavior.  We would then meet together and discuss this particular focus.  I would come back again and then observe to determine another teacher behavior focus and repeat the cycle.  This model was a focused approach as opposed to a wide lens approach.  The concern with this approach is that by focusing on one behavior, other peripheral behaviors which may be a problem are given limited attention.  While the teacher behavior focus may be transitions, the peripheral distraction could be excessive student talking.

I wish I had this book when I was a budding mentor because the advice outlined is a survival guide for new mentors.  What I like about this book is that it provides guidance for both the mentor and the protégé or mentee. The authors discuss that mentors should be reflective about their skills sets and experience bases.  If the mentor does not have the expertise to fit the protégé’s needs, then the mentor should disclose these shortcomings and recommend another mentor or enter into an understanding that both will be learning at the same time in order to support the professional growth of both.  The book outlined a series of mentoring skills sets and an experiential continuum that spans from birth to age 3. An ideal mentor would use this continuum to determine his or her skills sets and alignment with the protégé. For example, some of the skills are promoting mathematical thinking, scientific thinking, literacy, or artistic experiences; teaching about culture and community; using play in the curriculum; supporting and extending children’s physical skills; supporting children’s social development; planning and integrating curriculum; and teaching children with special needs.  If the mentor reflects on his or her abilities and matches those with the protégé’s needs, then this would be an ideal fit.  Also, the protégé is provided a skills checklist in order to better assess his or her existing abilities and to determine the areas that are coachable.

The mentoring approach that I was most familiar with was the observation and conferencing model. Other approaches that the book emphasized were the modeling approach in which the mentor teaches a lesson in the protégé’s class to showcase instructional techniques that the protégé will eventually implement.  Another mentoring approach was reading and writing reflections.  In this approach, the mentor may ask the protégé to keep a journal capturing the highlights of the classroom or some of the low points.  The mentor and protégé would then discuss and problem solve, if necessary.  The mentor may assign a book to read and ask the protégé to keep a learning log chronicling those ideas that will be implemented in class.

I would encourage all members of the Early Childhood program to read this informative book because it sets the conditions for an ideal mentor/protégé relationship.  The book provides many helpful hints, anecdotes, testimonials, case studies, and copious checklists and continuums.  It should be a staple resource for anyone who is preparing teachers as leaders in Iowa’s tiered compensation model.  I enjoyed the book immensely because it enabled me to reflect on my own practices and what I would do differently if I was mentoring today.

Dr. Dwight C. Watson, Dean
College of Education
University of Northern Iowa