For aspiring educators, sustained fieldwork when combined with strong mentorship programs offer educators opportunities to meaningfully connect theory with practice and engage in hands-on learning alongside an experienced teacher.
In February, Learning Starts At Birth at Bank Street College released a new publication titled Cultivating Powerful Mentorship in Educator Credential Programs exploring Bank Street’s approach to mentorship through the Graduate School of Education’s residency programs. The report features an interview with faculty leadership on learnings from the implementation of the New York City District 13 Residency Program in Childhood General and Special Education and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Residency Program and includes resources for residents and mentors.
“Mentoring provides aspiring educators at all levels space to discover themselves as teachers and leaders and build crucial skills that will deepen their practice,” said Emily Sharrock, Associate Vice President, Bank Street Education Center, and co-author of the report. “We hope this publication will serve as a resource to inform practitioners and policymakers from the early childhood and K-12 fields about the benefits of investing in mentoring and guide administrators as they consider program components.”
To begin, the report introduces Bank Street’s approach to mentoring in residency programs—including information on systems for mentor-resident collaboration, mentor compensation, and mentor training—followed by an interview on program design and implementation with Graduate School faculty member Valentine Burr, Chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning; Cristian Solorza, Director of the TESOL and Bilingual/Dual Language Programs; and Jessica Wontropski, D13 Residency Program Administrator and Director of General and Special Education Programs.
The first section of the interview explores how Bank Street works to develop mentors to effectively support residents, noting that the opportunity to reflect and learn with other mentors is important in helping to refine practice throughout the residency year.
“We’re taking a developmental approach to how mentors grow into mentors,” said Wontropski as she reflected on the District 13 Program training mentors receive from Bank Street or school district staff throughout the year. “We wanted to dive into adult development but, in listening to mentors, we learned they wanted to know more about the partnership and what they should be doing to support their teacher residents.”
Faculty members also discussed supporting a resident’s professional development, emphasizing the connection between fieldwork, mentorship, and coursework.
“Research shows there are better outcomes for programs with field experiences that are deeply embedded into their coursework experiences versus programs for those that are treated separately,” said Burr about residency programs that provide a mentor, peer conference group, and faculty advisor. “The critical role of the faculty advisor is that they provide the physical bridge between the graduate program and the classroom. On the ground, the mentor is critical because that’s the day-to-day person that the student is learning from, but that person can’t provide the bridge. That’s why it is critical to have both voices in the mix.”
In response to a question about how mentorship and residency programs prepare resident teachers to lead their own classroom, Solorza said, “For residents, it’s such an incredible opportunity for them to understand the type of work they will get to do. Residencies help teachers learn how to have hard conversations, build relationships, and deal with complexities of schools and relationships with adults and students. Residents also develop the awareness of who they are within these relationships.”
The interview concludes with a discussion on sustainability and systems for successful residency programs and highlights the benefits for veteran teachers who serve as mentors. The authors also note the important role of partnership between higher education institutions and placement schools and districts, which can contribute to mentor recruitment and result in a pipeline of well-prepared educators.
Closing out the report, the authors share considerations for mentors in early childhood education apprenticeships, naming the importance of setting aside time for observation and reflective practice among apprentices who already serve as lead teachers, as well as training and professional development and compensation for mentors.
To share more about this work, Learning Starts At Birth will host a webinar on March 7 featuring a panel discussion with Burr, Solorza, and Wontropski. Register or learn more at bankstreet.edu/learning-starts-at-birth.