California mentor says ratchet it up

19th May 2006 at 01:00
Scotland is a world leader in the training and induction of teachers, a leading American authority has told The TES Scotland. But Ellen Moir, executive director of the New Teacher Center at the University of California (Santa Cruz), warned: "You need to ratchet it up."

Dr Moir and her senior colleague, Janet Gless, spent the past week in the country with the support of the Scottish Executive and the Hunter Foundation as part of the national drive to bring to Scotland experts from all over the world who are doing "cutting-edge" work in teacher training and leadership.

Their visit was hosted by the Scottish Teachers for a New Era project at Aberdeen University, which is receiving pound;1.8 million from the executive and Sir Tom Hunter to test new approaches to teacher education.

The key message from Santa Cruz to Scotland was that far more effort must be put into the use of "exemplary" teachers to mentor new staff - in effect, "teachers teaching teachers how to teach".

"Our profession needs leadership roles for teachers that capitalise upon the sophisticated expertise involved in being an outstanding classroom teacher," Dr Moir and her colleague say. "Additionally, advising new teachers is a powerful form of professional development."

The 2001 teachers' agreement allows probationers in Scotland 30 per cent off their teaching week to ease themselves into the profession, yet those who mentor them are freed for just 10 per cent of their time to do so (equivalent to around three hours a week).

The California scheme, which has now been extended to 31 other states and to other countries, operates on a full teaching load for new entrants and a full-time commitment by mentors who are typically given a caseload of around 12-15 new teachers.

Dr Gless said: "The fundamental thing is to enhance pupils' learning and to do it by enhancing students' and teachers' learning."

The project claims that the use of mentors has seen the number of teachers leaving the profession in their first years in the job slashed from 50 per cent to 12 per cent.

"They leave, not because of salary reasons, but because they feel they are not part of an adult learning community and don't have the opportunities to grow as professionals and advance their careers," Dr Moir said.

Dr Moir was supported by Kay Livingston, who directs the Scottish Teachers for a New Era project. "The focus should be on good quality mentoring, based on clear selection criteria, not choosing mentors simply because they put their hands up," Professor Livingston said.

The project was looking afresh at the first induction year with a view to the extension of mentoring into a second year.

Dr Moir said it was an easy matter to go into a school and ask people to point to the best teachers. But she warned: "The best teachers are not always the best mentors because they might not have the interpersonal skills that are so critical."

Her experience has been that careful selection of mentors leads to everyone wanting to become one - "which means good teachers become very good, the very good become even better and the whole school then moves forward. So, although our focus is on what's good for the novice teacher, what's good for the novice is good for all of us."

One of her biggest surprises was the positive impact work with new teachers had on schools. "Staff as a whole have developed into passionate, compassionate, knowledgeable professionals so that new teachers are not just being supported to join a profession that deadens the soul," she said.

"I'll be darned if I'll do that."

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