One significant element of the route to becoming the best possible teacher is high quality dialogue with colleague professionals; sharing practice, unpicking successful and less than successful lessons. In recent years, the appointment of a professional mentor has been a part of ITE training routes and into the NQT year. This person acts as internal quality assurance as well as professional coach, guide, model and counsellor. They signpost the trainee to appropriate expertise, to reading material and to resources that will enhance their developing practice.
The role of the mentor has benefits to the trainee, but also to the mentor themselves, as they have to distil a great deal of information so that it can be enacted with ease during the ITE experience or within the NQT year. Trainee’s generic knowledge of areas such as behaviour management, planning details for learning, SEND and assessment, have to be transformed in practice to the needs of the receiving school, where each can be subtly or, more often today, distinctly different. The focus on evidencing the Teaching Standards is also important, so brings these to the fore in the mentor thinking too. These can be separated into the personal and the practical, as per the following diagrams.
Many ITE trainees go into school practice with assignments to be completed, in addition to the teaching roles. Overview planning can be a key element of success, ensuring a balance of demand.
Getting to know the children well is a key element of success, with Teaching Standard 2 (Progress and Outcomes) impacting on planning (TS4), assessment within and after the lesson (TS 6) and adaptations within and between lessons (TS5), as well as qualitative judgements about outcomes, all leading to knowing the children better.
As well as the whole plan, I also recommend full awareness of whole weeks or fortnights of medium term planning, to get a feeling for challenge, expectation and outcomes over a period of teaching, so that evaluations can be part of a dynamic, not just of single lessons.
While some will cope with minimal support, others will need greater guidance. With good guidance and support, trainees begin to develop self-confidence and take greater responsibility for their own development. So the mentor role is very subtle, with empathy and awareness of another’s needs a key element.
I’d propose that within the first three years of teaching, every teacher should undergo some training as a professional mentor, enabling a period of self-reflection, so that they were able to undertake the role with trainees, but also with internal colleagues within promoted roles.
This training could be at individual or school level, with many ITE institutions offering at least a basic introduction to the role. Some offer routes that include Master’s level opportunities. This CPD opportunity could be checked during an Ofsted visit, together with a check on the school role in teacher education.
With more schools being brought into the School Direct route, in addition to ITE support, it strikes me as self-evident that mentoring in schools needs to be a significant focus. To do so also adds value to professional development, as lesson observations are a key element of development. This can evolve into coached lesson study with mentor and trainee observing another colleague, further enhancing the professional dialogue.
If all teachers became mentors over time, the system as a whole would benefit, from collective reflective practice. It should not be a matter of luck whether or not a trainee or newly qualified teacher has a good mentor.
And, of course, every newly promoted person should be offered a professional mentor, not just a line manager, to ensure that they very quickly are enabled to settle into the role. Line management can then be effected, based on high quality induction.