Informal Mentoring: Encouraging Effective Professional Development

discover effective professional developmentEach year, school districts spend as much as $18,000 per teacher on professional development. These efforts prove largely unsuccessful – only 30% of teachers improve their performance in the classroom as a result of this training. So agencies and foundations have set out to discover the most effective professional development efforts.

A study from The New Teacher Project explored the current state of professional development, and they uncovered some interesting facts:

  • Current PD centers around workshops and coursework
  • Content-focused and job-embedded PD are ineffective
  • School systems lack communication with teachers
  • Efforts at PD are often uncoordinated or disjointed


The study calls for schools to focus on redefining “improvement”, reevaluating supports and programs, and reinvent how to support effective teaching. The study urges schools to focus on feedback and communication to enhance these objectives.


But the study also shows that the most effective method of development is informal mentoring. Informal mentoring allows teachers to build reciprocal relationships; new faculty can learn from experienced educators, and veteran faculty can learn new theories and techniques from those just out of school. Informal mentoring, to some teachers, is the only way to effectively model and develop educators.

"Open Up... Your Wallet," for effective professional development

So what is informal mentoring?

Informal mentoring is based on informal relationships – in short, it’s a friendship, not an authoritative relationship. No one tells the mentor and mentee to meet. When the new teacher has trouble, he or she drops in to talk with the mentor. The mentor acts as a sounding board for new ideas, classroom struggles, and student issues. The mentor then helps out in any way that he or she can. No one writes down a thing. There’s no official process, paperwork, or supervisory duties. It’s informal communication between teachers.

How can schools develop informal mentoring relationships?

Here are 3 key relationship building factors.

1. Create Buy-In

Teachers need to buy in to the idea of informal mentoring, and to do that, they need some incentives. The easiest way to build excitement is to make the mentoring program fun. Adults, much like students, perform better when having fun. Give teachers a reason to get together and talk about students. Provide food, beverages, or some other incentives. Host a faculty get-together designed to get instructors talking with one another. When participants enjoy interacting together, they are able to:

Buy-In Acceleration Activity:  Open Up… Your Wallet

The best way to encourage buy-in is to provide opportunities to experience the benefits of it. Doing short interactive challenges as a group is a great way to provide this experience.

2. Improve Basic Communication

Communication can be a struggle in schools, and different districts approach the problem differently. Many of these approaches encourage formal communication between faculty members, but formal communication can be too rigid or structured to foster genuine communication needed for informal mentoring relationships. Informal communication can encourage faculty to:

  • Become more energized and connected.
  • Build unity around common goals.
  • Gain better understanding and appreciation for different communication styles.
  • Enhance open dialogue and collaboration.
  • Improve teamwork.

Communication Acceleration Activity: Beach Ball Toss

The beach ball toss is designed to help smaller and larger groups alike get to know each other better and open up the lines of communication. All you need is an inflated beach ball and a permanent marker. Get the game going with the following steps:

  • Write questions all over the beach ball. Examples include:
    • If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?
    • What was the last book you read?
    • If you could travel anywhere, where would you go and why?
  • Instruct your team to get in a loose circle and toss the beach ball to each other.
  • Whoever catches the ball must answer the question that their left thumb is closest to.
  • Continue tossing the ball until all participants have had a turn to answer a question.

3. Establish Trust and Collaboration

School growth and student development all start with a trusting team of adults and high performing teams which require a certain level of trust and collaboration. These traits allow the group to tackle formidable challenges openly and honestly while maintaining functioning relationships. After the group can communicate effectively, the next step is to build trust. To build trust, focus on the following:

Effective professional development relies on peer-to-peer conversations and collaboration.

Collaboration Acceleration Game: Match Game

Trust Building games, much like icebreakers, can accelerate the relationship development process. And in the same way, certain activities can speed up collaborative growth between teammates. These types of activities allow participants to:

  • Foster resourcefulness and quick thinking.
  • Encourage creative thinking.
  • Build team spirit and increase collaboration.

team building


Trust and collaboration form the heart of reciprocal relationships. These reciprocal relationships foster informal mentoring relationships between teachers. And this version of informal collaboration fosters professional growth between colleagues. Encouraging trust and collaboration ensures that teachers and leaders can communicate to better serve the students, and that is the whole point of professional development.

Team building is essential for effective professional development. Teachers must be able to communicate, trust, and collaborate in order to build a successful school culture. Contact us to start developing your faculty’s professional development calendar.