3 skills you need to be a successful mentor

Mentorship has a huge role to play in the success of new staff, so it’s worth getting right. Henry Sauntson explains how

Henry Sauntson

People helping one another out of a muddy pond

Each new academic year brings an influx of trainees: some turn up shaking with nerves, others bounce in, certain that they’re about to change the face of education. 

I was one of the latter (but it didn’t take long for me to realise that I wasn’t the answer to all of education’s problems).

I also turned up in a suit for the first Inset day, having not taken the time to check the dress code. I looked and felt new.

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How did I survive? Because of my mentor, of course. This hugely valuable role is often underappreciated by all except the trainee (in most cases), and the school’s initial teacher training and newly qualified teacher coordinator. But it’s vital.

The Carter Review of ITT in 2015 cited that a key factor in the success of a training programme was the quality of the mentoring that trainees received. Mentors should be excellent teachers who can both articulate and demonstrate outstanding practice. So, if you have been selected as a mentor this year – ITT or NQT – you should feel honoured. 

But what if you are new to the world of mentoring? What do you need to know, remember and appreciate? Here’s my advice: 

1. Be humble

Humility is essential in education. You need the ability to admit your mistakes and learn from them; to learn willingly from others; to genuinely empathise. NQTs have been through the most up-to-date evidence-informed pedagogical instruction; ITT trainees are accessing this every week. Put simply, they are probably more up to speed than you. Not because they are better than you, just because they have the time to access the learning. 

Take advantage of this. Show them how to manifest their theory in practice and watch them at work; take their ideas and work with them yourself; praise their concepts then make them realities. Remember, you are mentoring their potential, not their proven ability. Your trainee will feel supported and you will get better. It’s win-win.

2. Be positive

When we go into teaching, we think we can change the world. Or at least some of it. Foster that enthusiasm, praise your mentee’s efforts, and share their exploits with middle and senior leaders.

If you can learn from them, so can others. Don’t put them under pressure to perform, but celebrate their ability. They are yours, and you are showing them off.

3. Be honest

Always. With your senior leadership team, with your heads of department, but most of all, with yourself and your trainee. There must never be any surprises. If you aren’t comfortable delivering “bad” news and can’t find a way to dress it in developmental and formative clothing, use your professional mentor or coordinator – that’s what we are here for, after all. 

We have an ethical and moral duty to create teachers who are up to the job; if we pass someone who has shortcomings, in a bid to protect the reputation of the school or the mentor, we are doing education a disservice. 

At my school, I have told mentors that if they are not comfortable passing judgement on their trainee, they should leave that to me. I’ll take that one and put the appropriate support in place to ensure those issues are overcome, both for trainee and mentor.

You may make mistakes as a mentor, but you will learn from them. Value your role. As Tennyson said: “All experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world…”

Henry Sauntson is assistant principal at City of Peterborough Academy

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