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Developing a confidential relationship

To engage mentor teachers productively, beginning teachers must expose their practices, problems and progress to mentor teachers. The degree of openness necessary for a highly productive relationship between mentors and beginning teachers requires both trust and confidentiality. Beginning teachers, already vulnerable as the newest members of the faculty, will be concerned about the possibility that information adverse to their careers will reach principals or other teachers.

It is imperative that neither the mentor nor beginning teacher engage in any matter related to the evaluation of the other. Mentoring is formative assistance built on a high level of trust, and the participants must be assured that confidence will not be betrayed. Beginning teachers must know that there is no penalty in the mentoring process and no negative consequences for being honest. There must be a “firewall” which insulates the mentor/beginning teacher relationship which must not be breached. Strict confidentiality is vital to the richness and meaningful experience which induction and mentoring can be for both the beginning teacher and mentor.

Mentor teachers can take a number of steps toward reassuring beginning teachers. Here are some examples:

  • Mentors could offer a reciprocal relationship in which they also expose their own practices, problems and progress. They could, for example, share their own experiences and feelings as a beginning teacher.
  • They could invite beginning teachers to observe them before they volunteer to observe beginning teachers. They could model how to “debrief” or reflect on the observation experience and talk about how to adjust practice to improve the learning experience.
  • Mentor teachers could discuss with beginning teachers very specifically how they will hold and share information. In general, confidentiality agreements probably will be that the mentor teachers will never share, in any circumstance, the information they get about the beginning teachers as a result of mentoring. However, there could be situations calling for exceptions, and these should be considered.
  • Communications between mentor and beginning teachers should be as positive as possible. Critiques should be framed in a positive and supportive manner, offering possible improvement strategies. The tone should be “It's not the end of the world; this information is confidential; and I know you can do it. How can I help?”
  • The mentor teacher should give continuously give the beginning teacher good reasons to be confident that she or he is sharing in whatever risks and benefits might flow from exposing practices, problems and progress.

In the presence of a trusting and confidential relationship, a highly productive working relationship between the beginning and mentor teacher can grow.