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KC Dignan, PhD with Chrissy Cowan, Mentor coordinator TSBVI


Mentoring has become a recognized and valued endeavor.  Many states, school districts, and certification programs require mentoring.  While the mentor concept is broadly understood, individual interpretations of what it means to mentor vary greatly. For our purposes, the concept of mentoring means to help a person new to a profession to grow in that profession in a positive fashion and to benefit from specifics.  This chapter focuses on the unique aspects of mentoring with and for professionals in visual impairments.

Texas has had a mentor program specifically designed for the unique needs of itinerant VI professionals since 1998.  It is briefly described later in this chapter.


  • There are a multitude of resources on mentoring available to administrators.  However, information which highlights mentoring issues as they relate to VI professionals (or other non-classroom educators) is much less available.
  • Mentoring comes in lots of guises.  Some programs are supervisory in nature; others are not.  Some programs require that the mentor and protégé have common disciplines; others do not. Some require that the mentor be in the same building; some are designed specifically for those professionals who are itinerant.  The variations are endless.
  • Itinerant personnel, regardless of their discipline (including related service personnel), have fundamental differences from classroom teachers.  These differences may include an increased emphasis on consulting, caseload management, and scheduling issues.  These differences must be addressed in a successful mentoring program.
  • Professionals who are itinerant and who participate in a mentor program face and generate unique challenges for the mentor, the protégé, and administrators.
  • For itinerant professionals, it is not uncommon for mentors and protégés to have different “home bases.” This may mean different buildings or even different communities.
  • School districts are rapidly increasing their capacity to access professional development, including using mentoring, using technology, and various distance-learning techniques and resources.
  • Although it may be sometimes necessary, the basic belief is that mentoring with a supervisory perspective can erode trust and is not encouraged.  When supervision is necessary refrain from referring to it as “mentoring.”

What is mentoring?

“One of a mentor’s chief jobs is to help a new teacher close the ‘knowing-doing’ gap by learning to apply knowledge of best practices to daily classroom routines” (Barlin, 2010, para. 7).  For VI professionals, the gap can be a bit more daunting.  It isn’t uncommon for a new VI professional to have students ranging in age from birth to 22 years, or who have mild or severe visual impairments, or who may have mild to severe cognitive, emotional, and/or physical impairments, the functional impact of which will be exacerbated by the visual impairment.  Even more so than in other disciplines, it is nearly impossible for training programs to address the individual needs of new VI professionals.  Mentors are essential for helping close the gap and address the various needs of a new VI professional.

Mentoring can occur using a variety of formats, whether face-to-face, via e-mail, or the phone. The mentor program may be required or voluntary, formal or informal, or any combination.

Where can I find additional mentoring resources?

There are a huge number of resources that a district, cooperative, or program can tap into for information on mentoring or mentor programs.  A search in a professional library or on the Internet will yield multiple sources.  Some of those resources can be found here:

National Center to Inform Policy and Practice in Special Education Professional Development

NCIPP is an Office of Special Education Programs–funded center that aims to improve teacher quality and increase commitment to teaching students with disabilities by

  • informing special education policy and practice on induction and mentoring, and
  • identifying and recommending induction and mentoring implementation strategies.

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities

A collection of resources specifically targeted for special education programs.  Resources topics include policy, training, and others.

The Mentoring Group

This site has multiple resources specific to mentoring for a variety of professions.  Documents in the Archive section include information about mentoring in general and resources for mentors and mentees.  Topics include information on starting a program, mentoring at a distance, best practices, building relationships, and many more.

Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)

CEC is the largest professional organization with an emphasis on students with disabilities.  They provide resources on mentoring and offer a volunteer mentoring program.  The Pioneers Division has a mentoring project.

Mentoring VI Professionals in Texas

Information about the Texas mentor program can be found at the following link.  The Texas mentor program is designed specifically for new VI professionals who are working with students with visual impairments.

Many state departments of education and/or certification agencies offer resources on mentoring.  Contact your SEA for more information.

Mentoring New Special Education Teachers: A Guide for Mentors and Program Developers. Mary Lou Duffy and James Forgan, Authors.

Provides information, including forms and questionnaires, to help administrators develop and sustain mentor programs for special educators.

Quality Mentoring for Novice Teachers.  Sandra Odell and Leslie Huling, Editors.

Provides comprehensive information about mentoring from acknowledged pioneers in educational mentoring.  The information may be especially useful for those setting up a mentoring program.

Why do VI professionals need a mentor program?

There are many reasons why a VI professional will benefit from access to a mentor.  In some scenarios, a mentor is not only beneficial, but necessary. Reasons to use a mentor include:

  • Itinerant nature of the job
  • Student diversity
  • Changes in VI caseloads
  • Working under a probationary certificate
  • Access to professional development
  • Special issues for O&M specialists

A sense of isolation as the only teacher certified in visual impairments (TVI) or orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist in the district or coop

In addition, VI professionals are specialists in the expanded core curriculum (ECC).  The ECC is a large and diverse field of knowledge that directly relates to students with visual impairments. (More information about the ECC is included in Chapter 11, when available.)  Professional preparation programs do not have the capacity to address all of the areas in the ECC and how they can affect students with a myriad of visual abilities.  A mentor can be invaluable in helping a new VI professional adapt a vision-related concept in the expanded core curriculum to the needs of a specific student.

Itinerant nature of the job

Itinerant personnel, regardless of their discipline have fundamental differences from classroom teachers. These differences must be addressed in a successful mentoring program.

Working with students with visual impairments comes with unique challenges.  It isn’t the same experience as teaching in the classroom.  When asked about their feelings on adjusting to their current itinerant status and their areas of concern, new VI professionals often cite the following:

  • Organizational skills related to not being in a fixed location  
  • Developing consultation skills
  • Being in a job that is more student oriented, and not content- driven
  • Managing the diversity of topics, instructional styles, and communication styles needed within a single day
  • Managing the diversity of resources needed in a timely fashion and identifying sources for those resources
  • Working effectively within the community, not just in the school system
  • Being seen as the “expert” even before they have completed their first year as a VI professional because they are the only VI professional in the district
  • Feeling isolated as a result of working in so many places and not having a peer group
VI mentors and new VI professionals alike report that learning about and managing the itinerant nature of the job is one of their biggest challenges.

Additionally, many VI professionals must either cover great distances, or spend significant amounts of time travelling in congested urban or suburban areas.  VI professionals may work for a single district, be part of a cooperative arrangement and be shared between multiple districts, or work as an independent contractor.

VI professionals must also be able to interact frequently and successfully with parents, other teachers, and professionals serving their students and administrators in numerous buildings. A well-developed set of organizational and people skills are required in order to successfully serve students and meet the demands of the job.  Additionally, knowledge of the community and statewide resources is crucial.

The previously mentioned factors combine to make a job that is unlike any other within a school system, even other low-incidence or itinerant positions.  Having a mentor can help new VI professionals make the adjustment.

Being itinerant equals:

  • Student diversity
  • Changes in caseloads
  • Developments in instructional strategies
  • Access to professional development
  • Working in the home, community and school
  • A sense of isolation

The total of the above is greater than the sum individual parts.  Each factor has an effect on the others.

Student diversity

Students with visual impairments are extremely heterogeneous.  Visual impairments also have a cultural implication, one that may affect expectations by parents and educators. VI professionals work with students with a wide range of cognitive, physical, and visual abilities, as well as a variety of ages, from birth to 21. 

No professional preparation program is able to provide detailed instruction in all pedagogical areas.  There are hundreds of diseases, medications, and syndromes that affect functional vision.  This, in combination with the environment, the functional requirements, and individual personality characteristics, results in thousands of educational implications.  It simply isn’t possible to address all areas in a pre-service program.  The students are just too diverse.

Changes in VI caseloads

VI caseloads are extremely diverse.  The students range in age, visual abilities, additional disabilities, and a whole host of other factors.  A change of just 2 or 3 students can affect the time and resource management of the caseload as a whole, and can have a significant impact on the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed by VI professionals in the district/cooperative arrangements, and on the resources needed.

Although they may visit multiple schools, VI professionals may not be a part of the school community, an important factor for retention. Having a mentor can help build a sense of community for the new VI professional.

A young braille reader may require 10–15 hours per week for instruction and developing and managing materials.  As you can imagine, if one or two braille readers, especially young braille readers, move to a district that hasn’t had a braille reader in 10 years, it will have a major impact on resources, time, and professional expertise needed. Therefore, when VI professionals have a significant change in their caseload, they may benefit from a mentor, as the program is “re-tooled.”

Probationary certification

With the adoption of IDEA 2004, emergency and other temporary permits are no longer available for those who must meet “highly qualified” standards.  [34 CFR 300.18(b)(1)] [20 U.S.C. 1401(10)(B)] Some states still offer probationary-type certificates or licensure to VI teachers who are still working on VI coursework.

Teachers certified in visual impairments (TVIs) and working under a probationary-type certificate are completing legal documents, such as functional vision evaluations or learning media assessments, and making educational recommendations possibly before completing their anatomy class.  These documents have legal and significant programmatic implications.  Having a mentor to turn to for guidance may make all the difference in the world.  Pairing new teachers with a mentor is essential for ensuring quality educational programming for the students and limiting the procedural vulnerability of the district.

Access to professional development

The unique educational needs of students with visual impairment and the low prevalence of the population result in limited access to professional development.  The caseload requirements one year will not be the same the next year.  And the student with the most challenging needs may be the only student with similar needs for 50 miles in any direction.  It just isn’t feasible for districts or even regional centers to offer everything that is needed that year. 

Additionally, professional development will be more effective if it has context and immediate application.  Therefore, districts, mentors, and technical support organizations must provide contextual training on a real-time basis.  Mentors can either provide assistance within the current context or may know other sources for professional expertise.

Sense of isolation

VI professionals typically serve students in multiple schools, but may not be “a member” of any campus community.  VI professionals may drive 100 miles or more in a day and/or spend multiple hours in urban/suburban traffic.  They may see students in six schools spread out over four districts.  A VI teacher or O&M specialist may be the only VI professional employed by small and rural districts, and have no professional peers.

Mentor programs for VI professionals can provide support to those new to the profession to reduce a sense of isolation.  Protégés will have the opportunity to learn how experienced VI teachers and O&M specialists handle the many challenges inherent in their jobs. A sense of community or belonging is consideredimportant for retention (Center for Teaching Quality, 2006, Jones, Young & Frank. 2013).  For the new VI professional, who may already feel like a fish out of water, having a mentor can go a long way to building a sense of professional identity and community.

Special issues for O&M specialists

The majority of O&M specialists approach the field as a second career, entering from many different fields.  Additionally, most O&M training programs are geared to working with adults with visual impairments.  As a result, new O&M specialists may not be familiar with a wide variety of students, school procedures or cultures, or other issues related to working in the community with young people.  Having an O&M mentor familiar with the inner workings of schools and procedures can help the new O&M professional “find their way” within these new areas that their training did not address. Also, working alongside a mentor can serve as a source of observation hours as required by many training programs.

O&M specialists must complete an internship prior to certification.  However, many internship placements are with adults.  Therefore, new O&M specialists may not have had access to students with visual impairments (including babies or those with multiple disabilities) prior to certification. 

If you have someone employed in your district that is seeking O&M certification, please encourage his or her participation in a mentor program, even before certification has been completed.  Exposure to future students will yield long-term benefits.  The future O&M specialist will be more familiar with scenarios such as finding out school policies for traveling off-campus, the working with the families of the students, and will provide an opportunity to develop a contextual understanding of the principles discussed in training.

How does mentoring VI professionals differ from mentoring classroom educators?

Instructional responsibilities for VI professionals are quite different from classroom teachers, even those in special education. 


Many structured formal mentor programs assume a classroom is the base of operations.  For many VI professionals, this is rarely true.  The majority of VI professionals are itinerant.  As a result, they may not be at their office or home base for multiple days, may experience isolation from other educators, and must adjust to a different learning culture in each educational setting or building.  Additionally, they must be skilled at dealing with multiple building principals and special education administrators.  O&M specialists frequently work off-campus, and during non-traditional hours.

Low incidence in conjunction with heterogeneity

Visual impairments are one of the smallest prevalence groups in the district.  As a whole, these students are also extremely diverse.  Students may have rare or unusual syndromes that affect visual functioning.  Additionally, students with the same etiologies, such as cortical visual impairment, may have extremely diverse visual functioning, especially if the student has additional disabilities.  New classroom teachers must learn to function well with the diversity that exists within a typical classroom.  However, VI professionals who are coming to the field from the classroom consistently report that the scope of individual diversity they face in the first year can be daunting.

Limited access to updated VI expertise

Due to the low incidence, most districts employ only one or two VI professionals.  Although a small field, it is constantly changing.  It is also very specialized. Necessary skills and resources will vary by caseload, and change with even small alterations in the caseload.  Examples of just a few rapidly evolving areas affecting the VI field are listed here:

Techniques for teaching students with cortical visual impairments (CVI) are expanding and becoming more widely known. Doctors may or may not specify it in their medical reports.  Often it is VI professionals who translate “neurological” into educational strategies, and those educational strategies will vary greatly from student to student.

New options for assistive technology (AT) for students with visual impairments are fast-paced and continuous. Assistive technology skills are critical for student success and transitioning to the post-secondary environment.  Strategies for using AT with students who have multiple impairments, exploding resources for tablets and modifying existing classroom technologies are just a few examples.

Few VI professionals in a district

+ Wildly diverse students

+ Limited access to professional development

  + Itinerant service delivery =

Need for VI-specific mentor

New travel technologies, such as GPS devices, can assist O&M specialists immensely.  Designs for intersections are also constantly changing the nature of O&M travel in both rural and urban environments.  

A VI professional may not have a student with certain needs, such as braille, for several years.  Then when the caseload changes, the VI professional may be out-of-date with his or her skills, affecting the student’s annual progress.

Limited access to local professional development and/or knowing where to look for information

Even with the rapid increases in just-in-time professional resources through the Internet, VI professionals may not be able to find the information they need.  Access may also be limited because the protégé may not even know where to look.  Then, once found, she or he may have trouble adapting the information to the specific situation.  A mentor can help the TVI or O&M specialist be more efficient as she or he expands his or her or his skills.

Who are the best candidates for having a VI mentor?

Not unlike many new educators, new VI professionals may not know what they don’t know and what they need to know first.  However, what is different is that they may not have anyone in the district to whom they can turn for professional information.  As a result, as they mature professionally, their skills and resources may be limited.

Novice professionals or those holding a probationary certificate

A novice VI professional may need the most mentoring, especially if this is her or his first teaching assignment, or if she or he is not fully certified.  The novice professional may benefit from guidance for instructional issues and VI-specific issues. 

If the VI professional has never worked in education, it may be advisable to split the mentoring duties between basic instructional/school-procedural issues and VI-specific issues. The VI mentor may not be in the same building, or even the same city as your new VI professional.  In these cases, it may be possible to provide the novice with a “procedural mentor,” someone to whom she or he can turn for non–VI-procedural issues in the district, such as how or when various types of paperwork gets processed or how to access general educational resources.  The VI mentor can advise on the vision-specific mentoring issues.  These may include consultation skills, identifying VI resources in a timely manner, and/or how to customize functional vision evaluations to meet the needs of a specific child.

New employees or caseload changes for experienced VI professionals

Occasionally, an experienced VI professional has a significant change in his or her caseload or job and expertise is required that is either rusty or absent.  In these cases, mentoring can be extremely valuable.  Common scenarios when a mentor can be beneficial include:

  • significant changes in student characteristics, such as new students who are deafblind, or when an O&M specialist has an increase in the number of young students, students with multiple impairments or are ‘pre-mobile,’
  • a change in the ages of the students, such as when a VI professional’s caseload makes a sudden shift from mostly middle and secondary students to predominantly very young children and the reverse, and/or
  • an experienced VI professional from another state moves into the district, since requirements and practices can vary from state to state

Special issues for O&M specialists

New VI professionals are candidates for a mentor. 

So are experienced VI professionals who have had a change in their caseload.

O&M specialists are certified to work with students/clients of all ages, not just children.  Many professional preparation programs are funded through adult-service organizations or agencies, such as the Veteran Affairs office.  Many O&M specialists (including those with years of experience) may have had limited exposure to working with students who are school age, with infants, or those clients who have additional disabilities.  These specialists will benefit from access to a mentor to assist them in adjusting to new students and new procedural responsibilities..

Who can be a mentor?

General personal qualifications include the following:

  • Good listening and communication skills
  • A solid understanding of professional knowledge
  • High standards for self and others
  • A desire for continued professional growth
  • An ability to nurture the growth of others

Professional qualifications include:

  • Full certification in the professional discipline being mentored
  • A minimum of 4 years of experience providing services to students with visual impairments.  However, 5 years is strongly encouraged.

How will a protégé benefit from having a mentor?

Just as vision takes us out of our bodies and into the world, participating in a mentor program takes us out of our past and into our future.  Working as a VI professional, often the only one in a district or coop, having access to a mentor can provide many advantages, a few of which follow. The protégé is able to:

Quickly learning about the culture of a campus and consulting skills are critical for new VI professionals.  Mentors can make it easier and help build strong relationships within a campus.

  • build opportunities to recognize success. It is often a challenge to recognize growth without someone to help reflect on changes and professional growth.  Mentors help build confidence.
  • gain experience in networking.  VI is a small field.  The students are very heterogeneous and resources are very scattered.  Establishing a network is key building block to being able to know about  find a resource just when you need it.  Additionally, networking builds a sense of community, which will enhance retention and reduce isolation.
  • form expectations about being a VI professional.  Working with students with visual impairments is very different from being a classroom teacher, even a special educator.  A mentor can help new professionals understand how to incorporate the expanded core curriculum into the existing curriculum, manage the itinerant aspects of the caseload, work with families of the student, and manage various other aspects of the job.
  • set priorities and balance responsibilities as they build consulting skills.Working in so many divergent environments can be daunting for those who have been in the classroom or a single building.  A mentor will help the protégé establish priorities, understand the intricacies of working in multiple school buildings, and develop those skills necessary for successful consultations.

Ganser (1996) identified the following roles of and for mentors and mentoring:

  • Offering support and encouragement
  • Meeting with the protégé on regular occasions
  • Informing the protégé about the school and its culture
  • Providing information about official policies and procedures
  • Assisting with strategies for classroom management
  • Helping with teaching skills

Other VI-specific benefits include:

  • Helping the protégé devise strategies to learn about individual school and community cultures (which will vary from school to school and organization to organization)
  • Providing sources for VI-related professional development such as workshops, conferences, Web sites, and professional publications in a timely manner
  • Performing informal observations of the protégé working with students during the first year of employment for the purpose of providing supportive feedback
  • Facilitating networking opportunities with other professionals in the field of visual impairment

How do experienced VI professionals benefit from being a mentor?

Mentors report that participation “reigniting their own passion for teaching.” (Barlin, 2010, para. 17). When speaking about mentoring pre-service teachers Fawns-Justeson states:

To me the real purpose of our work is to mentor our students, to help them along their path to becoming thoughtful, engaged, self-aware citizens who are fully able to make choices that reflect their most cherished values; choices that lead them to a meaningful and satisfying life, however they define it. (Fawns-Justeson, 2012, p. 126)

This same dynamic applies to new VI professionals, even those who have years of experience in the classroom.  New VI professionals report that even with many years of experience, going from a classroom environment to an itinerant service delivery model is a dramatic shift.  Having a mentor can be a profoundly positive experience.

Participation in a mentor program can reignite passions for teaching
(Barlin, 2010).

The benefits for mentors are many.  A partial listing follows. 

  • Unique, focused training to learn how to support a protégé’s professional growth, with additional/advanced training available for the experienced mentor 
  • Opportunities for networking offered at conferences, workshops, and other professionals meetings 
  • Recognition of time, travel, and expenses, with the possibility of a small stipend available
  • A unique opportunity:
    • for professional development,
    • for inclusion in professional portfolios like those needed for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification (NBPTS),
    • for certification renewal for TVIs and O&M specialists, and
    • a recognized activity for performance evaluations.
  • An excellent contribution to the field by helping to ensure the continued quality of VI teachers and O&M specialists
  • A profound sense of personal satisfaction and professional renewal
  • Opportunities for new bonds and connections with professionals and bringing new knowledge, skills, and resources to the community
  • An opportunity to informally determine if a protégé will be a good addition to an existing program in the future

What support does a school district need to provide to mentors and protégés?

Mentoring requires specific skills and abilities.  According to Odell &Huling (2004) and others, mentors must be able to recognize various levels of development and types of need in protégés.

Once a mentor has been assigned to a protégé, regular contact between the mentor and protégé is critical to fostering a supportive relationship.  Contact can be made in a variety of ways (phone, e-mail, video-conferencing, including Skype or similar, face-to-face visits), and will be effective as long as the contact is ongoing and consistent during the duration of the relationship.

Ideally, the mentor program includes financial support for a limited number of phone calls and travel expenses for on-site visits.  The Texas VI mentor program provides a small annual stipend to mentors who have met the terms of the contract.

Regular contact between the mentor and protégé is critical to fostering a supportive relationship.  Contact can be made via phone, e-mail, video-conferencing (Skype or similar), and face-to-face visits.

Observing other professionals on the job is particularly effective.  Such observations may require “release time.” If the mentor and protégé are not in the same district, if may be possible for those observational days to be scheduled when one district has a professional development day, especially if the district does not have VI-related workshops available.

Mentoring is a recognized activity for many certifying organizations and agencies, and is also recognized in many teacher evaluation processes.  The time spent mentoring can provide for professional growth and meet criteria for performance evaluations.  Using professional development days also eliminates the problem of not providing scheduled services for VI students on regular school days. 

What does the Texas VI mentor program look like?

Texas has had a mentoring system for VI professionals since 1998.  At any given time, Texas has close to 300 mentors with expertise in visual impairments.  The basic scaffold of the Texas VI mentor program is summarized in the following list.

  1. A staff person is selected to act as statewide mentor coordinator.  This position is funded as part of the statewide coordinated professional preparation program in visual impairments. 
  2. The mentor coordinator gets the names of new students from universities or other training programs.
  3. The mentor coordinator consults with local and regional VI professionals and then matches mentors and protégés when the new protégés have a caseload or when they start their internship.
  4. Mentors must meet certain criteria, which is listed on the TSBVI website.  If they qualify, they must submit an application packet.  The packet includes letters of support from their administrator, regional consultant in visual impairments, and a co-worker.
  5. The mentors attend training tailored specifically to mentoring VI professionals.  Usually this is before they are matched with their protégé, but in certain conditions it may be otherwise.  The training is a blend of online training, which addresses general mentoring issues, and face-to-face training that addresses vision-specific issues. 
  6. When a mentor isn’t available in a particular region, a statewide mentor is assigned.  Statewide mentors work under a special contractual arrangement with Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
  7. Protégés (and mentors) attend Mentor Centers at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the itinerant program at the Austin Independent School District to observe experienced VI professionals working with students and to meet with other new VI professionals.
  8. Mentors submit contact logs twice a year.

Working in teams and communicating via phone, e-mail, Skype, or face-to-face, the pair completes a set of activities together.  The activities address domains in the expanded core curriculum and are coordinated with the Professional Development Log and the Resources for the Expanded Core Curriculum (RECC) on the TSBVI website.  You can find more information about the mentor program, including Mentor Activity Checklists, on the TSBVI website ( 

A mentor is available to protégés during their internship/practicum period and for the academic year following the completion of their training. In acknowledgement of their efforts and costs, mentors are paid a small stipend.

Information to assist you setting up a VI mentor program is in the next section of this chapter.   

What tools or resources are available to help set up a mentor system?

It is always easier to review documents developed by others and modify them for your district’s needs.  The documents below may either meet your needs or assist you in developing your own documents.

Mentor Resources from TSBVI Web site

TSBVI has developed various documents to help with the mentor program.  Some of the most useful resources are listed below.  Documents are available for individual downloading or as an entire set. It is assumed that new users will modify the documents to meet their individual needs.

Mentor Program home page

Provides a brief overview plus links to other documents and resources.

Information for Mentors

This is a short summary of the mentor program.  It includes an overview of the mentor program, qualifications, the application process, activities, time commitments, and statewide support options.

Information for Protégés

This is a short summary of the program for protégés.  It includes an overview of the mentor program, benefits, activities, time commitments, and statewide support options.

Mentor application packet

Training agenda

A sample agenda of the training provided by TSBVI.

Mentor activity list for VI teachers

This is the list of required and recommended activities that mentors and protégées complete. It is generally organized along the lines of the expanded core curriculum.  Some programs may opt to only use the Mentor Contact Log.

Mentor activity list for O&M

This is the list of required and recommended activities that mentors and protégées complete. It is generally organized along the lines of the expanded core curriculum. Some programs may opt to only use the Mentor Contact Log.

Contact logs

Mentors record their interactions with protégés on this log.  It is turned in at the end of the academic year.  It documents not only mentor activity, but is also used for certification renewal.  This document may be supplemental or used in place of the Mentor Activity Lists.

How can we set up a VI mentoring system?

Making a mentor program can be more complicated than it needs to be.  Essentially, mentoring is about asking questions; exploring thoughts, beliefs, and practices; and helping the protégé (and mentor) to move to the next level of skill. Mentoring is about making connections for problem solving and inspiration. However some level of organization is necessary if a program is to be successful and sustained.

To set up a mentor program, various parameters will need to be determined.  The questions should include the following domains:

  • Formal or informal
  • Supervisory or collegial
  • Discipline-specific or general

In addition, you will want to determine if your mentor program will be limited to a local program or include a broader region.

Although the domains above are presented as opposites, please think about them as points in a constellation of options. Remember that there are endless combinations that can be formed.  Following are a review of options and a sample of advantages and disadvantages for each one.




(Mentor program is required by the district(s), the training program, or other entity. Program may or may not be supervisory in nature.)

  • Mentor and protégé complete a specific set of activities.
  • Resources are allocated for the program’s support.
  • Specific topics will be addressed.
  • Administrative support will be available.
  • Participation is mandated.
  • Mentor training and other supports are available.
  • Administrator may have fiscal support or other resources for ensuring successful participation.


  • Resources are needed for program, including both time and funds.
  • If only in-district mentors are used, mentor may not have expertise in vision or itinerant issues.
  • Participation is mandated.
  • Mandatory activities may or may not reflect:
    • the contextual needs of the protégé, or
    • the highest priority activities and knowledge areas for the protégé.


(Mentor and protégé agree to work with each other, without support from outside sources.) 

  • Activities are specific to the needs of the protégé.
  • Participation is voluntary.
  • Mentor will have expertise in visual impairments.
  • Limited funds may be necessary.
  • Is more likely to be collegial rather than supervisory in nature.
  • Activities may not have any structure or sense of progression.
  • Participation is voluntary.
  • The “needs and skills” constellation between the mentor and protégé may not match.
  • If schedules or other responsibilities get hectic, mentoring activities may get pushed aside, especially if the mentor and protégé are in different buildings, communities, or otherwise geographically separated.
  • Mentor may pass along poor habits/skills.  This can be of particular concern, as many supervisors are unable to evaluate vision-specific skills and practices.


(Reports are turned into a supervisor, university faculty, or other authority figure.  Supervisor may or may not be mentor.)

  • Increases the likelihood that protégé will address specific skill areas and be given the opportunity for improvement.
  • Supervisors (who are not likely to be mentors) will be informed of professional progress.
  • Time needed by mentor and protégé to complete necessary activities are built into the schedule.
  • Necessary resources are available.
  • Likelihood is greater that the mentor and protégé are in the same district and have access to each other.
  • Since various reports are likely to be required, areas of strength and weakness in either mentor or protégé are likely to be identified for future professional development activities.
  • Protégé may feel inhibited in sharing areas of concerns and shortcomings.
  • The development of a trusting relationship, that is so essential in a mentor program, could be inhibited.
  • Additional stress to a new VI professional could result.
  • If the mentor doesn’t have sufficient time to prepare for mentoring and develop necessary reports, he/she may transfer frustration to protégé or discontinue being a mentor.
  • Required activities may require additional duties from mentors, which may have a fiscal impact on the district.



(Progress and domains addressed may or may not be noted.  The results stay between the mentoring team.)

  • Format can build trust between colleagues, which may reduce the sense of isolation sometimes experienced by VI professionals.  Professional isolation has been cited as a concern for retention.
  • Activities can be customized to meet the specific needs of the protégé without a structure imposed on the team.
  • Electronic communication may make this type of mentoring feasible for those working in different locations.


  • Mentor and protégé may be in different districts, and therefore may have difficulty meeting or observing each other.
  • No or limited control over what is addressed between mentor and protégé.
  • No information about performance is available.
  • Mentor could be passing on “bad habits” without others knowing it.
  • May have limited impact on behavioral changes.

General mentor (Mentor is available, is not trained as a VI professional.)

  • A mentor may be more readily available from an existing induction program.
  • Mentor may be readily available in “base” location.
  • Training requirements may be more readily available via multiple venues including commercial and educational resources.
  • Mentor will be able to provide information, advice, and support on school culture, local practices, and procedural issues.
  • If the VI professional is new to education, the mentor is able to assist in adjustment to working in education.


  • Mentor will not be able to provide necessary guidance or resources for vision-specific domains.
  • Mentor may not have experience functioning as an itinerant educator.
  • Mentor may have highly developed skills, but ones that are less useful to VI professionals.  Classroom management is an example of such a skill.
  • Mentor may or may not be able to offer advice and support on managing an itinerant caseload.
  • Mentor may or may not be able to offer advice and support on consultation skills, an often-cited need for new professionals or in disability-specific domains.

Discipline-specific (Mentor is trained as a VI professional and matched with a VI protégé.)

  • Mentor will be knowledgeable about vision-specific resources and functioning as an itinerant educator.
  • Mentor may be seen as a “kindred spirit” and help to reduce a sense of isolation and overwhelming responsibility
  • Mentoring a protégé is an excellent method for providing a sense of professional “renewal” to experienced VI professionals, reminding them why they chose the profession
  • Mentoring can provide them with new or more current information.
  • Mentor may be able to provide lots of information about school or building culture, resources, and/or practices, and other informal networks.  If in different districts, may be able to provide methods to tap into informal networks.
  • “Feeling valued” is an important component of a solid retention program.  Mentoring can publically verify that the mentor is highly skilled and valued.
  • Mentor may be in a different building or district.
  • If the team members are in different locals,
    • the protégé’s administrator has limited ability to ensure that the mentor is instilling good professional skills and/or ensuring adequate access to the mentor or release time needed for shadowing, and
    • mentor may not be able to provide information about school or building culture, resources, and/or practices typical in that district or building.
  • If the VI mentor and protégé are not certified in the same discipline (e.g., VI teacher with O&M specialists), there may be limited understanding of critical issues that each faces when coming from different disciplines.


Once you have the basic framework determined, the next step is to determine how you will recruit, train, and sustain mentors, and how to match your desired mentors with protégés. 

Recruiting mentors

Potential mentors must first meet the criteria for participation, and should have

  • a strong track record for quality VI services,
  • good communication and organizational skills,
  • a supportive supervisor, and
  • an interest in mentoring.

In Texas, mentors must have

  • 4 years of experience as a VI teacher or O&M specialist, and
  • letters of support from their supervisor, co-worker, and a VI specialist at their education service center.

The principles employed in effective and efficient recruitment of mentors is similar to recruiting new VI professionals.  Garringer’s Effective mentor recruitment: Getting organized, getting results is one helpful resource. (Garringer, 2006)  Chapter 5: Recruiting of this Toolbox also has specific tips.  Basic principles include:

  • Knowing your target population and what influences them
  • Recognizing that mentors feel validated and respond best to a direct appeal (however, don’t forget basic awareness recruiting)

Tapping into the community of VI professionals.  Leverage those values that are broadly held within the community.  This will include VI professionals in your district, community, neighboring community, or region.  Another source for VI professionals is your state’s chapter for VI professionals.  The national office for the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) will have information about your state (  Other VI professionals can be important sources of information and have knowledge of how to contact various other VI professionals.  Specific strategies may include sharing information with the professional communities, using tools such as VI-specific listservs, professional organizations, and workshops, just to name a few.

Developing your message to appeal to VI professionals.  For example, emphasize how mentoring will:

  • help their professional development
  • reduce a sense of isolation
  • help them feel supported as a mentor

Training mentors

There are many effective training methods and resources for mentors.  VI mentors should be trained in both the basics of mentoring and VI-specific aspects.  The explicit purpose of training is to establish a program norm and to provide mentors with the tools and resources needed to work with their protégés.   

The TSBVI Web site has an on-demand training program for basics in mentoring.  This program was created based on the training developed and delivered by Leslie Huling, Ph.D., a noted expert in educational mentoring.  You can find the information at:

This course does not address vision-specific aspects of training.  TSBVI supplements this training with an additional 1.5 days of face-to-face training.  During this time, the participants review best practices in the field of visual impairments, and use scenarios to practice the principles described during the more-general training.  This kind of VI-specific application is critical to producing successful mentors.

Funding and/or sustaining mentor programs

Sustainability refers to maintaining both the financial and human resources necessary for a successful and robust program.  A constellation of funding, recruiting, and administrative strategies are necessary.  As such, each program will face unique circumstances.  Sources for funding can be sought from an array of areas, including local, state, and federal governments, as well as private foundations and corporations.  The Mentor Resource Center from the U.S. Department of Education may provide insight and guidance (

Texas has a full time coordinator.  However Texas is a big state.  Someone who will coordinate the program is important for sustainability.  However, a district or coop will not need to make it a full time job. 

The Texas VI mentor program is constantly working to improve and sustain the program.  Each year, mentors submit a contact log sheet that identifies the types of issues addressed. The mentor coordinator makes a mid-year contact with mentors and protégés to ask about how they are progressing and to inquire if there are any problem areas. Periodically, the program is evaluated and modifications are made.  Regional VI specialists are regularly consulted on various subjects related to mentoring.   Distance-learning networks are used to present topics of interest to mentors and to refresh mentorship skills.

What factors do I need to consider when matching mentors and protégés?

Matching is a keystone factor to any program.  Making appropriate and timely matches can make or break a program.  In addition to programmatic issues, several factors must be considered when matching VI professionals.

A thorough assessment is strongly recommended when matching mentors and protégés.  For VI professionals, such an evaluation should include:

  • reflecting on the personalities involved
  • working styles
  • professional discipline (VI, O&M, or dually certified)
  • distance between team members
  • an analysis of the caseload of both members of the team, including consideration of previous experiences for the mentor.  For example, has the mentor:
    • worked with babies? 
    • taught braille to a new reader?
    • introduced optical devices?

A wide diversity in previous experiences may not be an indication of a problematic match, but it may potentially indicate that additional professional development, resources, or supervision is needed for the mentor.

A thorough check of each party in the duo when matched for a program is one important way to manage risk in the mentorship relationship. Another way is to establish a routine of regular check-ins and feedback from the pair.

Once a match has been made, both members will benefit from regular check-ins, supervision, and evaluation. While the mentor–protégé relationship may not be supervisory in nature, there still should be oversight of the mentors—volunteer or paid—to ensure that program guidelines are being met.  These oversight activities need not be onerous, but they should be regular and predictable.

From time to time it will be necessary to rematch mentors. In those cases, program coordinators should have a clear understanding of how to handle such situations. A program should already have procedures in place when these situations arise. For example, when either party in the pair requests a rematch, will the other party have access to the reasons for the request, or will that be kept confidential?  Knowledge of the procedures should be available from the start of the program.

For more information on managing risk after the match has been made, visit the Mentoring Resource Center at the U.S. Department of Education (

Other helpful resources

The Internet and libraries are full of resources.  Here is a brief list of succinct information.

Getting a mentor program off the ground

An excellent overview of issues to consider when starting a mentor program.

Six reasons to be a mentor.

A short document that succinctly and persuasively identifies reasons to participate in mentor program.

Helping your mentees to develop capabilities - Part 1
Helping your mentees to develop capabilities - Part 2

A roadmap to identifying skills to develop and strategies for achieving their goals.

Effective Mentoring Relationships: The Mentee’s Role - Part 1
Effective Mentoring Relationships: The Mentee’s Role - Part 2

Relationships are the key to effective mentoring.  These short articles can help partners get off to a healthy start.

Mentor programs can happen for whole districts, cooperatives, or a single building or program.  It need not be daunting.  With a bit forethought and a few available resources, you can take a big step to ensure quality services from VI professionals and that those VI professionals will remain in your district.


Barlin, D. (2010).  Better mentoring, better teachers: Three factors that help ensure successful programs.  Education Week, March 23, 2010.  Retrieved from:

Benefits to the Mentors and Mentees National Academy of Engineering.  Retrieved from: 

Borreen, J., & Miday, D., (2000).  Breaking through the isolation: mentoring beginning teachers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Vol. 44, 152-163.

Borbely, C., (2006).  Making the connection: Using your evaluation for program improvement and sustainability: Elyria School District mentoring program.  Mentoring Resource Center

Center for Teaching Quality. (2006). Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions: A report on the 2006 North Carolina teacher working conditions survey.  Retrieved from.  

Fagan, M., & Glen, W. (1982). Mentoring among teachers. Journal of Educational Research, 76, 113-118

Fawn-Justeson, R. (2012). Teaching as relationship: Opportunities to mentor our students. NEA Higher Education Journal, Fall 2012Vol/Issue number here, 126.

Ganser, T. (1996). What do mentors say about mentoring? Journal of Staff Development. 17, 36–39. 

Garringer, M. (2006). Effective mentor recruitment: Getting organized, getting results. Mentoring Resource Center, U.S. Department of Education,  Retrieved from:

Odell, S., & Huling, L. (Eds.) (2004). Quality mentoring for novice teachers. Lanham, MD: R&L Education. 

Jones, N., Young, P., & Frank, K., (2013).  The role of school-based colleagues in shaping the commitment of novice special and general education teachers. Exceptional Children, 79. 365-383.