3 Ways to Mentor from a Distance

COVID- 19 has put the world of education on hold for the foreseeable future. For students and educators to go from the everyday consistency and routine of school to a complete shutdown for multiple weeks, is an unknown path. The health and safety of our students, staff, and general public are paramount right now, however, as educators, our role is to provide normalcy for students. As schools formulate plans to respond to extended leaves, one priority cannot be forgotten: the continued growth of educators for continued success through mentoring. This is especially true for new teachers as these extended closures are piggybacking their first-ever experience in education.

When it comes to providing continuous learning opportunities for educators during extended closings, online meetings, and digital communication has become the norm. When we talk about mentoring, we think of two educators in a room, talking, planning, and collaborating. Unlike traditional mentoring, virtual mentoring relies heavily on digital tools that may be new to educational leaders and teachers. So what exactly does remote mentoring look like?

Mentorship is a process of developing and sustaining a mentor/mentee relationship; it’s a give and take collaboration for both parties. But how can the relationship continue to grow when neither the mentor or mentee has experience with remote learning for months at a time? A mentor may have the experience in the classroom and the content, but this knowledge must be maximized remotely if the relationship is going to continue to support a growth mindset.

The first strategy for remote mentoring is to create a safe environment to reestablish the relationship you’ve built thus far. To achieve this, you must pivot and focus back on what established the connection in the first place.

Start by having conversations as people with a shared experience before talking about digital learning plans. Put education secondary and start with casual, caring conversations. Get your mentee to talk about themselves and use that time to learn how they are feeling in the moment. They may be dealing with circumstances or hardships you do not know about. Once you initiated conversations about how they are feeling, you can shift to the educational side of the relationship.

You can start with questions like:

    • How would you describe being at home? Finding commonalities between your situations is vital to building a foundation during mentoring from a distance.
    • How do you want to communicate? It will be beneficial to start communication loops in a way that makes your mentee feel comfortable. Maybe they like digital meetings, or maybe phone calls are better. But whatever it is – find out.
    • What is a digital strength of yours? Asking this question will let you know what your mentee is confident using. You can use this/ese skill(s) later on as a motivator to have your mentee show others the skill, or even YOU as the mentor.
    • How do you want to grow during this time? This will help you start molding goals and actions to continue mentoring. It will give you an idea as to whether or not the mentee understands the purpose and magnitude of this unprecedented time.
    • What are you passionate about? Finding drive for a mentee will allow you as the mentor to find areas to establish motivators when the times get tough.

Once the relationship is reestablished, work on defining a consistent schedule. A schedule will provide routine and a sense of normalcy to a new educator’s life. It is essential to help establish a routine in times of uncertainty, so educators know what to expect every day. Who would have thought we’d ever need a “pandemic educational schedule,” but it’s our new reality. With the education world turned upside down, many of us do not have a set, daily routine and unfortunately “winging it” isn’t going to give us the consistency we need.

Many educators feel stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, and like they’re falling short of their goals right now. This is where you, as a mentor, can step in to assist in establishing a schedule. Carefully design a routine that works best for the educator. Be sure to take into account family, health, and financial circumstances. Designing and adhering to a personal daily routine is the path to productivity, happiness, and fulfilling potential. Here are some additional reasons why a routine is so essential:

  • Makes Us More Efficient: When we have a routine we follow each day, it reduces the number of decisions we have to make. Routines enable us to know what tasks we need to complete without having to contemplate, decide or think too much.
  • Reduces Our Need to Plan: When we carefully design a set routine to follow, it eliminates the need to plan our activities every morning and budget and allocate our precious time.
  • Creates Structure in Our Lives: A daily routine provides structure and a logical sequence in our lives. This time out of school is rooted in uncertainty. Having a routine provides the framework within which we can live our lives and conduct our daily activities.
  • Helps Us Become More Proficient: When you have a routine, you start to become better at doing certain things because you do them more regularly.
  • Prioritization: The beauty of designing a set routine is that it forces us to prioritize and decide what is important to us. Rather than making these decisions daily, with virtual meetings and lessons – we have to prioritize to stay efficient.
  • Reduces Procrastination: When a set of tasks and activities become routine, it reduces the chance that we will procrastinate doing them. When we are home and have the draw of Netflix and movies, it can be hard to achieve goals. A routine will allow you to set goals and achieve them.

Having a routine helps reduce stress and aids in relaxation. There will always be things during this time that are beyond our control, and we need to accept that. However, there is so much that we can control, especially if we follow a routine. When we design and stick to a routine, it eliminates a lot of stress because we do not have to think and worry about what needs to get done. When there is routine, there are results. As a mentor, your role is to maximize the results of your mentee.

So you have reestablished a relationship and created a routine. Now you must work to shift the mindset of your mentee from “I hope I can be successful as a remote teacher” to “I am going to be successful as a remote teacher.”

Hope is not a strategy. As a mentor, set a time to establish clearly defined goals and turn the hope of success into achievement. Without expectations, educators may find it difficult to understand where they’re supposed to go or what they’re supposed to do during remote learning. Your goal as a mentor is to support and grow a new educator, no matter the situation. Just because you are not in the building does not lessen the need for expectations. A big part of growing a new educator is setting expectations for them, and making those expectations professional rather than personal. Remote learning is new for both of you, have a virtual meeting to discuss expectations, the role of education during this time, and the role of your mentorship while out of school. Setting expectations allows a mentor and mentee to find alignment on performance, communication, and the structure of their virtual relationship. It is not a one-way street. Both the mentor and mentee will have expectations. Both members of this relationship have roles and responsibilities as well as accountabilities. Clarifying them will aid in success during an unsettled time. Set honest, reachable goals. In uncharted times we don’t have a baseline for goals. Push your mentee to perform at the same level they wanted to reach while they were in school. These goals will help your mentee stay motivated and make the necessary changes to show progress. Teachers are pulled in many directions during remote learning, so setting a few (not more than three) goals will help them focus on what’s important—and keep them from feeling so overwhelmed.

New teachers come into the profession with a high level of excitement and hope. That excitement is easily dashed with the realization of a school year potentially cut short and not seeing students for months; their first year in education is in disarray. Without direction, hope can just be wishful thinking. This is where a Modern Mentor can guide a new teacher in turning ideas into action with clear expectations and goals.

All mentees are different. They have different goals, needs, desires, and resources. This is why it’s important to continue mentoring, even in a remote setting. Your role as a mentor does not diminish because we are not in school. Reestablish a relationship, set a routine, and then develop expectations. Today is a brand new day, and it is never too late to reestablish the mentoring partnership you were so eager to engage in back in the fall. Re-engage and be there for your mentee. You got this.

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