What is ESP Mentoring?

ESP Mentoring is also known as Peer Assistance. Peer assistance programs help ESP help ESP. In peer programs, experienced, highly accomplished veteran ESP provide sustained, intensive assistance to ESP who need assistance. Assisting ESP are typically called consulting ESP and the ESP receiving assistance are called participating ESP. However, there are a few things that a Local Association should consider in exploring the possibility of a Mentoring Program.

Any efforts of a local association to become involved in a Mentoring Program might want to consider the following principles:

  1. ESP Mentoring is primarily a professional development strategy to improve employee quality.
  2. Any affiliate interested in implementing ESP Mentoring needs to first rigorously assess its readiness to do so.
  3. Members of any local affiliate considering Mentoring needs to share a common understanding of what peer assistance is all about.

For those affiliates that decide to explore their readiness for Mentoring programs, professional conversations are essential. These dialogues should explore purpose, issues, supporting and restraining systems, and human and fiscal resources available to both the district and to the affiliate.   Overall, there should be a collaborative relationship between the school district and the local association, a labor and management partnership. Even to establish such a collaborative relationship or to nurture an ongoing one, the dialogue skills are critical for initial and continued success.   Before beginning a dialogue within a local affiliate, the Association leadership will need to consider some of the following threshold questions:

  1. What is Mentoring and how is Mentoring different from peer review?
  2. Is my local association ready for peer assistance?
  3. Do we have a comprehensive ESP quality plan?
  4. What kind of relationship exists between local leaders and school district officials?
  5. Are resources available for a successful program?
  6. Will association members support a peer based program?

1. What is Peer Assistance?

Peer assistance programs help ESP help ESP and generally identify two categories of ESP in need of assistance.

  • Employees that are new to the district or the department.
  • Veteran employees experiencing problems.

ESP Mentoring and peer review are actually two distinct processes.   Peer assistance aims to help new and/or veteran ESP’s to improve their knowledge and skills. A formal peer assistance, or mentoring, program links new ESP employees – or veteran ESP employees encountering skill problems – with consulting ESP who provide ongoing support through observing, sharing ideas and skills, and recommending materials for further study.   Peer review adds one significant element to peer assistance. In peer review, the consulting ESP makes recommendations that impact the continued employment of participating ESP’s. THE ILLINOIS EDUCATION ASSOCIATION DOES NOT RECOMMEND PEER REVIEW.   Peer assistance and peer review are complementary processes. A peer assistance process can exist – and significantly help to improve the quality of ESP performance – without peer review. But peer review cannot succeed without a peer assistance element. IEA strongly recommends that ESP Local Associaitons do not become involved in peer review.

This document will not address the concept of Peer Review for our ESP members, and ESP Local Associations should not consider this concept as a possibility without careful consultation with their UniServ Director.

2. Is My NEA local affiliate ready for Mentoring/peer assistance?

Could peer assistance make a significant contribution in your school district? Whether or not a peer program could make a contribution in your district is a question that can only be answered at the local level, after a thorough examination of current district efforts to improve ESP quality. Do current efforts to ensure ESP quality exist in your district? If so, are they effective? How might a peer program support or expand upon these efforts? Does your district have a comprehensive Professional Development Program for ESP employees? Is the Local Association involved with the employer as an equal partner in developing and implementing PD programs?   Other important questions also need to be addressed. Is your district under public pressure to address ESP quality issues more aggressively? Are increases in new, inexperienced ESP expected? Are there significant numbers of veteran ESP in need of help? Are Association members, in general, asking for more support on professional matters?   If your answers to these questions suggest a real need to explore peer assistance, the next step is considering how a peer program would fit into a comprehensive plan for promoting a quality ESP work force. No local association should start down the peer assistance road without such a comprehensive plan.

3. Do we have a comprehensive ESP quality plan?

Peer assistance programs can contribute to better employee performance, but these programs cannot do, and should not be expected to do the job alone. Efforts to improve employee performance begins with the recruitment of talented candidates and continue through ongoing professional development programs.

4. What kind of relationship exists between local leaders and school district officials?

A collaborative relationship between your Local Association leaders and school district officials is very important for the success of any peer assistance program. A Local Association considering peer assistance programs needs to examine its relationship with the local school board, the local central administration, and individual worksite administrators. Are these relationships cooperative? Acrimonious? Where are the difficulties?   Any peer assistance program will best succeed as a joint effort between the local association and the school district. Success will be difficult without a relationship of mutual respect and trust. Examining past history and current school district behaviors can help your local association determine whether such respect and trust exist. Will the school district accept the Association as an equal partner in developing, implementing, and managing the program.   The best possible relationship between a Local Association and school officials for planning and implementing a peer assistance program is a collaborative or interest- based bargaining relationship. The process of focusing mutual energies on problem solving offers Local Associations and District leaders a vehicle for addressing the inevitable complexities and uncertainties that come with peer assistance. If an interest-based approach has been the basis for bargaining, the experience resolving difficult issues that the parties will have gained will prove invaluable in designing a peer program that works.

5. Are resources available for a successful program?

An IEA local associaton considering peer assistance needs to consider whether adequate resources are available for a program’s successful implementation. These resources include:

  • people,
  • time,
  • physical space, and
  • funding.

A successful program will demand the expenditure of resources by both the Association and the school district. Individual Association members and leaders, mostly volunteers, will have to become actively involved in a peer assistance program. A Local Association that cannot assemble the volunteer human resources necessary should not enter into such a program.   A good peer assistance program will also demand hard dollars for released time, training consulting ESP, and administrative support. If a school district is unable or unwilling to allocate adequate funds for these activities, peer assistance cannot succeed.

6. Will Association members support a peer-based program?

Internal cohesion and solidarity are critical to the success of any such peer-based program. Local leaders need to gauge the impact a peer program might have on this cohesion and solidarity. Would peer assistance likely prove divisive? Would consulting ESP be seen as bona fide fellow colleagues or agents of the administration? Would consulting ESP see themselves as separate from other Association members?   Local leaders need to address these questions, both to assess the mood of members and to spell out the leadership effort needed to overcome internal political problems that a local peer assistance program might create.

What makes peer assistance successful?

Collaboration and support for the final product – by both management and the Association – are the key ingredients to the success of any peer assistance program. Peer programs should be carefully negotiated through the collective bargaining process .

Phasing in peer assistance:

A local affiliate should consider phasing in, over a period of time, any comprehensive peer assistance program. A Local Association might choose, for instance, to implement peer assistance first for a particular group of employees, for a particular department or in a particular building. Or the Local Association could limit the peer assistance program to only first year employees. The Association and the Employer can then assess how well this assistance is working, and only then consider expanding the scope of the program. A phasing in process allows the parties to uncover and deal with problems as they arise, and gives everyone involved time to develop support mechanisms not yet in place.

Defining the purpose:

The purpose of a peer assistance program needs to be clearly defined in the collective bargaining agreement or memorandum of understanding. Generally, the intent is to improve the education of students by improving the performance of the employee. A program should focus on helping newly hired ESP employees become better professionals and assisting veteran ESP’s in professional difficulty. The goal of a peer assistance program, in other words, is helping ESP, not terminating them, and this point should be repeatedly stressed.   Once a peer assistance program has been agreed upon by the parties, the program must be administered jointly by management and the Local Association bargaining agent. This joint administration is absolutely critical.   The National Education Association has developed an excellent Training Manual to assist Local Associations in their efforts to implement ESP Mentoring Programs.