Beyond the Book—The Mentor Teacher Program

As director of the John Hancock Child Care Center (JHCCC), I knew that the key to a quality early childhood program was to find, hire, and retain the finest teachers! I also knew that we had to provide unique, individual opportunities for their professional growth. The children would thrive if our teachers were motivated, inspired, excited, and passionate about their teaching.

And so, our Mentor Teacher Program was born! The following are some of the beyond-the-book “how we did it” details not found in Beginning to End….

From our Mentor Teacher Program mission statement:

  • To share, learn, and build bridges to enhance personal and professional development. 
    • To foster growth in leadership and peer coaching for skilled teachers.
    • To offer learning opportunities for protégés committed to expanding their knowledge and skills, and to refining their teaching.
    • To create a positive relationship between mentors and protégés so that both can build and reflect on their own practice.
  • To provide a career step for teachers at JHCCC.
  • To provide support for teachers new to the field of teaching.
  • To retain experienced and skilled teachers.
  • To improve the quality of care for children and families at JHCCC.

Mentoring is most successful when mentor and protégé are:

  • committed to reflecting honestly on teaching practice to improve the quality of early childhood care and education,
  • challenged by, and committed to the process of sharing and learning, and are
  • participating voluntarily, suitably matched, and provided with clear guidelines and expectations.

Our Mentor Teacher Program was designed to provide an opportunity for professional development for our teachers. It would bring teachers together from different teams so they could learn from one another. The program facilitated the matching of pairs of teachers as mentor and protégé, and enabled them through training to develop and sustain successful mentoring relationships. Mentoring included guiding, supporting, coaching, tutoring, counseling, problem-solving, and modeling, as methods.

A partnership was formed for a defined period of time between the mentor, a person who was more experienced in a particular field, and a protégé, the person seeking to gain more knowledge. A mentor and protégé were brought together with the help of written applications and interview data collected by the mentor teacher task force. Each partnership created a written agreement which defined their learning goals, how they would spend their time together, and guidelines for managing their relationship. They agreed to observe each other’s teaching, and to meet and exchange information relating to their professional development within a confidential relationship.

Development took place through:

  • Discussion: mentor and protégé discussed experiences, asked questions, provided feedback, and used each other as sounding boards for a wide variety of issues related to teaching.
  • Shared activities: mentor and protégé observed other programs, and attended workshops or conferences together.
  • Observation: mentor and protégé observed each other teaching and provided commentary and feedback.

And we found that the mentoring partnership had advantages over other kinds of staff development and training. The partnership was:

  • more personal,
  • tailored to individual needs,
  • responsive to the talents and abilities of all teacher levels,
  • a long-term commitment,
  • more easily integrated into a busy schedule, and
  • confidential.

The program helped bring people together who might not have met or formed relationships spontaneously. It also facilitated the formation of relationships across the common barriers of culture, gender, roles, and levels of experience. And it provided a better utilization of the wisdom and expertise of our organization. There was now a broad range of people to form partnerships for the exchange of skills and knowledge.

The Mentor Teacher Program was not:

  • a program for poor or marginal teachers,
  • a replacement for good management and supervision,
  • a substitute for excellent teaching practice, or
  • an attempt to replace spontaneous mentoring as it occurred.

The benefits of mentoring were many: 

  • Protégés gained first-hand knowledge from individuals who were experienced teachers and who had already achieved a level of competency in their profession. They worked on development issues in a very focused way by being coached, getting feedback, and solving problems. They understood the perspectives and thinking patterns of an experienced practitioner. And, protégés became better affiliated with a wider group of people.
  • Mentors used their accumulated wisdom, knowledge, and expertise to help others develop. They broadened their scope of contact beyond their peers. They learned the perspectives and critical life issues of others. They developed greater facility with coaching, tutoring, communicating, and feedback. And, they developed leadership and advocacy skills.

The qualifications and responsibilities of our mentors and protégés were few, but important. All participants were selected on the basis of their solid work and performance history. The best mentors and protégés would be those who had a keen desire to learn, share, and grow through personal contact. Mentors and protégés were required to keep certain time and training commitments. They spent one morning each week together and attended a weekly evening seminar from October through May.

Mentor qualifications:

  • a minimum of two years as an early childhood teacher,
  • a minimum of one year teaching in our program,
  • minimally, a lead teacher, and
  • a B.A. degree was desirable.

Protege qualifications: Any teacher was eligible to apply.

To apply for the Mentor Teacher Program:

  • Mentors:
    • Completed the written application.
    • Included with the application, two references from:
      • a supervisor and a colleague, or
      • a colleague and a parent, or
      • a parent and a supervisor.
    • Participated in the interview with the task force.
  • Protégés:
    • Completed the written application.
    • Participated in the interview with the task force.

The successful results of our mentor teacher program were many—a win-win for all of us! Results included:

  • A stronger sense of professionalism.
  • An increased rapport and camaraderie among teachers.
  • The opportunity for master teachers to be recognized.
  • An experience of positive change for mentors and protégés resulting in more effective teaching for both.
  • An increased awareness of possibilities for personal and professional growth in the field of early childhood care and education.

For more details on creating positive change for your organization, take a look at Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, available on

This entry was posted in Child Care, Early Childhood, Early Childhood Curriculum, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, John Hancock Child Care Center, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Quality Early Education and Care, Training for Early Childhood Directors, Training for Early Childhood Professionals. Bookmark the permalink.

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