An Introduction to Mentoring
F ew professions are as vital, complex and demanding as the education and care of
young children. Whether it takes place in child care centers, family child care homes
or other settings, the daily work of early childhood educators makes a profound and
lasting difference for children, families and society as
a whole. High-quality early care and education (ECE)
Mentors and Coaches:
matters—and research has repeatedly shown that one
A Note on Terminology
of the most important ingredients of quality is the pres-
2 ence of well-prepared and well-rewarded teachers.
While the terms “mentoring” and “coaching” are often used
Yet as demanding as this work is, the expectations
interchangeably, there can be significant distinctions between
placed on early childhood educators 3 are growing.
these two roles. Mentors tend to focus on the development
Amid deepening scientific understanding of how criti-
of an individual teacher, and goals for the mentoring process
are typically agreed upon mutually between the mentor
cal a child’s earliest years are for brain development
and protégé—although mentoring relationships may differ,
and lifelong learning, 4 and mounting concern about
depending on the structure and intention of the particular
the academic achievement gap between children of
mentoring program. In contrast, coaches may work either
different backgrounds, our profession is increasingly
with individuals or with classroom teams as a group, and/or
viewed as the key to school readiness and continued
may have a set agenda for classroom improvement.
success for America’s young children. As a result,
there is a growing nationwide interest in enhancing
Often, however, the distinctions between mentoring and
quality in early care and education, with many fed-
coaching become blurred in practice. We therefore use the
eral, state and local initiatives focused on improving
terms “mentor” and “mentoring” for the sake of consistency
throughout this book, and provide concepts and activities
All of these developments, however, stand in stark
that are relevant for mentors, coaches and others in on-site
contrast with the persistent view among many that early
technical assistance and support roles. We also use the term
“protégé” for the person with whom a mentor works; other
care and education is not a skilled profession. Many
terms that are sometimes used in the field are “mentee,”
early educators continue to have limited access to edu-
“peer” or “apprentice.”
cation and training, with few opportunities for advance-
ment or economic reward. 5 Yet more and more, we are
For further reading on definitions, see Wesley & Buysse
seeing that we cannot guarantee high quality in this field
(2010) and NAEYC & NACCRRA (2011).
until we guarantee high-quality professional develop-
ment and support for ECE practitioners.
What is Mentoring?
Mentoring is increasingly seen as a key strategy for supporting teachers at any stage of
their careers, and for improving teacher practice. Mentoring is a relationship-based, adult
learning strategy intended to promote and support an individual’s awareness and refine-
ment of his or her professional learning process and teaching practices. 6 Mentoring pro-
2. Whitebook & Ryan, 2011; Kelley & Camilli, 2007; Burchinal, Cryer, Clifford, & Howes, 2002.
3. We use the terms ‘teacher’ or ‘educator’ to refer to practitioners in all types of ECE settings—including assistant teachers, head
teachers, and family child care providers. We also use feminine pronouns when discussing mentors and protégés, although we
recognize that a significant number of men work in this predominantly female profession.
4. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007.
5. Kagan, Kaurez, & Tarrant, 2008.
6. Wesley & Buysse, 2010.
SUPPORTING TEACHERS AS LEARNERS