• by Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • January 2010 •Dr. Abelardo Villarreal

Mentoring teachers in the classroom setting has become a major professional development strategy. The success of a mentoring activity is influenced by teachers’ ideas about students, their feelings of self efficacy, and their level of interest and commitment to make a difference in student achievement. These factors are challenges that a mentor must be prepared to address when visiting a classroom or holding a dialogue with teachers.

A key and effective mentoring activity is to lead a demonstration of proven practices, show how to engage all students, including English language learners, and to produce achievement results. Teachers who benefit most from a good mentor are those who are willing to learn by observing good teaching practices and by partnering with a mentor to become proficient in using effective teaching practices. These teachers are advocates, innovators and the avant-garde who hold student success as the measure of their success as teachers.

Somewhat disturbing are comments by a small number of teachers – the skeptics – who are convinced that their limited success in the classroom is due to the backgrounds of their students and students’ families. These teachers appear to have a self-serving interest and seek support for their belief that their students’ circumstance (family, community, income status) is responsible for lack of success. Mentors often are challenged to prove these skeptics incorrect. The purpose of this article is to share some thoughts about effective classroom demonstrations in classrooms with diverse student populations.

Building Trust Through Partnership

IDRA’s extensive experience has shown that a good mentoring relationship is based on mutual respect, trust and a valuing perspective that honors and builds upon assets that teachers bring to the classroom. Trust is built over time by setting a mutual goal of student success, where the teacher understands that the mentor is a partner who will recognize, reinforce and build upon the individual strengths of the teacher to improve teaching and learning in the classroom.

Conversely, good teachers display an openness to risk taking and trying out new ideas and a desire to make a difference in the achievement of all students. Mentored teachers understand that the role of an IDRA mentor, for example, is not evaluative. Rather, it is supportive and intended to help teachers become more effective with all of their students. In some cases, mentors might be asked by administrators for an evaluation of a teacher. In these cases, the mentor with integrity protects the mentor-teacher relationship by reinforcing their supportive role and their mutually-agreed upon goal of student success.

Demonstration Content: Effective Culturally-relevant Teaching Practices

Each demonstration provided by an IDRA mentor exemplifies a set of activities that must be evident in an effective classroom with a diverse student population. Participating teachers will observe a culturally-relevant classroom demonstration session, incorporating the following teaching practices and techniques.

  • Lecturing is minimized to no more than 25 percent of class time. Home assignments are  purposeful and directly related to reinforce or extend learning.
  • Inquiry and the discovery of concepts are prevalent and are the main teaching modes.  Labs are integrated as the major source for inquiry, and the scientific method for discovery and retention of knowledge is evident.
  • Students are constantly being challenged with opportunities to use higher-order thinking skills. Teaching is connected to practical life experiences. Teachers incorporate the use of relevant student cultural experiences to make these connections.
  • Retention of learning and new knowledge is less about memory of concepts and more about internalization and application of concepts through experience and inquiry.
  • Data-driven instruction is planned to address a variety of student needs. There is evidence of scaffolding and “chunking” instruction and learning activities into 10- to 15-minute blocks of meaningful, engaging learning episodes.
  • The teacher is constantly checking for understanding and application, re-teaching and extending concepts by challenging students. Differentiation and adjustments to the instruction are evident, planned, spontaneous and ongoing.
  • Discourse using academic content-specific language is promoted among students, modeled by the teacher and used throughout the day in other contexts.
  • Individual and group project-based learn-ing become the major teaching strategies that promote inquiry and discovery.
  • Multiple uses of technology to enhance and support teaching and learning are evident.
  • Teaching of language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) using English as a second language (ESL) techniques reinforces and extends the use of academic language.
  •  The teacher employs multi-sensory teaching techniques and frequently makes adjustments as needed to engage students and maintain interest, checking frequently for comprehension and offering ample opportunities to apply new learning to real world examples.

Phases of Classroom Demonstrations in Staff Development

A classroom demonstration by an IDRA mentor involves three major phases. During the first phase, IDRA obtains information on the topic and lesson to be taught on the day of the demonstration. With the host teacher and other participating teachers, the IDRA consultant collaboratively prepares a lesson plan that describes the roles of the consultant, host teacher and other participating teachers. The professional development focus areas that should be observed and evaluated are identified. The IDRA consultant meets with teachers through a Skype (interactive online) phone session. Teachers are asked to prepare students for the demonstration event.

Observing teachers are provided a form on which to assess and jot down those practices that they find useful and would like to implement, suggestions for improvement, and other questions or observations for use in follow-up discussions after the session.

In the second phase, the IDRA consultant begins the first 30 minutes of a 90-minute class by modeling effective practices, followed by a 30-minute co-teaching session with the host teacher. He or she will culminate the session with a 30-minute assessment and re-teaching activity.

In the last phase, after the demonstration, the host teacher and other participating teachers meet for about 30 minutes to reflect on what was observed. They determine how each teacher will apply the knowledge and personalize new teaching strategies learned in their own classrooms.

Effective mentoring strategies can be a powerful way of helping teachers to improve their effectiveness in the classroom, with all students, and particularly with English language learners.

Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., is director of IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2010 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.]