In brief

17th September 2004 at 01:00
A Practical Guide to Mentoring, Coaching and Peer-networking: teacher professional development in schools and colleges By Christopher Rhodes, Michael Stokes and Geoff Hampton RoutledgeFalmer pound;29.99 Here's a story for our times. A school is mired in crisis. Parents are voting with their feet, the head's gone, and it's proving difficult to recruit a new one. As a temporary measure, an acting head is appointed from an agency. Clearly, here is a school that was never likely to make progress by any conventional route. Nobody wanted to apply for the permanent headship, and it may well have limped into "sink" status, with dire consequences for its remaining pupils.

A creative solution was sought, and an "aspirant head" (a deputy in another school) was seconded to the school full time, with the title of associate head. To work with her in a supportive mentoring role, an experienced head was also seconded for two days a week as executive head.

Everyone benefited: the associate head gained valuable experience of running a school day to day, under careful guidance. The executive head was able to develop mentoring and coaching skills in a role that was, effectively, a recognition of higher-level skills. The school, which had been unable to attract any sort of permanent head, was taken over by two people of high quality.

The arrangement, crucially, was assisted by the authority and by the Midland Leadership Centre, based at the University of Wolverhampton. The centre was able to broker the relationships as well as providing monitoring and support for the leadership team.

This case study, a small part of this substantial book, is a striking example of the central message that "in-house" professional development - networking among teachers, mentoring and coaching within the same school or group of schools - is highly effective, particularly when it's well managed and purposefully organised within a climate of openness and mutual support.

Apart from anything else, it can help keep teachers in their jobs. "The seeds of non-retention within the profession are sown at an early stage," the authors write, going on to quote research that demonstrates, for example, "that self-directed professional learning, personal and shared reflection and authentic collaboration can create changes in teachers' perceptions of themselves and their work".

Coming from a University of Wolverhampton team that is deeply involved in helping such networking to happen and succeed, this book is founded in real experience, and filled with insights that are of direct benefit to everyone who has some responsibility for helping experienced teachers (and college lecturers) to develop further.

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