What rating would your mentees give you?
As educators, having gone through various training experiences, we have all had our share of mentors. Some of whom were more effective than others.
From a mentor’s perspective, it is a hard balance to strike, being an effective mentor whilst attempting to keep up with paperwork and general workload. If the mentee is good or excellent then they can be a godsend whilst at the other end of the spectrum, some mentees will double your workload and present multiple challenges.
How can you get mentoring right?
I have, in my various roles, been responsible for overseeing and supporting the training of mentors in a teacher training institution, mentored my own students/Newly Qualified Teachers as well as coached colleagues in specific areas.
The role of the mentor encompasses roles from motivator to mother or father figure and from coffee companion to code of conduct reminder. The remit is massive. You may be the difference between a talented student’s decision to quit when the going gets tough or find yourself picking up repeat placement students whereby, you very occasionally have to have the difficult conversation about alternative careers (because it is also your remit to save the next generation next September from a teacher who is not suited to the role).
I love mentoring and coaching because I thrive enabling others to be successful. It gives me an enormous sense of purpose and pride. One of my most treasured possessions is a card from an ex-colleague when I left an establishment saying “Thank you for believing in me” when she didn’t believe in herself. Neither is it a secret that as a shy 18 year old straight from school, I failed my first placement and had to repeat. I now use the experience to motivate struggling students.
Mentoring or coaching?
The terms ‘mentoring’ and ‘coaching’ are often incorrectly used to mean the same thing. They can coexist but are subtly different. the confusion accompanying the terms is not helped by the terms meaning slightly different things in the education world in comparison to the business world. The literature in this area is vast but one useful definition came from The General Teaching Council for Scotland, where you can also find a useful summary.
Top 10 Mentoring Tips
Whilst completing my MA I studied the concept of mentoring (which involved coaching elements) in a little more detail. This led me to develop the model of mentoring at the end of this post to try to pin down the huge range of tasks and skills that are woven together to be an effective mentor. This is also a movable feast of course as different colleagues or students have different needs just like the children in our classes. Therefore a degree of flexibility is required. My slimmed down version of 10 top mentoring tips for trainee teachers is as follows.
1 Be available
In this role it is imperative that you make time for your mentee. The demands of their course are huge and many of them are juggling their training around families as well. Ensure you make time during the day for a catch up to see how things are going and if any planning needs tweaking and you could allow them to contact you at evenings and weekends (although you should set boundaries for this).
2 Be human (sensitive and humorous)
Trainees will get sick. Usually by week 3. Be understanding even if you have to juggle everything to accommodate. When giving negative feedback do it sensitively with a positive side and when a lesson goes horribly wrong, as long as it’s not a regular feature, teach your student to chalk it up to experience and laugh it off. A quote from one of my students shortly before the lesson fell apart, ‘I realised that I should not have let them choose their own groups when I could see on your face that you were inwardly laughing’.
3 Be their role model
Do not gossip about other staff to them. Do not talk during staff meetings or assembly. Do not flout the dress code. Model positive relationships with staff and pupils. Etc. etc.
4 Be a realist
There is no point telling them they are amazing only for their university tutor to provide harsh feedback nor should you be too negative. Encourage self-reflection and reiterate what a challenging (yet rewarding) job it is. At some point you may need to have ‘that’ conversation about them not passing their teaching practice. Bring tissues.
5 Be willing to hand over your class wholeheartedly
So many mentors I have seen try to micro-manage their classes when a student is in. This doesn’t help the student or the class. Accept that the behaviour may get a little worse and provide back up if needed. Loosen your tight grip on the reins (I know you’re a control freak when it comes to your classroom). You do not need to be in the room the whole time. If the placement is going well, let them take a few risks without an audience.
6 Be willing to look for opportunities for them to develop
If the school up the road has amazing EAL provision, organise a visit. If they need to see PE in another key stage, encourage them to organise it.
7 Be a facilitator
Don’t do everything for them. Yes you will need to check their folders and paperwork regularly in mentor meetings but it’s up to them to check they have taught/observed the right lessons for writing up assignments or meeting standards. Not you.
8 Be a communicator
Give them lots of praise or if things are not going so well, let the teacher training establishment know as soon as possible to provide early intervention.
9 Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion
Occasionally you get a student who thinks they are better than they are. In this instance, the value of a second opinion is priceless.
10 Their success is your success
Be proud with them when they succeed. Celebrate with them when they pass!
My mentoring model
Finally, teacher intuition is difficult to teach to a trainee. It gets finely tuned after many years. I have 50 automated answers to all sorts of questions from children usually starting with the word ‘no’ followed by an explanation. Students take longer to process these questions! I also know how to differentiate and scaffold work for different ability levels which a student wouldn’t know. Don’t take their knowledge level for granted – they don’t know what they don’t know!
One more thing: don’t use trainees as supply cover! This is not their job. The odd day here and there is ok with mutual agreement, especially if they are in their final practice.