Full Circle: From Mentee to Technology Mentor

Hi Frank,
LIT3 Works!
I saw Nancy had signed up for the computer lab all by herself! We made links to her website for the upcoming project, and she is taking her class tomorrow, WOW!

This is a copy of a recent Email from Elizabeth, a teacher of 27 years and a participant in the Linwood Integration of Technology Training for Teachers (LIT3) peer mentoring process. Possibly more interesting is the fact that, Nancy, her mentee, has been teaching for over 30 years. Together, they formed a mentoring relationship this past school year.

Four years ago we wanted to create a professional development environment that broke down common barriers of time while offering support and collegiality. After we gathered all stake holders andn developed vision and goals, we surveyed all teachers. We found that some of our barriers matched the review of the literature and some did not. Teachers wanted diversity of training opportunities and diversity of times for training.

We developed workshops using a combination of training of opportunities and times. We used large group, small group, online, onsite, and offsite training.

Benchmark Teachers

An essential component of LIT3 is a five-stage self-check list. This enabled us to benchmark all teachers. We can track progress, efficiency, and needs. Although all teachers were progressing along a continuum, we saw a need to accelerate the training of some teachers to allow them to use technology integration effectively in the classroom. That was when peer mentoring naturally evolved as a component of our LIT3 process. We looked at other models but unlike a lot of other technology mentoring connections, ours offered a one-to-one relationship, one mentor to one mentee. Other models offered one-to-three, one-to-fifteen, etc.

When we started the comprehensive LIT3 professional development process, Elizabeth attended both the required and optional components of the technology integration training. She saw early on how the students made quicker and better connections to the curriculum using this tool. However, at times she became frustrated when she experienced barriers in the classroom. Although her lessons were well-planned, they sometimes experienced technical difficulty.

Our initial ten-month research project concluded that using peer mentoring for training teachers to integrate technology in the classroom accelerated the training, broke down barriers, promoted collegiality, and motivated teachers to use technology more (Rudnesky 2004). In comparison to other forms of technology integration professional development, we found that peer mentoring was the most effective way to bridge the gap between the least proficient and the most proficient (Rudnesky 2004).

In our second year of peer mentoring, Elizabeth was a natural choice as a mentee. She had the desire, she was entering the third stage of the self-check list, and she wanted to learn more. Although she was progressing along the professional development continuum, we saw an opportunity to accelerate her training.

Establish A Relationship

This researcher approached Elizabeth to see if she was interested in a peer mentoring relationship. After hearing the requirements, she was allowed to choose her mentor. She chose John, an exemplary teacher known throughout the school district. Choosing her mentor from a viable pool permitted a high level of comfort from the beginning. This validated what we found in the original case study.

The collegiality and one-to one relationship eradicated the barrier of fear and prompted Elizabeth to contact John any time through Email, telephone, or in person. Since they were both in the same building, it was easy to have face-to-face meetings as needed.

The relationship also allowed Elizabeth to realize early success and thus to gain confidence. She had the opportunity to see John teach technology-integrated lessons, and she saw the positive reactions of his students. Elizabeth and John were able to set goals and brainstorm before any attempts were made in the classroom.

One example that this researcher observed was Elizabeth’s transformation of a Caribbean Islands unit. Previously, when the researcher observed this unit, he noticed more direct instruction and passive listening on the part of the students. Although the teacher and the students did a fine job, the information had parameters and did not allow the students to travel beyond the classroom.

This past school year when the researcher visited the classroom, all the students were engaged. As he entered room 403 he noticed students working in small groups with laptop computers. Students, as well as the teacher, were facilitators. One sixth grade boy asked the girl next to him about the proper method of inserting a picture into his multimedia presentation as his teacher, Elizabeth, was helping another group search the Internet for an appropriate flag of Jamaica.

Instead of passive listeners, the students were active participants in their learning. They were able to build on their interests as well as their past knowledge to form a constructivist environment. Students who wanted to move ahead or move to the right of a grading rubric were allowed to do so. So this lesson, through the Internet, took the students to places they would not normally have gone.

The end product of the research was a travel itinerary using a spreadsheet, a multimedia presentation to the class, and a digital postcard. This lesson integrated technology while satisfying curriculum standards in the areas of social studies, language arts, math, and art.

These types of lessons are also a character builder for Elizabeth’s students. She remains cognizant of copyright infringements as well as plagiarism. These are two areas that she uses as a prelude to her project-based technology integrated units.

Baby Steps

Last January, at a state wide technology conference, Elizabeth and her mentor, John presented to an audience of educators from the state of New Jersey. They used an analogy from the movie, What About Bob. In the movie, Richard Dreyfuss’ character, Dr. Marvin, is trying to cure a compulsive, Bob, played by Bill Murray. The premise is to take “baby steps” to overcome your fears. Small successes lead to larger accomplishments.

That is exactly how John approached his mentoring relationship with Elizabeth. They took “baby steps” to overcome the barriers to technology integration professional development and technology integration in the classroom. Elizabeth started by doing little bits well rather than a lot poorly. By building up her confidence, she overcame her apprehensions and became proficient. Her proficiency translated into quantum leaps for her students’ desire to learn and their achievement in authentic, project based, technology infused lessons (WOW!).

Full Circle

Because LIT3 was successful, it prompted the Linwood Public Schools and the Richard Stockton College to form a pilot, onsite cohort for a Masters of Art in Instructional Technology at one of our schools. The college agreed to pick up the additional class costs each year that were not picked up by the agreement between the board of education and the local education association. Originally, there were twenty-two teachers enrolled. Elizabeth was one of those students.

Elizabeth is unique in our research because she is the first teacher in our school district to go full-circle in the mentoring process of LIT3. After her mentoring relationship with John, her level of technology integration proficiency was greatly increased. She was ready to enter the pool of viable technology integration mentors. She was pleased when the researcher approached her to become a mentor.

Because she had just completed the mentoring process, Elizabeth possessed the fresh empathy of new mentees. Likewise, she knew the barriers of an experienced teacher learning new skills. She offered some unique insights as a mentor just as she did as a mentee.

Elizabeth ’s reflective journal as a mentor mirrored some of John’s insights. She writes, “I’ve learned as much about technology as a mentor as I did as a mentee..…It has been interesting going full circle in the process because you can give something back. It creates a balance in the circle.”

Mentee As Mentor

Nancy, a teacher of thirty years, was close to the pre-mentoring technology integration level of Elizabeth. Her room was retrofitted into a multimedia classroom through a grant for special education inclusion. Because she taught social studies, she had all students included in her class. Because Elizabeth was also a social studies teacher, a natural fit occurred between Nancy and her to begin a mentoring relationship.

Our original research determined that adult learning theory must be considered. Likewise, the individual learner must be considered when planning professional development. One of the questions we frequently get when we are presenters or facilitators to educators in other school districts is, “How do you get the teachers that have many years of experience to buy into technology integration?”

That’s a great question. Remember, great technology does not make a great teacher. Rather, it gives them a tool to work with. The most important thing to remember is that you must see situations from their (the teachers’) paradigm.

At the beginning of Elizabeth and Nancy’s relationship we found that at times, prior to the relationship, Nancy would forgo questions in workshops because she did not want other teachers to think she was incompetent. Peer mentoring offered the trust and collegiality that allowed Nancy to ask a question at any time without thinking it was trivial. Likewise, setting goals and taking “baby steps” allowed Nancy to achieve success and build confidence just as it did for Elizabeth. In her peer mentoring exit interview Nancy writes, “Because it (peer mentoring) was one-on-one, questions could be addressed immediately and without intimidation of a large group.”

An entry in Elizabeth’s reflective journal indicates early success. “We’re on a roll. We set up United Streaming Video account and we downloaded clips for Nancy.” “It is my feeling that (previously) Nancy saw how engaged the students were in the computer lab. She knew this was something that would help her students. She saw the constructivist approach to learning occur. I went over to the lab a couple of times and saw that everything was going well.”

When the researcher visited Nancy’s classroom during a time when they were in a computer laboratory, he found parallels to Elizabeth’s classroom, and he confirmed what she wrote in her journal. The students were engaged in a Webquest. They were able to facilitate the learning of other students while the teacher was circulating through the room to help. They were active participants rather than passive listeners.


It was easy to gather data in this study since the researcher was the building principal, and he could visit classrooms, interview participants, and talk to the students frequently. The success of the relationship was documented from a number of sources that enabled the researcher to triangulate the evidence. These sources included reflective journals, observations, interviews, and meetings.

The findings in the original case study were confirmed: These findings included: peer mentoring promotes collegiality, breaks down barriers, and motivates teachers to use technology. The technology integration skills of the mentee teacher were significantly increased. Compared to other teachers in the same school, at the same level, the gains of the mentee teacher were more than four times the average of other teachers (Rudnesky 2004).

Likewise, we documented that, under the proper conditions, a mentee can go “full circle” and become a mentor. Although much research has been completed on the mentees’ perspectives of a mentoring relationship, this research concluded some very important information about the mentors.

The mentors gain a valuable experience because digital technology integration must be constantly fine-tuned. A mentor has just as much to gain as a mentee. As a mentor, Elizabeth was able to fine-tune her teaching experiences while training and reflecting on Nancy’s increase in skills. Elizabeth’s technology integration skills in stages three, four, and five of the LIT3 Self-Check List increased by over fifty percent. This was triangulated by the researcher’s personal observations, Elizabeth’s reflective journal, and conversations.

For more information on our process visit Linwood Public Schools and click on technology.

Email:Frank Rudnesky

Rudnesky, F. (2004). Bridging the technology proficiency gap through peer mentoring. Retrieved November 1, 2004.