In this 4th installment of this blog series, we share contributions by alumni of the Curry School’s Mentor Teacher Training Program, funded by a grant through the Virginia Department of Education. The Curry School partners with local school divisions to deliver a graduate course at no cost to their highly recommended teachers. The course focuses on ambitious, evidence-based coaching and mentoring practices that facilitate high-quality teaching practice. While enrolled in the course, these mentors refine their practices while developing the skills of future teachers’ in their classrooms. In this post, mentor Karen Purnell shares her perspectives about the course and about the importance of facilitating trust.

For your reference, this link is the first in this Ambitious Instruction Blog: http://curry.virginia.edu/blog/2016/06/14/ambitious-instruction-teacher-preparation-at-curry/

In our spring course for mentor teachers, we wrestled with the idea of coaching and mentoring as ways of being. But how do we facilitate pre-service teachers’ evolving ways of being professional educators? What does it mean for our own ways of being mentors? These are difficult questions. Yet these are questions that I have been pondering throughout this course. A fundamental component in this process is building trust. This is key for transformational coaching: our goal is to facilitate transformation from pre-service to competent, independent professional.

To build trust, it is important to be a good listener. Upon reflection, I find that I am an impatient listener. As a natural born problem solver, I want to solve the problem and be done with it. Transformational coaching changes a person’s way of being. And to do that, the teacher needs to learn to be reflective of their practice. A mentor teacher should facilitate this through empathic listening. Professor Pam Tucker visited our class to engage us in an activity on empathic listening as teacher-leadership. It was very difficult at first to participate in the activity. As she prompted us to seek first to understand, diagnose before prescribing, and to avoid projecting our own home movies onto other people’s behaviors, she reminded us that the greatest need we all have is psychological survival and safety.

I really want to prescribe before I diagnose! It is so easy to give advice based on our own experiences. What I am learning, is that my experience is not the same as others, and frankly when another teacher is in the throes of a crisis, they do not want to hear about my experiences. They need someone to validate their experience and to empower them to respond meaningfully. To truly enact transformational change, it is important that we begin to recognize ways within ourselves to change.

Setting the example for pre-service teachers by building a culture of trust and reflection can help to develop these relations with students and increase student engagement. Teaching is not so much about doing, but about being. It is about being benevolent, honest, open, reliable and competent, to paraphrase Tschannen-Moran. These are the ways in which we build relations with not only other teachers, but also with our students. We explore language, nonverbal communication, and emotions, and how these affect relationships, performance and results.

Reflecting upon my leadership practice, I am learning to not be the number one problem solver. Instead, I guide my practicum students to take a step back and decide what changes need to be made and why. I find myself stopping and rephrasing questions. I am still an impatient listener, and I still want to solve all of their problems, but I am now finally realizing that for the change to be long lasting and effective it has to come from within. And that is what I truly believe it means to cultivate a particular way of being. In order to effectively facilitate pre-service teachers’ pedagogical and professional growth, I have to also be willing to transform my own behavior. Though that is often hard to do, it is making me become more reflective of my practice which in turn will benefit those I mentor.