Trust and Relationship Building (Preview)

Part 1: Intro & Objective

Sometimes mentors come on too strong, sometimes not strong enough. So much depends on the dynamic between the mentor and the new teacher. So what’s a mentor to do?

Building trusting relationships is essential groundwork for mentoring.  This module addresses how to go about doing just that by providing mentors with practical strategies and activities to develop and maintain collegial relationships with new teachers.

After completing this lesson you will be able to:

  1. Examine who you are as a mentor
  1. Understand how to plan and conduct a “getting to know you” conversation
  1. Explore various ways to promote and enhance communication
  1. Understand the importance of matching verbal and nonverbal signals to avoid miscommunication

Part 2: Real World Case

Before watching this video you might want to ask yourself, who are you as a mentor?

  • What qualities do you have that will make you a good mentor?
  • What qualities might you need to overcome?

Next, watch the video. Can you tell what Marcia is doing right? What’s she doing wrong?

Now that you have watched the video, you probably have some feelings and opinions about the interaction between these two teachers.

Below are some questions to consider and discuss and even write down before talking to a colleague about them:

  • How does Joan respond to Marcia’s mentoring approach?
  • As a mentor, what do you think is your initial responsibility?
  • What are some qualities that you feel are essential for a mentor to possess?
  • What strategies would you offer Marcia to help her form a trusting mentoring relationship?
  • How would you support a teacher who becomes defensive when you give critical feedback?
  • How would you help a new teacher become more reflective by identifying areas of strength as well as areas that may need improvement?
  • If Marcia had to do it all over again, how should she approach Joan?

Marcia feels as if she is not connecting with her mentee Joan. During pre-planning, she immediately began helping Joan with organizing the classroom and planning lessons for the first week of school. During her first observation, she noticed Joan’s struggle with classroom management.

Marcia feels as if she is not connecting with her mentee Joan. During pre-planning, she immediately began helping Joan with organizing the classroom and planning lessons for the first week of school. During her first observation, she noticed Joan’s struggle with classroom management.

When they discussed the lesson during the post-planning conference, Joan felt that everything went extremely well. Marcia acknowledged her for a well-planned lesson, but when she tried to share some of her observation notes related to the students’ behavior, Joan became upset and defensive.

Marcia attempted to reassure her by sharing her past experience of being a new teacher and she even offered to model a lesson the next day. When she arrived the next day to conduct her model lesson, she noticed a “shift” in Joan’s demeanor. During her lesson, Joan graded papers rather than focusing her full attention on observing and note taking. Marcia wants to share how she is feeling about their relationship as well as Joan’s inattentiveness. She is concerned, however, that if she brings this to her attention, it will cause even more tension.

Part 3: Building Knowledge


Due to copyright law, several readings cannot be hosted on this site. However, we encourage you to ask for assistance locating materials from your library media specialist. Many library services are freely available to educators.

We’ve included these articles and reports. Some are about research on mentor relationships. Others tell about what it means to be a good mentor. Read the brief summary and download the pdf for the full article.

Do you have what it takes? Key qualities for effective mentoring

In his capacity as an advisor to school districts who are designing mentor-based, entry-year programs for new teachers, the author has learned much by carefully listening to mentor and beginning teachers and by systematically observing what seems to work, and not to work, in formal mentoring programs. As a result of these experiences, he has identified six basic, but essential qualities of the good mentor and the implications the qualities have for entry-year program design and mentor teacher training.

Rowley, J. (1999). The good mentor. Educational Leadership. 56(3), 20-22.

View Article

NOTE: Required reading

Trust Begins with a Conversation

The authors propose several ways new teacher mentors can establish rapport and begin building trust. They also provide a guideline for an effective “Getting to Know You” conversation.

Denmark, V. & Podsen, I. (2002) Promoting collaborative learning. Coaching and mentoring first year and student teachers (pp. 43-46). Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

NOTE: Purchase required.

View Article

NOTE: Required Reading

Teacher Socialization

In this article, Gratch discusses the socialization of beginning teachers and examines the relationship between beginning teachers and mentors. She also highlights a case study of one teacher who had an unsatisfactory mentoring relationship with her mentor during her first year of teaching.

Gratch, A. (1998). Beginning teacher and mentor relationships. Journal of Teacher Education. 49(3), 220–227.

NOTE: Requires subscription.

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Developing Mentoring Relationships: What the Research Says

Hawkey shares a review of the literature on the interactions between student teachers and mentors. She examines the roles and responsibilities of student teachers and mentors, the stages in student teacher development, and the stages in mentoring relationships.

Hawkey, K. (1997). Roles, responsibilities, and relationships in mentoring: A literature review and agenda for research. Journal of Teacher Education. 48(5), 325–335.

NOTE: Purchase required.

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What Mentors Know

This study examines what constitutes mentor knowledge, what guides mentors’ actions with teacher candidates and how their mentoring knowledge is shaped through their work with them. The authors interview and observe 17 mentor teachers from a large urban school district and their research reveal three key findings: mentors focus on which teacher candidates should become teachers, on how student learning is key, and on how mentors and teacher candidates view teaching as a collective responsibility.

Parker-Katz, M. & Bay, M. (2008). Conceptualizing mentor knowledge: Learning from the insiders. Teaching and Teacher Education. 24(5), 1259-1269.

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Tips for Building Strong Relationships

This article tells how strong professional relationships among teachers in schools not only enhances school climate but also enhances instructional practices. The article provides some real-life examples of how relationships can help or hinder instruction and offers advice to administrators for nurturing positive relationships among the faculty and staff.

Barth, R. (2006). Improving relationships within the schoolhouse. Educational Leadership, 63(6), 8-13.

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What Experts Say

See what the experts have to say about building trusting relationships.

Nancy Fichtman Dana, Ph.D.

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Nancy Fichtman Dana, Ph.D., wrote the book mentoring—literally! She’s author of The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Mentoring (2007) and several other books about teachers’ professional learning. She is a Professor at the University of Florida and studies teacher learning.

Nancy Fichtman Dana talks about essential qualities of an effective mentor. Next, she shares strategies for building a trusting relationship. You’ll also hear Nancy offer practical advice for supporting new teachers who may become defensive when critical feedback is shared.

John McIntyre, Ph.D.

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John McIntyre, Ph.D., is a Professor of teacher education at Southern Illinois University. Among other publications and books, he co-edited two yearbooks for the Association of Teacher Education. His research emphasizes the life-long development of teachers as professionals.

John McIntyre highlights ways mentors can build trust and establish rapport with beginning teachers.

Joyce King, Ph.D.

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Joyce King, Ph.D. knows a lot about how individual beliefs and values influence teaching practices. She gives some practical advice about how to make sure that stereotyping and biases don’t get in the way of good instruction. Dr. King is an expert in this area, having published many articles and books on culture and teaching.

Joyce King shares what mentors can do to directly address stereotypes and biases.

Steven Athanases, Ph.D.

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Steven Athanases, Ph.D., co-authored Mentors in the Making: Developing New Leaders for New Teachers with Betty Achinstein (another expert contributor to Dr. Athanases is a Professor at the University of California in Davis and conducts research on educational equity and teacher education.

Steven Athanasas highlights key qualities of new teacher mentors and shares his advice for mentors working with beginning teachers.

Elizabeth Wilkins, Ph.D.

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Elizabeth Wilkins, Ph.D., is a Professor at Northern Illinois University. Her research focuses on teacher induction and mentoring. She wrote the New Mentor Workbook (published by Kappa Delta Pi).

Elizabeth Wilkins shares her perspective on ways mentors can establish rapport and build trust with beginning teachers. Next, you’ll hear her perspective on ways to help beginning teachers become more reflective. Continue listening as Elizabeth explains how mentors can support beginning teachers who are resistant to critical feedback.

 Renee Clift, Ph.D.

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Renee Clift, Ph.D., conducts research on teachers’ development in their first years of teaching. She is an Associate Dean and Professor at the University of Arizona.

Renee Clift highlights key qualities that are essential to new teacher mentoring. She will also share her perspective on ways mentors can support beginning teachers who may become defensive or resistant to critical feedback.

Julie Rainer Dangel, Ph.D.

Julie Rainer Dangel, Ph.D., studies teacher development. She is a past-president of the Association for Constructivist Teaching and is a Professor at Georgia State University.

Julie Rainer Dangel shares her advice for helping to reduce new teacher fears and increase their teaching efficacy.


This demonstration video shows what a “Getting to Know You” conversation looks like. Check out the “Give it a Try!” section for an activity that helps you to try out your own conversation.

Getting To Know You

Begin your mentoring relationship with a “Getting to know you” conversation. Here’s what a good one looks like:

Give it a Try

ACTIVITY 1: Conducting a “Getting to Know You” Conversation with Beginning Teachers

Try out your own “getting to know you” conversation! Here are easy steps that you can follow as you get used to using this strategy to build trust with a new teacher.

Beginning the Conversation: Get a feel for your mentee’s experiences and insights. Let him/her talk about personal background and career aspirations. Get an overview of his/her preparation program and/or first few years of teaching experience. Jot down notes to help you remember specific points that you feel are important.Here are some questions that you might ask:

  • What experiences have you had with teachers and students? Describe your student teaching (or first year) experience. What did you learn?
  • Why do want to be a teacher? Tell me about your teacher preparation program. What other responsibilities, professionally or personally do you have?

Middle of the Conversation: Begin to focus on the task

  • What would you say are your teaching strengths? What teaching responsibilities are you concerned about? What ideas do you have to address these concerns?
  • Have you created your lesson plans? What can I do to help you during the first few weeks both with instructional needs and managing students?
  • What kind of support from me would you find helpful? How often would you like to meet so we can discuss your concerns and plan ahead?

End of Conversation: Share information about yourself

  • Tell mentee a little about yourself and why you agreed to be a mentor. Be positive and optimistic.
  • Describe your students and summarize your own teaching strengths and areas you are working on.
  • Set the stage for a team experience by collaboratively establishing a routine time for you both to share information, questions and concerns.
  • Talk about the purpose and goals of your school’s mentoring program.

Adapted from Denmark ,V. & Podsen, I. (2002) Promoting collaborative learning. Coaching and mentoring first year and student teachers (p. 45). Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

ACTIVITY 2: Understanding How Verbal Messages Can Be Miscommunicated

Verbal messages are often considered to be the most accurate part of a dialogue between two people. How can spoken words be misinterpreted? Yet individuals cannot be sure that the verbal messages they send are actually what is heard by the listener. Individuals in any relationship need to carefully check signals to be sure that what is said is what is heard by the other party. Ask two people to read the exchange between a novice teacher and a mentor while you listen. After you have “heard” the exchange, list the ways that the verbal message (words only) could be misinterpreted by the mentee.

Mentor: Hi Linda. I found it really interesting observing in your class today. I’m glad we can take some time to discuss what went on.

Mentee: Yeah, things didn’t go exactly as I had planned.

Mentor: Let’s talk about that. What did you plan and how did the actual lesson vary from your plan?

Mentee: My goal was to have the kids explore the various properties of paper by having them feel the paper, write on it, tear it, and soak it in water-and I had a whole bunch of different types of paper for them to use. I have wax paper, construction paper, cardboard, typing paper, notebook paper and paper towels.

Mentor: There was a lot for them to explore.

Mentee: Yeah-maybe too much. They were so busy doing the tearing and soaking that they didn’t write down any of their discoveries.

Mentor: I didn’t hear any of the directions you gave the students.

Mentee: Well, it was a discovery lesson. Mentor: Discovery? Hmmmm.

Mentee: We learned about teaching by discovery in my methods class last semester.

Mentor: Do you think a discovery lesson fit what you were trying to do?

Burke, K. (2002). The heart of mentoring: Trust and open communication. Mentoring guidebook level 1: Starting the journey, 2nd edition (pp. 33-34). Arlington Heights, IL: SkyLight Professional Development.

Part 4: Review and Reflect

Please answer the questions below. If you have difficulty, go back and review the lesson.

  • Part of your initial responsibility as a mentor is to establish rapport and start building trust. List some strategies you would employ to begin developing a positive mentor-mentee relationship.
  • What are some common communication barriers to successful interpersonal communication highlighted in the module?
  • During an unofficial observation, you notice a new teacher is struggling with classroom management. You kindly ask if you two can meet to discuss her management skills, but she insists that everything is fine. How can you help her understand your point of view and begin problem solving without causing her to become defensive?

Think back to your initial responses to the questions below.

  • After working through this lesson, do you still agree with your initial thoughts?
  • Has your perspective shifted in any way?  If so, what aspects of your responses would you change?
  • As a mentor, what do you think is your initial responsibility?
  • What are some qualities that you feel are essential for a mentor to possess?
  • How would you support a teacher who becomes defensive when you give critical feedback?
  • What strategies would you offer Marcia to help her form a trusting relationship with her mentee?
  • How would you help your mentee become more reflective?

Part 5: Glossary


Cooperative interaction among colleagues

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