Research suggests that one third of those who enter the world of education leave within 3 years of service, citing lack of support as a primary reason for departure (Robbins, 1999). In the Jewish education world, evidence points to a high attrition rate for Jewish educators in both the day school (Ingall,2006) and congregational school setting (Flexner & Gold, 2003). The greatest cause of burnout comes not from simply having too much to do, but from being too long in a place of work without experiencing one’s own ongoing development (Kegan, 1994). One effective strategy to change the trend for both new and experienced educators is to encourage the veteran education directors to mentor the more novice educators.
Mentoring programs in general education have been important vehicles to support and retain novice educators and there is a great deal of literature that highlights the benefits of mentoring for the novice (Feiman-Nemser, 1998, 2001; Holloway, 2001). Fewer studies focus on the professional benefits for the mentor (Huling, 2001, Odell & Huling, 2000). This study supports the notion that being a mentor for more novice educators does in fact offer a number of significant benefits for the experienced veteran.
The Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA, 2008a) recently issued a study of mentoring in the “Making Jewish Education Work”, in which they mention only tangentially the benefits of the mentoring process for the mentor. They cite that the benefits might include: collegiality, respect as well as professional sharing and receiving of new ideas from their protégées. In an earlier volume entitled Touching the Future: Mentoring and the Jewish Professional, Zeldin and Lee (1995) offer valuable insight into the role of mentoring in a collection of essays which provides us with a thoughtful exploration of the impact of mentoring pre-service graduate students and novice Jewish educators. The mentor is portrayed as having a critical role in preparing future educational leaders, but the question of how the relationship benefits the mentor still begs for a deeper analysis.
Crow and Matthews (1998) claim that “a mentor is not only a teacher or coach who focuses primarily on the task and the results. Mentors focus on individuals and their development.They act as confidants willing to play the part of an adversary if needed, to listen and to question so protégés can broaden their own view” (p. 27). This definition offers us a level of teaching and learning that can occur on both sides of the mentoring relationship. Engaging in this relationship may require mentors to go beyond their comfort zone and challenge their own values and beliefs. Mentoring requires a level of reflection that leads to personal growth for mentors as well as novice educational directors (Rowley, 1999).
This article explores the impact that mentoring has had for a group of veteran educator mentors within the structure of a professional development program, entitled “The Leadership Institute”. Their experience in the institute involved a number of components including ongoing learning seminars with the fellows, monthly mentoring meetings, an action research project, and numerous mentor training workshops. For research purposes, it is not possible to isolate the effects of the various program components to determine which specific elements of the experience had the greatest impact. Zachary (2003) claims that “. . . mentoring has become a basic leadership competency” (p. 15) and this study affirms that the mentors in the Leadership Institute have, indeed, become more effective leaders in the Jewish community and developed new competencies as educators.