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Mentor collaboration leads to inclusive student performance

Jim McGuire on stage

Jim McGuire, performing arts teacher at Southside Occupational Academy, directs performance rehearsal.

Mentorship facilitates success across many career fields, but its value is especially evident in teaching.

The Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline’s Induction and Mentoring program pairs recent Illinois State graduates with experienced teachers at their schools for on-the-job training. This spring, one mentorship pair completed a particularly memorable performing arts project with students at Southside Occupational Academy.

Shauna Ponnambalam, a Learning Behavior Specialist 1 major, graduated from Illinois State in 2016 and joined the faculty at Southside Occupational Academy, a transition center for young adults between the ages of 17-22 with moderate to severe disabilities. The students focus on vocational and functional life skills. At Southside Occupational, Ponnambalam teaches in the Structured Intervention classroom, where she supports self-contained students who need extra structure and attention throughout the day. Her lessons center around daily living and functional independent skills like hygiene, cooking, cleaning, and communication.

Through the Induction and Mentoring program, Jim McGuire guides Ponnambalam during her first years of teaching. McGuire teaches performing arts at Southside Occupational and recently worked with Ponnambalam on an opportunity that showcased her self-contained classroom in a performance about student experiences.

“We discussed physical abilities and interests among her students, and designed a movement routine that incorporated each student,” said McGuire. “Through dedicated instruction and collaborative planning outside of class time, we were able to design a performance for each of the students to engage in. ”

Shauna Ponnambalam, participant in CTEP’s Mentoring and Induction Program, alongside her mentor, Jim McGuire, at Southside Occupational Academy.

Joanna Oceguera, assistant coordinator of Mentoring and Induction, visited Shauna and Jim during the rehearsal process. She described what she saw as “collaboration and co-teaching at its best”.

“Shauna was working on signs for her students to hold during the performance, and Jim was working with his students on stage to get their marks right and their moves ‘on point’,” said Oceguera.

For Ponnambalam, participating in the Induction and Mentorship program not only lends her assistance from a veteran teacher, but it also creates a network of support among other mentees and mentors at her school.

“There are a lot of us at Southside who are in the mentorship program, so it has helped me build not only a great relationship with Jim, but with a group of other strong teachers too. This has been so helpful to me because there are many experienced teachers who I can borrow awesome ideas from, as well as a handful of other teachers who are trekking through their first year like I am,” Ponnambalam said.

Both Ponnambalam and McGuire used the Induction and Mentoring technology grant to purchase iPads for their respective classrooms. Ponnambalam uses the device to film video models and create visual instructions for her Structured Intervention classroom, while McGuire uses apps like iMovie and GarageBand to create in-depth experiences and models for his performing arts students who need visual support to complete tasks independently.

Ponnambalam and McGuire are just one example of how a strong mentor-mentee relationship between teachers can benefit their classrooms. Their willingness to collaborate and develop inclusive practices within their unique teaching environment will no doubt have positive impacts on their students.

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