While a few individuals have sufficient confidence and self-assurance, the majority of teachers in my experience have valued opportunities to work alongside others whose expertise they value, either in formal sessions sharing understandings or informally, through classroom visits for observation or time to chat.
ITE trainees should have, or create, dedicated time to visit other classes, as well as to watch their mentors, to gain an idea of the approaches being modelled within their practice school.
Whether formal or informal, the sharing of, or modelling of expertise is a form of mentoring.
If the “expert” visits the class of the “mentee”, they can monitor or audit the classroom provision and offer coaching advice about improvements. So mentoring, moderation and monitoring are three points on a circle, or the intersection on a Venn diagram, with the centre being the point of personal improvement, where all three come together.
The model of mentor sharing is worth exploring. It takes time to develop descriptors of working practices in such a way as to impact on the practice of another. The receiver has to develop a mental model of the classroom situation being described, including the classroom layout, the storage, availability and accessibility of relevant resources and the challenge tasks that were shared.
This would be in addition to the detail of how essential information was shared, through direct instruction, dialogue, dvd, imagery or artefacts to explore or text material to read, ahead of interactive approaches.
The mentor, in visiting the mentee for an observation may well focus on these initial aspects, as they are the structural elements of the lesson, in the hands of the teacher through their planning. If elements of the structure needed to be tweaked for other lessons, this advice is relatively easily given.
Timely intervention support by a mentor can prompt mentees to take action at an appropriate time. The reason for this and exploration of the consequences of taking the action can be explored, as well as the opposite scenario. I don’t mean the mentor calling out to the mentee to do something, as this is undermining, but rather a quite word in the ear, so that the mentee can retain status.
The mentor is likely to be able to “tick off” the professional standards as the lesson progresses, based on the teacher status and relationships with the class and any additional adults, covering standards 8, 7 and 1. The order and organisation of the planning is embedded in standard 4, while the mentee subject knowledge (3) is likely to be evident in the introductory elements, where they share essential information to children in a form that is appropriate, and pitched to the age and needs of the group.
The lesson pitch, including the quality of task challenges evidences standard 2.
While the lesson progresses, the mentee will be listening to interactions, questioning, scaffolding, modelling to explore the detail of supportive feedback or adaptations to the original tasking to take account of the emerging evidence of misconception or lack of understanding. This could be at an individual, group or class level, with lesson interruptions to highlight or share developing concerns within the learning. It is often the close details of the lesson that determines the quality of the outcome from the learners.
Understanding what “good” looks like as an outcome, is an essential tool to support teacher judgement. In the early stages of a career, this might be a little less secure, but, through exposure to a wide range of outcomes, this develops greater security, especially if supported by moderation activities with another acting as mentor.
Monitoring exists on a number of levels. The interaction with the mentee’s lesson allow for both developmental and judgemental commentary. Working with ITE trainees, while for the majority of their school experiences these will be developmental, en route, for individuals, evidence has to be faced of significant deficits in their practice or their professional approach. On such occasions the trainee may well require a career discussion to decide their future routes. ITE providers have a responsibility to the profession as a whole, to quality assure all trainees. There will be a range of competences within any cohort, but there has to be a basic level of competence to be determined as employable.
Competence can become an issue for serving teachers, although this is rare. Processes are clearly articulated in personnel documentation and it is incumbent on the school to quality assure the process leading to (hopefully) addressing and remediating the identified issues. A note of concern on an ITE route serves as a beginning point for developmental dialogue.
Mentoring, moderation and monitoring are the tree parts of supported personal development. They are, for the most-part a shared experience, done with and through, rather than to. If handled with care, the mentee benefits. If it is too onerous a process, or perceived as top-down judgement, it may not support general improvement, only focus in a small target area.
Like many things in life, mentoring is often a judgement call. This has to be acknowledged as occasionally flawed; it is a human system. For that reason, ITE providers have quality assurance mechanisms, through visiting Link Tutors or specific tutors responsible for Quality Assurance and for mentor development. I am lucky enough to be undertaking all three roles for different providers, so can see the picture from a variety of roles.
Like any learning situation, it is a case of identify, address, check. If done in a professional manner, everyone benefits, including the mentor, whose person-management skills are enhanced through undertaking the role. They also reflect very deeply on their own practice through watching others. The whole system benefits.
Developing another develops yourself. Everyone should have and become a mentor to another. Giving quality feedback and advice is a powerful development tool, for both giver and receiver.