• Adela Solís, Ph.D.  • IDRA Newsletter • November- December 2009 •

Dr. Adela SolisA word commonly associated with the beginning teacher is struggle. That’s because many teachers begin their careers struggling. The optimism and excitement typical of new professionals also is there, of course, but these feelings seem to dissipate faster in new teachers.

What is more common to see in the first day and first year of teaching is much anxiety and confusion (Wong & Wong, 2009) with little help in learning the ropes of teaching, which causes many to change schools or leave within the first four years (Baldacci & Moore Johnson, 2006). The mentoring and coaching provided to novice teachers in the early stages of their careers is critical to promoting teacher excellence, retention and student success.

Being a new teacher means being concerned, from day one, with testing and accountability, with teaching a learner-centered curriculum and, most importantly, with getting to know children and parents who in most parts of the country come from diverse culture and language backgrounds.

Throughout the year, many new teachers ask these questions: How do I build relationships with my students and my colleagues? If I teach to the test can I really reach all of my students? What if they don’t speak English?

Being a mentor teacher, then, requires that the specific needs of new teachers be addressed thoroughly through strategies informed by national research, state guidelines and insights from fellow mentors. The mentoring suggestions in this article come precisely from these sources. They are incorporated into the mentoring for success training strategies employed by the IDRA professional development team that trains mentor teachers via its Coaching and Mentoring for Novice Teacher Model.

Mentoring for Success Principles

Research on what works in schools informs the professional practice of mentoring and teaching. Several principles derived from the literature guide our work in preparing mentors to help beginning teachers succeed:

  • Peer mentoring and coaching by experienced teachers is a powerful way to support beginning teachers (New Teacher Center, 2008; Kortman & Honaker, 2004).
  • An experienced teacher does not necessarily make a good mentor (Daresh, 2003; New Teacher Center, 2008).
  • The heart of mentoring is providing instructional support in the classroom (ASSIST Beginning Teachers, 2006a).
  • The culture and belief system of the classroom and the school as a whole play an important role on the level of teacher success with diverse children (Villarreal, 2009).
  • Highly qualified teachers teach all students to high standards (TEA, 2002).
  • Teachers in diverse classrooms can teach for student success when they are empowered to become highly qualified culturally proficient teachers (Lindsey, et al., 2007; Michigan State University, 2007).

Principles in Practice

Putting mentoring principles into practice involves taking strategic steps to ensure that mentors satisfy the new teacher’s needs and as well as state expectations and pedagogical requirements. A mentor asking, How can I be there for the new teacher on his or her first day and first year?, can follow these selected important suggestions to put into practice strategies for mentoring success.

1. Be the Right Mentor
Mentoring for success must include a set of procedures for mentor selection (by the school), but it is even more essential that prospective mentors reflect on why they want to be mentors. Questions a teacher should ask before agreeing to be a mentor include: Should I be a mentor? What can I offer a beginning teacher? How can I be responsive to a beginning teacher’s needs? How can I work with beginning teachers to foster their professional growth?

An important next step for new mentors is to assess the mentoring expectations set by the school or school district. Some desired characteristics for mentors in Texas classrooms are described in the Texas Beginning Educator Support System (TxBESS) and include the following: (a) having a wide repertoire of experiences and skills; (b) having the ability to provide different types of mentoring and support activities that are based on what new teachers want and need; and (c) being willing to participate in appropriate and rigorous training (Texas SBEC, 2005). A good source for more ideas on being the right mentor can be found at http://www.assist.educ.msu.edu/ASSIST.

2. Address the Beginning Teacher Teaching Standards
A well-designed mentoring program promotes teaching excellence and in turn meets local and state teaching standards. To provide on-target mentoring and support, a mentor should be familiar with and use the teaching standards or expectations for new teachers.

In Texas, the standards are called the TxBESS Framework (Texas SBEC, 2005). This framework provides parameters for mentors to guide new teachers to plan and deliver instruction that is learner-centered in an environment that promotes excellence and equity.

3. Focus on What Beginning Teachers Need, Want and Value
When new teachers feel valued and fulfilled and their students are successful, teachers will excel and want to stay. An important role of the mentor teacher is to assess the needs of the new teacher in a timely and responsive manner. This initial assessment should keep in mind an important rule of thumb: if the new teacher says something is a need, then it is a need. For the sake of first-day survival, it is important for the mentor to listen and honor the requests of the new teacher. Later, the mentor may use his or her own expertise and insight to discern needs (Moir, 2004). For example, at mid-year, the new teacher may say that he’s still struggling with discipline, when in reality creativity in lesson delivery is the underlying issue.

Discovering what new teachers need requires more than listening though. To build success throughout the first year, assessment must be systematic and integrated as much as possible with mentoring and coaching activities. The mentor can begin with a framework that organizes mentoring into three types: emotional, technical and instructional (ASSIST Beginning Teachers, 2006b; Wong & Wong 2009).

Integrated mentoring and assessment may look like this: A mentor visits to help with classroom management and concurrently gives technical support in record-keeping and showing how the technology works. During a meeting to discuss a lesson, emotional support is provided by assuring the new teacher that students do like her and that she will be an important member of the grade level team. As the survival phases passes, the mentor can move into mentoring for instruction because instruction is a heart of mentoring and coaching. Many suggestions for addressing what diverse new teachers, need, want and value can be accessed online at http://teachers.net and http://teachers.net/gazette/wordpress/october-2009/.

Some tools that yield accurate assessments include: (a) interviewing the new teacher during the first mentor-mentee session; (b) observing teaching during an unplanned classroom visit; (c) analyzing videos or audio recordings of teaching; (d) examining the classroom setting to see how it is organized; and (e) taking notes of student feedback and reaction during lessons (Solís, 2007a).

4. Adopt a Valuing Perspective to Mentoring
Mentors who acknowledge the principle that new teachers will excel and want to stay teaching when they feel valued and fulfilled can and should easily adopt a valuing perspective to mentoring. What does valuing mean? IDRA’s work, whether with students, families or teachers, is grounded in a set of valuing assumptions. The intent is to champion and speak for the inclusive and nondiscriminatory idea that all students are inherently good and worthy of being treated with respect, dignity and value (Montemayor & Romero, 2000). IDRA’s Aurelio Montemayor describes the IDRA Valuing Assumptions further in Episode 11 of the Classnotes podcast (www.idra.org/resource_center_categories/classnotes-podcast/).

IDRA’s professional development, including the mentoring and coaching conducted in many schools, is guided by this valuing philosophy. It is expressed like this: During professional development, trainers and mentors: (a) respect the knowledge and skills of all teachers; (b) treat teachers as partners and adult learners; and (c) identify teachers’ assets and build on their strengths. Mentors of new teachers committed to a valuing perspective to mentoring can write and post in their room a statement like this: “I commit to Maggie (new teacher) that I will be a critical friend and will listen as much as I talk, and, further, that my advice will always be prefaced with statements of the great things I see her do.”

5. Follow a Culturally Responsive Mentoring and Coaching Plan
An effective mentor knows that the path to student success for the new teacher is through a rigorous and relevant instructional approach. Rigor is promoted when the mentor uses coaching. Coaching is a collegial act. It is about having an advocate and a partner who can stimulate curiosity, facilitate learning and support specific needs (Peddy, 1998).

Relevance is accomplished when instruction embraces the diverse characteristics (needs, interests and values) of all students (Solís, 2009a; Villarreal, 2009). One particular coaching approach, Culturally Proficient Coaching (Lindsey, et al., 2007), provides a framework for mentoring that can accomplish the goal of rigorous-relevant instruction. It brings together a set of strategies from two models (see Solís, 2009b). One is Cultural Proficiency for School Leaders (described in Lindsey, 2007), which incorporates strategies for valuing, respecting and honoring diverse backgrounds while looking deeply at one’s own beliefs. The other is Cognitive Coaching (Costa and Garmston, 2009), which involves the use of self-directed learning and mediated thinking strategies to build the new teachers’ critical thinking and teaching skills. The desired end result of cultural proficiency in this model is for the mentor and new teacher alike to move in a positive direction along a cultural proficiency continuum that includes these levels: destructiveness, incapacity, blindness, pre-competence, competence and proficiency (Lindsey, et al., 2007).

A mentor’s cultural proficiency coaching action plan to help a new teacher deal with sensitive diversity situations (as expressed in this statement: “I can’t stand the sound of Spanish in my classroom”) may do the following: (1) Use the basic structure of cognitive coaching: reflecting, planning and problem-solving; and (2) During conference or classroom observations, the mentor looks through a cultural proficiency lens using five steps of the cultural proficiency action plan. (For a complete description of the action plan, see Lindsey, et al., 2007.)

Five Steps of the Action Plan for Cultural Proficiency

  • Anticipate and be conscious of own emotional state and that of person being coached.
  • Listen and look for verbal and nonverbal responses that elucidate cultural issues or content important to the person being coached.
  • Respond thoughtfully using coaching skills, such as: pausing to allow thinking time, paraphrasing what is being said and inviting thinking through probing to get specifics of the situation.
  • Monitor conversation for zone of opportunity (to shift thinking towards equity) by listening for level of awareness of culturally competent behavior and posing questions to prompt flexibility and new perspectives, and assessing your level of cultural competence.
  • Determine your intention and choose appropriate actions: continuing the conversation as a coach, or offer support and resources as a consultant.

Source: Culturally Proficient Coaching:Supporting Educators to Create Equitable Schools by Lindsey, Martinez and Lindsey (2007) pp 151-152.


The desired outcome for sharing the mentoring for success strategies in this article is to empower mentor teachers to transform the struggling new teacher into a competent, highly qualified, culturally proficient teacher. By putting the key principle-driven practices into action, it becomes possible to materialize the optimism and excitement that new teachers bring to school on the first day and during the critical first year. By eliminating uncertainty and anxiety and giving new teachers the right tools to succeed, it will be more likely that they will feel valued, fulfilled and willing to make teaching a life-long career, even in the most challenging classrooms.

The mentoring for success strategies described in this article are part of a larger repertoire of tools and techniques for training mentor of beginning teachers. IDRA’s Coaching and Mentoring for Novice Teachers model is the framework for mentor training tailored to district needs. The Mentor as a Culturally Proficient Coach and Summer Institutes for First Year Mentors are two focused (long-term) training programs available for districts upon request.


ASSIST Beginning Teachers. Organizing Induction: Teacher Mentors, web page (Michigan State University, 2006). http://assist.educ.msu.edu/ASSIST/school/mentor/indexmentor.htm

ASSIST Beginning Teachers. What Can I Offer the Beginning Teacher, web page (Michigan State University, 2006).

Baldacci, L., and S. Moore Johnson. “Why New Teachers Leave… Why New Teachers Stay,” American Educator (Washington, D.C.: American Federation of Teachers, February 2006).

Costa, A., and R.J. Garmston. Overview of Cognitive  Coaching Center for Cognitive Coaching, web page (Highlands Ranch, N.J.: Center for Cognitive Coaching, 2009).

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Solís, A. “The Teacher as a Culturally Proficient Coach,” IDRA Classnotes Podcast, Episode 58 (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 18, 2009).

Solís, A. “Culturally Responsive Mentoring and Coaching: An Overview,” Mentors as Culturally Proficient Training Handbook (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2009).

Solís, A. “Discovering New Teacher Needs” (handout), in Coaching and Mentoring Novice Teachers Regional Training Handbook (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2007).

Solís, A. “IDRA Valuing Approach to Professional Development” (reading), in Coaching and Mentoring Novice Teachers Regional Training Handbook (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2007).

Texas Education Agency. Professional Development and Appraisal System: Teacher Manual (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, 2005).

Texas Education Agency. No Child Left Behind Public Law 110-107: Goal 1, brochure (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, Fall 2002).

Texas State Board of Educator Certification. Texas Beginning Educator Support System, TxBESS Framework (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, 2005).

Villarreal, A. “Ten Principles that Guide the Development of an Effective Educational Plan for English Language Learners at the Secondary Level – Part II,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2009).

Wong, H., and R. Wong. The First Days of School: How to Be An Effective Teacher (Mountain View, Calif.: Wong Publications, 2009).

Adela Solís, Ph.D., is a senior education associate in IDRA’s Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2009, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November- December 2009 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]