Is mentoring the key to a successful career in teaching?
Having a mentor
Throughout my career to date, I have held a range of different roles within school, moving from class teacher to Assistant Head and then finally making the transition into my current role as Head of School. A key part of me being able to take on the challenges that these different roles have and still do present, has been having the support and guidance from a mentor. If I think back seven years ago, my confidence as a teacher was pretty low and I was unsure if I wanted to continue with this career choice. There is much in the media about the ‘Teacher recruitment retention crisis’ and the most recent statistics state that one in five teachers leave school before they serve two years in the classroom (Hughes, 2021). This could have been my own experience, had it not been for the support from a mentor, who believed in me and helped me to remember the qualities I had both personally and professionally.
My mentor gave me the space to become a ‘good teacher’ again but at the same time was there to give ideas and direction. They also explored the assumptions, values and beliefs I held, and this then encouraged me to critically reflect on my practice. However, the main factor that has contributed to my development as both a teacher and a leader has been ‘professional trust’. I feel that having professional trust is a necessary catalyst for developing a culture of learning and providing teachers with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful.
Being a mentor
I have had the opportunity to mentor students, newly qualified teachers (NQT’s) and staff who are new to school within my current role. Most recently, I have mentored an NQT who has now progressed into their second year of teaching. The role of a mentor is one which I have found hugely rewarding and enjoyable and it has offered me the opportunity to reflect on my own pedagogy and practice.
The first step to being an effective mentor is to make relationship building a priority - connect before content. As a mentor, I think it is really important to build a relationship based on trust, with both high levels of challenge and support. I found that in my role as mentor, I have had to be flexible and at times change my approach dependent on the individual. However, this was only possible due to building a positive relationship from the start and having a good understanding of their individual needs and progress.
Secondly, there needs to be open dialogue between the mentor and the mentee as it offers benefits to both parties. It is essential that dialogue is a two way process and not seen as a form of interrogation. (Ryan, 2008). Dialogue brings opportunities to discover self-knowledge and therefore the capacity to articulate what constitutes high quality practice. I know that having these regular conversations with mentees reaffirms to me ‘why we do what we do’ and the rationale that underpins our pedagogy. Leading a school that places great importance on open dialogue and provides opportunities to facilitate conversation around teaching and learning, I believe is a powerful driver for school improvement.
Thirdly, a collaborative approach has been instrumental to ensuring the success of not just our NQTs and RQTs but also more experienced teachers who have joined our school. Teaching can feel like a lonely endeavour and many teachers often see themselves as solo practitioners rather than working side-by-side in teams and being members of an organisation. As a school we have a strong collaborative ethos with all of our teachers working in phase teams who are jointly responsible for the planning and the organisation of the phase. We also work as a partnership of five schools, holding regular subject network meetings. There are many benefits of collaborative working in schools: it strengthens pedagogy, creates a collectivist culture, provides CPD through the sharing of best practice and can create a more manageable workload.
In conclusion, successful initial teacher education relies on all partners working together effectively, to create an environment where teachers can learn effectively by observing, questioning, discussing and critically reflecting on their own experiences in a structured way to allow progress.
- Hughes, H. (2021) Mentoring in Schools: The key to retaining early career teachers?
- Ryan, W (2008). Leadership with a Moral Purpose