Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

Stepping toward Professional Development

During last week’s Teacher’s Day celebration here in China, I heard from some former students. Sometimes when communicating with old students, I feel a little sheepish that they had to sit through a course before I figured out how to teach it. Ten years from now, I’m likely to feel the same about my current students. Development is sometimes like a long and strenuous climb.

When we’re participating in reflection on our teaching, professional development, to a certain extent, may happen naturally. However, in the busyness of life and teaching, we may too easily get stuck in a rut. How can we purposefully take steps toward growth?

One meaningful way to step toward professional development is through a mentoring relationship. The word mentor may conjure up different meanings in the minds of each reader, so let’s clarify what it means.

A sermon I heard recently examined the conversation that culminated with “The Good Samaritan.”[1] As I listened, I noticed how the Master Teacher mentored his student (the expert in the law). He didn’t point out his faults or show him how to fix his problems. Instead, He answered his questions with questions (and a story). Only in the end did he offer advice: “Go and do the same.”

You may view mentors as observers who nitpick at your teaching, but their purpose is to support (rather than assess) your professional development in a variety of ways (not only observing). Mentors go alongside you on the journey toward excellence in the classroom. Since they’re usually farther down the path, they may at times lead, but they don’t dictate. In fact, like the Mentor of mentors did with the expert in the law, they may ask as many questions as they answer.

The “expert” asked his first question in order to test the Master Teacher and his second in order to justify himself. (As a fellow know-it-all, I can relate to his attitude.) Yet, the Mentor of mentors responded with patience, and I hear kindness in His tone. In fact, His most meaningful mentoring occurred in the context of genuine relationships. Difficult though His mentees were at times, He chose to call them friends and loved them to death.[2] Perhaps in an effort to imitate their Master, many of the mentors in training I’ve worked with are looking for a “genuine friendship” with teachers, a “relationship:

  • of mutual trust, admiration, and enjoyment of each other’s company
  • where an experienced practitioner comes alongside a teacher as a model and helper who edifies and offers wise advice in a way that is both caring and constructive
  • that moves beyond skill into perspective and purpose and may flow over into life
  • in which both mentor and mentee learn.”[3]

Over the next six weeks here on Master Teaching, we’ll be taking steps toward professional development. Here’s how you can participate:

1. First, identify and invite a mentor (or a peer mentor) to support your professional development during this semester. (See “Try it out” below.)

2. Then, the following six posts will take you and your mentor through steps to identify your starting point and progress toward where you need to be–perhaps by solving a classroom issue.

3. Another step you and your mentor could take is to participate in discussions here on Master Teaching. Each week, the questions in “What’s your perspective?” will open the floor. See this week’s questions, and then feel free to jump right in by adding a comment below.

[1]   Luke 10:25-37.
[2]   John 15:12-17.
[3]   Melissa K. Smith and Marilyn Lewis, Supporting the Professional Development of English Language Teachers: Facilitative Mentoring, (New York: Routledge, forthcoming).
[4]   This template is adapted from Supporting the Professional Development of English Language Teachers.

Further exploration

  • All of the posts in this professional development series draw from a forthcoming book:  Supporting the Professional Development of English Language Teachers: Facilitative Mentoring by Melissa K. Smith and Marilyn Lewis, (New York: Routledge). We’ll let you know here on Master Teaching when it’s available for purchase. (Both paper and e-versions will be published at the same time.)
  • On mentoring: “Toward Facilitative Mentoring and Catalytic Interventions,” by Melissa K. Smith and Marilyn Lewis, ELT Journal 69, no. 2 (2015).
  • On peer mentoring: “The Collaborative Development of Teacher Training Skills,” by Christopher Stillwell, ELT Journal 63, no. 4 (2009).

What’s your perspective?

We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.

  • Have you ever been mentored? How would you describe the experience? Was it positive or negative or possibly both? How?
  • How would you feel about being mentored through a genuine relationship like what’s described in this post?
  • What would you hope to gain from and give to a mentoring relationship?

Try it out

  1. Identify someone who could be your mentor, a teacher who is a few steps ahead of you on the path toward excellence in the classroom. Consider the potential for genuine relationship with them as well as their time and willingness to mentor. Explain what we’re doing here on Master Teaching, and then invite that person to be your mentor during this semester.
  2. You could also consider setting up a peer mentoring relationship where you and a colleague (or a small group of colleagues) agree to take turns filling the role of mentor for each other.
  3. Feel free to adapt the mentoring contract template[4] and use it to make your relationship “official.” You’ll be able to finish your contract (the mentoring plan) after the next two posts.
  4. Then, come back next week for step 2 in the process.

Post Author

Melissa K. Smith

Photo Credit: Sarah Beth Harmon

3 comments on “Stepping toward Professional Development

  1. Patrick
    September 20, 2017

    I read your post and it is good for me as I mentor. You’re absolutely right about how the Master mentored. It seemed He liked to ask questions. He knew the needs of the people who were asking questions, but I am sure He knew that asking questions and helping them see their need(s) was far better than just jumping in and “fixing” all the problems.


    • Melissa
      September 20, 2017

      I’ve certainly noticed that He doesn’t often just “fix” my problems (though sometimes I wish He would!). 🙂 I need to work on being a better asker of questions like Him. That’s an ongoing process for me, in teaching/mentoring and in life.


  2. english1981blog
    September 20, 2017

    I got really really great ideas from this post. Having a mentor at the workplace can bring a lot of improvement and development in one’s teaching. Though it is not easy to get someone ready to take care of someone else, it can be done by switching roles. As mentioned in the article, positive attitude and constructive approach are the key to success.


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This entry was posted on September 20, 2017 by in learning teaching, Melissa K. Smith, mentoring, professional development.



Photo Credit: Eric Fischer via Compfight cc
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