A Message about Mentor Professional Learning


April 2, 2024 — Mentor teachers play a central and critical role in developing and guiding new teacher residents during their yearlong placements. This fact has become a significant focal point for the National Center for Teacher Residencies (NCTR) as we engage in a multi-year process to design a new approach to mentor professional learning and support.

Mentors are field-based teacher educators responsible for teacher residents’ learning. While serving as the teacher of record for all their pupils, they simultaneously host a teacher resident in their classroom, teaching them how to do a very complex job. Specifically, mentor teachers are called upon to model and instruct how to set up a learning environment, engage the curriculum, talk to and about students, address incidents, interact with families and the community, and navigate the socio-political environment of the school. To do so in ways that center equity, mentor teachers must also coach teacher residents to develop critical mindsets, language, habits, and skills for engaging culturally relevant pedagogy. Mentor teachers, therefore, must create a welcoming, empowering, reflective, and appropriately scaffolded adult learning environment with a gradual release of responsibilities. Finally, straddling the contexts of their school and expectations of the educator preparation provider, mentor teachers and teacher residents together navigate varied (and sometimes competing) course schedules and program requirements. In short, mentor teachers must demonstrate a long list of complex skills amidst the pressure of our nation’s urgent call for developing compassionate, skilled, justice-centered educators.

Considering the job description above, is it reasonable to expect a veteran educator to know how to do all these things instinctively and to be able to do so without ongoing support?

We think not. NCTR’s “Mentor Recruitment, Selection, and Support” lever (from NCTR’s Levers for Equitable Teacher Residencies) calls for intentional work to define and build these skills. Specifically, this lever encourages “articulating clear expectations of the mentor teacher role and providing ongoing mentor teacher support.” But what do we really want mentors to do and be? What support would help them to develop and deepen the complex and lengthy skillset listed above? What would this look like in a teacher residency program committed to disrupting historical educational inequities? We’ve heard from program leaders across NCTR who know what mentor teachers need more. Still, they are unsure how to design and build the capacity to provide meaningful professional learning that supports mentor teachers in developing essential skills.

Our goal is to address this need by developing, piloting, and codifying a new vision of mentor excellence and an accompanying mentor professional learning curriculum that aligns with NCTR’s Levers for Equitable Teacher Residencies that will be available to all teacher residency programs within NCTR’s Network by fall 2025.

With the support of a generous SEED grant, NCTR is collaborating with Teacher Development Network LLC and a broad range of NCTR Network program leaders on this ambitious multi-year project. Since beginning this work in fall 2022, we have developed two pieces foundational to this curriculum design. The first is a new vision of the beliefs, mindsets, and skills a mentor teacher needs to effectively support a teacher resident. The second is the identification of four promising practices facilitators can use to guide mentor professional learning within their unique context.

Download our report, Reimagining Mentor Professional Learning for Teacher Residency Programs, for details about these key pieces and more

Will you be attending the National Symposium for Educator Preparation, Policy, and Leadership? We invite you to attend our session at National Symposium (April 17-19, 2024), where you’ll hear from leadership at several of the teacher residency programs that NCTR supports and are already engaged in this work.

What’s next? We will continue designing, piloting, and codifying the curriculum in the coming year, and we would love to have more teacher residency programs involved. We will host a virtual session for NCTR Network members focused on sharing lessons from the pilot and drawing our community’s collective wisdom to continue refining our ideas.

In the fall, we will host a public-facing webinar on mentor professional learning to share our proposed curriculum and seek input.

We look forward to unveiling our full curriculum in fall 2025!

Emily Davis, Ph.D., Founder, Teacher Development Network LLC

Elizabeth Hearn, Director of Programs, NCTR