How to Respond: Dealing with Mentoring Dilemmas

Blog written by Jenna Monahan. 

One of the most difficult aspects of my job as the Mentor Facilitator for the largest middle school in Newton is dealing with issues that arise for new teachers, their mentors and their colleagues. The concerns vary from small, “I don’t have a phone”, to ones as daunting as, “He isn’t teaching what he is supposed to.” These types of scenarios generally play out at least once a day during the first 2 weeks of school and lessen as the year progresses. They come from new teachers advocating for needs, mentors trying to handle a difficult conversation, and colleagues unsure of how to address a concern since they aren’t “the mentor.” While these times can be frustrating and possibly tension filled, they are the moments where I see myself really getting to do “my job.” I have to ask myself, “How will I respond?”

Over the past 7 years I have refined my respond primarily from trial and error; there was a lot of error initially, along with words of wisdom gleaned from professional articles or workshops. This year I feel I really have a handle on how to deal with dilemmas. The flowchart of steps I take helps me reflect and determine what action is best:

  1. Listen
    1. Take notes depending on the complexity
    2. Be present in the moment
  2. Repeat/Summarize
    1. Make sure I am getting all the facts right
  3. Ask
    1. Ask probing questions to get the new teacher or mentor to reflect → bringing up their own ideas
  4. Delay
    1. Wait if more thoughtful reflection/action is required
  5. Respond
    1. Break down the response in the frame of “What I would do.”
    2. Present, if applicable, a similar issue in the past and how that played out.
  6. Determine Next Steps
    1. Establish Next Steps” → what will they do next to work towards a resolution?
      1. “Check in with me by ______ to let me know how it is going.”
      2. “How are you feeling about these next steps?” → end the conversation with an emotional check-in.

What is most hard about dilemmas is that they require difficult conversations, which are by nature, difficult. Over the years, I have learned that it is best to sit with the information rather than responding immediately. This allows for real listening, rather than half listening, half figuring out what to advise. If the mentor feels they need a response immediately, I usually give them next steps without giving them next steps. I might say, “So when you meet with _______ next period, let them know that you will address that concern by the end of the week.” This delaying tactic gives time to process and eventually respond in a more mindful way. If I routinely gave quick answers, it might give the impression that I have all the answers, that I am not taking their concern seriously or that the mentor should have thought about “it” more instead of coming to me. Above all else, it is important to remember that the purpose of the mentoring program in our school is to assist in the growth and empowerment of new teachers. If we keep this in mind when we are dealing with dilemmas that arise in our work, more than likely the way we deal with them will be successful.