Mentoring Teachers of English Learners in an Online Community of Practice

Mentoring Teachers of English Learners in an Online Community of Practice

Karla del Rosal (Department of Teaching and Learning, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX, USA), Paige Ware (Department of Teaching and Learning, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX, USA) and Nancy Montgomery (Department of Teaching and Learning, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJCALLT.2016070101


This study contributes to a growing research base investigating how teachers interact and learn from each other in online communities of practice. It specifically investigates the online mentoring conversations between five cohorts of in-service mentor teachers that participated in graduate-level courses about language pedagogy and their mentee pre-service teachers, while they discussed effective practices for English learner (EL) students. The authors used qualitative methods to ask what types of knowledge and skills related to ELs' instruction the participating mentor teachers displayed when they were situated in the role of online mentors of mentee pre-service teachers. Findings showed that mentor teachers demonstrated knowledge and skills in adjusting general learning strategies to support ELs, in applying language development strategies to teach academic language in English, and in using emotional strategies to offer ELs a welcoming environment. Findings also showed that mentor teachers found a favorable space in the online mentoring environment to position themselves as teacher leaders and ELs' advocates.
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Please don't feel intimidated by my “veteran” status. That only means that I've had more times to try than you have. I am always (and happily) learning, borrowing, adapting from other teachers.” –Juanita, mentor teacher giving advice to a teacher candidate

I loved your questions. As a new teacher, never be afraid to ask them. The most helpful thing I did when I started teaching was asking people to come see me teach or show me how. I loved watching the experienced teachers, if nothing else, to let me know I could relax a little bit. You have to be willing to laugh.” –Denise, mentor teacher giving advice to a teacher candidate

As Juanita’s and Denise1’s comments to the new teachers they are mentoring indicate, the teaching profession is one that invites continual growth, even as such learning can, at times, be intimidating to both new and, in Juanita’s words, “veteran” teachers. In the context of classrooms that are increasingly shaped by influxes of immigrant students, the types of knowledge, skills, and beliefs that teachers in public elementary and secondary classrooms need is also rapidly changing. This is especially true for most teachers who do not have formal preparation in the education of ELs (Ballantyne, Sanderman, & Levy, 2008) but who do have the responsibility to teach them complex content and English academic language simultaneously. Many educators are looking toward technology for ways to mediate the preparation of teachers—both veteran teachers as well as new teachers—to better serve English learners (ELs) students by developing the specialized knowledge and skills of teaching language learners. One way that is receiving increasing attention is the creation of online communities of practice in which teachers can share ideas and learn from one another. In this study, we examine the types of knowledge and skills that mentor teachers, in particular, develop when they serve as mentors for individuals who are in the early phases of becoming certified to teach.

Literature Review

Research in the area of professional development for mentor teachers of ELs often focuses on the acquisition of specialized knowledge and skills that help teachers address different EL students’ needs. Lucas, Villegas, and Freedson-Gonzalez (2008) identified that teachers need to understand the importance of native language development, understand the difference between English academic language and social language, know how to offer comprehensible input, and know how to offer oral interaction opportunities. Garcia, Beatriz, Harris Murri, and Serna (2010) found that effective teachers address ELs’ cultural needs by valuing the background knowledge and experiences of ELs, making connections between knowledge creation, language, and identity and offering culturally responsive instruction and assessment. Finally, Jimenez and Rose (2010) focus on the need to address ELs’ emotional needs. They concluded that teachers who teach ELs need to develop relationships with students, know how to demonstrate their empathy, know how to make connections between students’ lives and instruction, and know how to facilitate student’s membership to the classroom community.

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