Tips for Mentoring New Teachers Remotely

Andrew C. McMillan
Andrew C. McMillan
High school principal; Ed.D. in Educational Administration
Young teacher on a video call with a colleague.

Teaching is a calling. Those in our profession, when asked why they became teachers, will usually craft their response around a teacher, coach, or administrator who was influential during their own time as a student. New teachers to our profession face a myriad of challenges in the first several years. Challenges that are normally easily handled and grown from have been greatly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In schools around the country, new novice teachers are facing first year struggles while also balancing challenges that are impacting all educators, even the most seasoned veterans. Now, more than ever, encouraging and providing support to novice teachers is critical.

Challenges New Teachers Face Teaching Remotely

In the past 10 years, studies conducted of teachers leaving the profession found that many teachers left within the first five years of teaching. These studies highlight a number of reasons including low pay, intense stress brought on by standardized, high-stakes testing, and a general lack of respect by students, parents, and communities at large towards education.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, teachers have faced new challenges with teaching students both synchronously and asynchronously, while navigating various school re-opening plans that include face-to-face options and hybrid options. All of these challenges prove problematic to new teachers. For new teachers to the profession, the first year is all about building relationships amongst your colleagues and students and creating your identity as a teacher.

As teachers, our personality shines through in our classrooms. When teaching remotely, teachers lose the opportunity to build capacity in the physical structure. Furthermore, while teaching in the remote setting, new teachers lose access to the community structure a school building provides. Climate and culture events like school spirit weeks, homecoming festivities, pep rallies, and other events that are done throughout the year really allow new teachers to plug-in to becoming a fabric of the school. Although those activities can be done virtually, the intended effect still misses the mark a bit.

Strategies for Instruction and Feedback Using Technology

For new teachers, the ability to receive timely and helpful feedback is imperative, and teaching remotely can eliminate the option to have a veteran teacher physically sit in on a lesson or share those valuable moments of in-person conversation. However, due to well-timed advances in technology, feedback is still attainable in a virtual setting.

For new teachers, several strategies exist to receive feedback on instruction and classroom management items. First, schedule meetings together like you would in person. If your school uses some type of novice network or mentoring program for first year teachers, hold true to those meetings and keep the same times and days, albeit virtually. This routine can help establish consistency and provide an uplifting moment that new teachers can look forward to.

Secondly, utilize new resources through Google Meet and Zoom to hold individual conferences and check-ins to really create the same atmosphere as a meeting in person. This allows connections to be made and allows for real opportunities to decompress, reflect, and renew during challenging times. Using Google for Education, new and veteran teachers can utilize Google Classroom, which allows for veteran teachers to join a classroom set-up by a new teacher and participate in classes, help with content delivery, and give specific feedback on what the students are experiencing.

How to Collaborate Virtually

Much of the mentee/mentor interaction is based on observations, reflections, journaling, and other types of feedback from veteran teachers to new teachers. For many new teachers, justification and support are necessary when trying new things in the classroom. This support can be provided by the mentor teacher. In the virtual setting, this can prove difficult. However, there are ways to collaborate virtually.

First, new teachers can have their mentor join their classroom through Google Meet or Zoom to observe how content is being delivered, how student needs are being met and addressed, and provide feedback on real-time learning. Additionally, mentor teachers can record their exemplar lessons using tools like Screencastify, allowing new novice teachers to watch and dissect master lessons to gain insight on the tools that make veteran teachers so successful.

Moreover, using technology, master teachers in the same content area as novice teachers can oftentimes co-teach lessons in a virtual format. This not only benefits the new teacher but proves very beneficial to the students in the classroom, who are now exposed to more resources and experience with two teachers.

Connecting and Engaging with Students and Families

During the COVID-19 pandemic, disheartening stories have emerged chronicling students disappearing, not being able to be reached, and not completing work. For many schools around the country, the school building is so much more than an educational institution. For most, the schoolhouse represents a community resource center, a place where students and their parents can receive services, and in most communities, a centralized location of availability.

When the physical buildings closed, students and their families lost access to the many resources that schools provide outside of education. Continuing to connect with families and students during distance learning has proven very difficult. Combine this with a teacher who is new to the profession, and you have a recipe for disaster within the educational model.

Again, with the advances in technology, there are ways to make inroads and build partnerships with students and their families virtually. First and foremost, there are multiple free applications and services that teachers can use to communicate, including Remind Messaging and Google Voice, a tool that allows teachers to use a custom created number through Google to communicate with families and students without having to divulge their personal contact information. Both of these tools allow for discretion and anonymity, while creating ways to send communication to parents and students.

Although the educational delivery model may be virtual or a combination of in-person and virtual, many schools are finding ways to celebrate their students and families. Heartwarming stories across the educational landscape include instances of drive-through birthday celebrations for students, senior sports recognition nights, and other celebrations that build community in the virtual setting.

Teaching and educating our nation’s young people is a difficult process already, especially for those new to the profession. Combined with the challenges presented during the COVID-19 global pandemic, some teachers and educators are struggling with providing the necessary resources and opportunities for student education. The reality is there are new ways to make connections and mentor new teachers, even with the hurdles presented by COVID-19, thanks in part to the extensive advances in technology. Ultimately, our novice teachers to the profession need as much support as ever!

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