As the term and the school year comes towards a close, staff have largely moved and been replaced, often with a newly qualified teacher, a newbie, fresh from their training. I’ve recently finished my final visits to School Direct trainees as a Link Tutor for one group and Quality Assurance for another. It is always a good thing to spend some time after an experience, to evaluate the process and the details that contribute to the whole, so that necessary tweaks can be made to improve the system for the future.
It was a feature of all the trainees, across both groups, that their standard of professionalism was extremely high. This I have explored in an earlier blog post, identifying Teacher Standards 8,7,1,3 as common features of early success; they have a professional demeanour, recognised by colleagues and children, enabling them to get across their ideas.
An earlier blog on mentoring looked at it as a form of CPD.
The quality of mentoring can be a significant variable, both in terms of the personality and the teaching quality of the individual mentors, but also in the receiving school, as a whole, in their preparedness to support a developing teacher.
In the early stages, where quality induction is required, there is a need to explore the totality of education and to make sense of the whole, as it is evidenced in their host school; eg ethos, safeguarding, behaviour management, expectations, resource base, planning approaches, among many others. This wealth of information can be overwhelming, if not carefully managed, and should not rely on the trainee just to find out for themselves. Introductions to key personnel need to be made, with Maths and English managers and the SENCo, to familiarise the trainee with current issues.
The mentor (or a nominated colleague) may also have to act as the “tutor in residence”, able to support the academic aspects of the course; at least to be party to reflective discussions about the writing tasks.
The above does require a mentor programme to run alongside the trainee programme. If, as suggested, trainees were given time to discuss “papers” during their training days, these could then inform discussions with mentors, to gain a school perspective on the topic.
In discussion, it is clear that many mentors do not generally attend formal gatherings, in doing so, limiting the opportunity to develop a network. This is not a dissimilar picture in university mentor meetings. Some thought needs to be given to incentives to encourage attendance, or at least to discourage non-attendance.
Regular meetings with mentors, on a personal level, “mentoring the mentors”, would also support the STSA profile. Where University Link Tutors visit more regularly, it can seem that some schools are able to misinterpret the roles of different visiting representatives.
To summarise. Mentors need to be fully appraised of the training programme, the demands on themselves and the trainees from the Alliance and the University and be able to provide support that ensures a smooth training opportunity.
After a committee discussion yesterday, I took the thoughts one step further, by reflecting on the role of the receiving school, developing the whole school into a global mentoring system, rather than just relying on one colleague, although, for weekly discussions, this would still be the case.
This, to me, sits within a “Teaching School”s Alliance; a collection of teaching schools, rather than a central Teaching School with satellite schools agreeing to take trainees. In this way, everyone becomes a mentor, additional CPD becomes an opportunity to reflect on practice and the central Teaching School could invite broader discussion within the group to explore the sharing of very successful practice.
We need high quality teachers, well supported at vulnerable times of their teaching careers.
The NQTs arriving in schools in September will not be the “finished article”. The newbies, transferring in from other schools may also be vulnerable. They will need support to settle, to organise and orientate themselves, to pick up the wide range of school systems in order to become effective colleagues. They need to get to know the children and the expectations that the school has of their progress during the year. They need to know the quality standards. These need to be effectively shared during induction, but also as a continuous activity. Induction could last the year, with regular meetings to support, enable downloading of problems, seeking solutions.
This is a school level need. Often, if a teacher is failing, it is the lack of colleague intervention that makes this harder to resolve. Teaching can be a solitary activity, but it is a team game. Everyone should be looking out for the newbies.
Let's make all schools Teaching Schools, committed to teacher development at all stages of their careers.