September 2021. A new chapter opens for many new teachers in England. Their first classrooms as qualified professionals have finally been occupied. They are meeting new colleagues, new students and grappling with new systems and expectations. At the same time, they are the first cohort of new teachers with a new policy name. They are the ‘Early Career Teachers’ (ECTs)’. Following a DfE ‘pilot’ phase they are also embarking on a new professional learning journey within the Early Career Framework (ECF) and will have been assigned a new mentor. But as the new policy landscape takes hold, with ECF providers creating ECF brands and routines within this new CPD market, lets remember that there is already wisdom in the workplace. We know much of what makes for effective and affirming induction, and we need to keep hold of some of that before the jargon and innovation of the ECF takes us boldly and potentially blithely into the future.
A address issues as they arise - a little advice, offered regularly from the sidelines, is more likely to be accepted as a normal and constructive than a once in a while focus on a serious problem which might have more emotional strain attached. Also, allow time for messages to sink in, and review regularly through informal chats as well as formal meetings.
B book appointments in advance - make regular discussions part of the mentoring process. Doing this allows time to talk and for the ECT to mull over some ideas, raise an issue, or respond to a target, before the scheduled appointment. Committing to a time and place sends a message that this time is important. Also, in your own ‘schedule’, build in time to allow for the unexpected.
C class management induction - support and guidance, and clarity of expectations for all parties, will never be wasted here. Beware the honeymoon period. Keep an ear to the ground and check with your ECT and other colleagues - is your new recruit coping OK after the start of term dust has settled? Were you aware of any issues from the training period? Better to follow up sooner rather than later. Chat to key form tutors to see if any informal feedback has been offered by pupils. Make sure the ECT is fully aware of the school’s systems as well as the extent of their own responsibility.
D departmental routines might be second nature to you, but can seem overwhelming to the new starter. Make sure key events, are flagged well in advance. When the ECT doesn’t know what they don’t know, they may easily miss an event on the calendar that seems really clearly signalled to you - repeat key dates and messages: details are easily lost in discussion.
E ebb and flow - the workload of a teacher is often irregular. Encourage your mentee to plan ahead for the busy times so as not to overload themselves.
F follow up any niggles, from your ECT, pupils, other staff, parents - misunderstandings need to be unravelled and a relationship built on finding solutions sets the tone for future development.
G go the extra mile for your ECT, if it seems appropriate. You won’t want to hold their hand and encourage them to be dependent on you - but at the same time, they are looking to you to assist them in completing their professional training - and they are entitled to your support. Part of your position is to develop others, remember.
H home life is important to all of us - be aware of any particular issues that might affect a new starter’s settling-in.
I information - make sure data, important internal documents, online forum membership details, usernames and passwords are shared. Leaving your ECT in a position of ignorance is unfair.
J jointly prepare and plan - if you’re not sure about an ECT’s confidence in the classroom, build some shared planning into your meetings. In so doing, you’re scaffolding and modelling your expectations, and you’ll soon see when you can reduce the time needed to oversee.
K knowledge development is so important to teacher development and an expectation that the newcomer will continue to work on their subject knowledge and signature pedagogies is essential. Even in the early days, you might be discussing what the ECT might be teaching the next term or next year, and what they will need to develop in the meantime.
L listen to what the ECT doesn’t say, as much as to what they do. Did you notice that when discussing their classes, they avoided mentioning that year 10 class? Did you wonder why..?
M merge, match and mentor - coordinating a team is about finding the right combinations of individuals for specific projects. Try to match up your ECT with a suitable buddy for part of a key project.
N new developments happen all the time but ECTs don’t yet realise this. Being able to support the team through change from whatever starting point or focus they currently have is all part of steering the team in the long-term.
O observations need to be arranged, in as many forms as possible. Enable the ECT to observe other teachers in the department and around the school - they need to see what the standards and routines are. It would be unfair to judge them on these expectations without giving them these opportunities first.
P pressures come from all angles - and the newcomer can’t always separate the major from the minor - encourage some perspective through humour, shared experiences and discussion with a range of mentor figures.
Q question your ECT all the time - you’re the leader and there’s a lot about the day to day work of your team that you need to know about. Set the expectation that you’ll be asking about homework, test results, behaviour, etc - from here, it’s easier to mould and shape rather than acting retrospectively after a formal review, observation or intervention.
R reporting to the appropriate body needs to be timely and accurate. Ensure that you’ve planned your own time in terms of observation, feedback, review, data collection, etc, so that you’re properly informed at key points in the year. Give your ECT the opportunity to address any areas of weakness in good time for new practice to become properly established and embedded, rather than just featuring as a tick-box exercise.
S share your anecdotes, disaster stories and worries - your whole team, and your ECTs in particular, need to see that mistakes can be rectified, and barriers overcome.
T timing – gradually aim to increase the challenge and independence experienced by the ECT. Share your thoughts with them, and encourage them to plan their stages of development with you.
U understand that the ECT’s field of vision is not the same as yours - some ECTs can barely see to the end of the lesson, never mind the end of the day, week or term. Also remember that in 2021 all ECTs will have trained during the pandemic.
V variety of input - experienced mentors draw on a broad range of strategies to help the development of ECTs: other colleagues, internal INSET, external training such as through the LA, your academy group, Teaching School or other partnerships; printed materials, podcasts, videos and internet sources - knowing which to offer when is part of your getting to know your mentee.
W wishing they were different isn’t going to make it so - once appointed, this teacher is in charge of the education of children. Make sure your interventions and supports keep this as the main focus.
X x-ray vision, 6th sense, 2nd sight, intuition, radar, call it what you will - if you get ‘that feeling’ that something’s not right, it’s best to check it out.
Y you - mentoring an ECT can be a great pleasure and privilege. It can also be draining, frustrating and time-consuming. Pass any serious concerns to your line manager and look after yourself when it comes to work-life balance and how you show your team that you’re coping.
Z zoo, zither, zinnia and zumba - we all love our treats, so a little gesture of appreciation once in a while, a little act of kindness, even something as simple as stepping in with photocopying on a really busy morning, making the coffees or leaving a Ferrero Rocher on the desk just says ‘I know what it’s like’ - and that might be all it takes to give a boost to a new starter looking for a little reassurance.