In 2008, iNACOL published a briefing on the benefits of mentoring and coaching in the online platform, in which it noted “an effective mentoring program will benefit the mentee through development of knowledge and skills, the mentor through development of leadership and communication capabilities, and the school through the sharing of ideas and expertise.” The report examines eight schools that utilize some form of mentoring, either in the form of coaching, Just in Time training, one to one mentoring, or a more formal approach to mentoring, which incorporates benchmarks and collected data (NACOL, 2008). Mentoring, regardless of the model selected, provides new instructors the direct guidance of a veteran online instructor or administrative lead. The incorporation of the mentoring model also assists in teacher retention, school culture, and professional growth.
The Georgia Virtual School (GaVS) Mentoring Team, formed in the fall of 2013, evolved from the rapid growth within the program and a revamping of the teacher training model. Rather than completing one semester of student teaching and securing a “volunteer” mentor, Teacher Quality created the Mentoring Team to offer sustainable support to new instructors through one-on-one collaboration. Through the mentor/mentee pairing, new faculty have direct access to the best practices for instructional delivery, communicating with stakeholders, and facilitating course in the fast-paced online environment, which differs greatly from the traditional classroom setting.
The GaVS Mentor Model
The mentor designation remains a critical component of effective online instruction, and GaVS has worked diligently to implement a highly effective mentoring program, consisting of ten, highly qualified faculty members, who will guide and support the new faculty through their first two semesters of online teaching. Interested faculty apply for the mentoring position and are selected based on content knowledge, leadership, and performance, and a total of ten teachers from all academic areas serve on the team, led by the Teacher Training Specialist.
Mentoring commences immediately upon successful completion of the GaVS Orientation course and lasts for two semesters. This practice affords new instructors an opportunity to collaborate with a peer within their discipline, as well as establish a dialogue that continues throughout their first several semesters of instruction. At the start of the academic term, mentors send a welcome email and hold an Adobe Connect session to greet and offer support during the initial course set-up. Once the semester starts, mentors utilize a variety of mediums to correspond with their assigned mentees. In addition, the mentoring team completes informal observations, examining Homepages, Discussion, Grading Practices, and ePortfolio. Although new instructors interact with Department Coordinators and instructional leads, the GaVS Mentor is always the initial contact for questions concerning the facilitation of a course, curriculum, best practices, and school policy.
The GaVS Mentoring Team participates in Just in Time (JIT) sessions (weekly chats directed solely to the new instructors and a continued support and extension of the GaVS training) by fielding questions, presenting on relevant topics, and assisting the Teacher Quality Specialist with topics relevant to the new instructional cohort. The team also collaborates heavily with the Teacher Training Specialist on The Mentee Minute, a bi-monthly publication directed to the JIT cohort, but shared with the entire GaVS program to highlight best practices, promote upcoming Professional Development, and share strategies for effective instruction and evaluation, as well as provide a number of resources for exploration or future use.
The Role of the Mentor and the Mentee
Within the GaVS Mentoring Program, the mentors adhere to a specific set of expectations and responsibilities outlined by the Teacher Quality program, and the role of the Mentor and the Mentee converges on the following: relationship, relevance, review, and reflect.
GaVS Mentors develop a relationship with their assigned mentees through participation in JIT training, Edmodo groups, and daily correspondence, which examines progress and highlights areas of strength and weakness. The Mentor also serves as an invaluable link between the mentee, Department Coordinator, and/or Quality Assurance Specialist by proactively preparing the mentee for monthly classroom observations, establishing goals, sharing and collaborating on instructional materials, and providing examples of best practices.
GaVS Mentors provide realistic teaching experience for the mentee by serving as the primary contact for questions, concerns, and issues. The mentors offer leadership and guidance by discussing and sharing examples of GaVS policy, mission, and expectations, and they continuously offer sample communication with stakeholders, examples of authentic, student-centered feedback, discussion tips and facilitation, and differentiated learning activities. Through JIT training, The Mentee Minute, Edmodo, and mentor updates, the team relays weekly innovative tools and progressive resources, and they encourage continued professional growth by actively participating in Professional Development offerings, modeling collaborative practices, and establishing pre/post-observation conferences for continued growth.
GaVS Mentors survey the strengths of their assigned mentees by observing communication skills integrated into course updates, news items, bulletin board posts, and the communication log. The team monitors synchronous learning sessions, teacher-created instructional videos, written explanations in email, discussion feedback, and differentiated learning opportunities to not only provide rich commentary on performance, but also to showcase the innovative teaching styles and best practices of new GaVS faculty. Evaluation of student work, grading deadlines, and GaVS policy are monitored closely to verify that new instructors meet expectations and perform these duties in the most efficient manner possible.
GaVS Mentors model the significance of reflection throughout the mentor experience. Sharing time management skills and methods of facilitating several online courses efficiently remain a central part of the review process, and mentors relay their individual experiences freely with their mentees. The GaVS program continuously highlights the importance of reflection during professional development sessions, and the mentoring team emphasizes how surveying one’s teaching style, student performance, classroom environment, and instructional strategies promotes growth.
The Future of Mentoring
In the fall of 2015, Georgia Virtual School will release a Mentoring Course via the TOOL platform, and this open model experience will afford all teachers interested in mentoring an experience to obtain verification and the Mentor Badge.
The Mentoring Team represents Georgia Virtual School’s mission to support its faculty as they continue to provide opportunities for achievement across the student, teacher, and school level, and the program has been invaluable for new instructors, teacher retention, and integrating a more collaborative approach amongst all faculty.
Most of the Virtual School Leadership Alliance employ strong mentor programs in various models. Readers can find a useful publication from Michigan Virtual University, Mentor Fundamentals: A Guide for Mentoring Online Learners, on the Resource page of this website. The guide is intended to provide an understanding of the fundamental elements of mentoring or coaching students for success with online courses.
By Jane O’Brien, Teacher Training Specialist, Georgia Virtual Learning
NACOL. (2008). Online Teacher Support Programs: Mentoring and Coaching Models. Retrieved, March 12, 2015, from http://www.inacol.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/NACOL_OnlineTeacherSupportPrograms_2008\pdf