I was cleaning a bookshelf in my office the other day and came across a set of the "Journal of Research in Music Education" from MENC (now known as the National Association for Music Education). I'm guessing I must have been getting this journal when I was writing my Master's thesis several years ago. As I flipped through the table of contents for each journal, one research article caught my interest: "Perceptions of Experienced Music Teachers Regarding Their Work as Music Mentors" by Colleen Conway and Al Holcomb (Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol 56/1, Spring 2008).
As I begin year 15 of teaching, I am mentoring our new MS/HS Choral Director. This person is not new to the profession - just new to our district and we are so excited that he is in our district. But this is the first time I am serving as an official "mentor". I have taken classes about being a mentor, but never had the occasion to serve in this capacity.
Some of the questions in the method of the research article caught my attention:
• What do you believe to be the characteristics of a good mentor?
• What do you think you have to offer as a mentor?
• What will help you to help your mentees?
Mentor programs are not new. I was a mentee in my first position in Iowa. Iowa Choral Directors Association was piloting a program that paired up new choral teachers with seasoned professionals. I had a great mentor - the only problem was she was in a different school district. It's hard to develop good communication between mentor/mentee when you rarely see each other.
When I came to my current district, we had a strong mentoring program. The problem this time was that due to a wave of retirements, there were four new music teachers in our mid-size urban district, and therefore, not enough music teacher mentors to go around. As the most experienced teacher of the four, I was assigned a mentor that was not a music teacher. He is an excellent teacher and has a great music background, but not a member of the music faculty. But at least we were in the same building, and I did not have that many questions at the time.
But now I think mentoring takes a village. Our district has seven music teachers, and besides our new hire, the rest of us have been there a decade or more. Having gone through some tough budget years, we lean on each other more than ever - team teaching, teaching in areas that people may not be as comfortable, etc. We have had to mentor each other through some new situations. And, even more importantly, we think about the K-12 music program before we think about our own programs. Everything we do affects each other and the program at large.
But what did the research article say? Some of the results said that:
• mentors need mentors (creating a community of practice - our department)
• time management (taking time can be hard, but essential to future success of program)
• observations are important (including mentees observing mentors)
• technology is a positive resource for mentors and mentees (we are working at getting our entire department active on Google Hangouts, too)
• a supportive, rather than evaluative role for the mentor is best
In the last few years, I have come to believe that having an impact beyond the walls of your classroom is essential in the growth of a teacher. Mentoring another teacher to discover and deliberately use that impact will be a new adventure.