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Teachers mentoring teachers creates relationship, best practices in NV Schools

In the first seven months of teaching fifth grade science and literacy at Sumas Elementary, Rebecca Gibbons has had plenty to learn. And she’s had the help of veteran teacher Jessica Wilkinson to give her insight along the way.

The two represent part of a larger district program to have veteran teachers mentor new teachers.

“It has been a valuable support to have as a new teacher,” Gibbons says. “Being part of a good teacher mentorship program has given me opportunities to learn from others, feel part of the Nooksack community and has helped me and challenged me to take risks. Each person in Nooksack Valley Schools has been exceptionally encouraging to me as a new teacher. This is a reminder of how I should approach my own students as they learn all new things.”

The program has a few years of history in the district, but this is the first time Wilkinson has formally mentored another teacher, even if she’s been a teacher-leader in the district since 2013. Sumas principal Megan Vigre paired Wilkinson with Gibbons given the similar starts for the teacher, both teaching multiple subjects, grade levels and even teaching in a portable classroom in their first year. “So, in a sense, I was able to understand her role as a teacher this year and help navigate her through the journey of juggling many hats,” Wilkinson says.

Along the way, the two meet every week or two to discuss goals Gibbons has in working on her teaching, questions she might have about an upcoming lesson, concerns about specific students or help sifting through student data. Wilkinson also briefly observes her teaching and the two then discuss the interactions with students.

“My goal is to help teachers achieve their goals professionally, helping them see their strengths and work on areas of growth, relieve pressures of first-year teaching, be someone they can try new strategies with in a non-evaluative way and support student learning,” Wilkinson says.

Gibbons says she was excited about the opportunity for a mentor when she first heard about it and the mentor program was actually something she sought when looking a place to teach in her first year. In the last seven months she’s grown to really appreciate Wilkinson’s “willingness to help and openness to learn.” The two have collaborated to identify areas of teaching Gibbons can improve and right now her own goal of creating more student engagement has taken the focus.

“She has helped me discover some strategies that I am now learning to use effectively in my teaching practice,” Gibbons says. “This has been a benefit not only to me as I learn how to effectively meet my students’ needs, but it has also been a benefit to the students to take ownership of their own learning.”

As the year has progressed, the relationship has evolved beyond the formal meetings. The generosity of Wilkinson giving her time, Gibbons says, has allowed the young teacher to feel safe enough to reach out whenever she has needed help “Her attitude has encouraged me to take more risks and has helped me feel like a valuable part of the Nooksack Valley Schools community,” Gibbons says.

For Wilkinson, she enjoys working with young teachers eager and ready to learn, supporting them toward quicker growth. Along the way, she has learned how important it is to meet a teacher where they are in their craft and how critical it is to listen and then confirm she has heard them properly. Wilkinson says seeing student growth through the success of Gibbons’ teaching has proven the finest part of the effort.

“That truly is the best gain,” she says, “when students are growing and learning because of new things that you try.”