Good work, partner

28th January 2000 at 00:00
Who can save the helpless NQT from the jokers and fiends lurking in the school corridor? Kevan Bleach looks at the special powers of the induction mentor.

New teachers need help. At the start of their careers they are like strangers seeking access to a new society - to the classroom as their place of work and to the school as their work organisation. They look to their induction tutor as the person who will provide them with a rite of passage that is as painless as possible. And that is why the quality of the relationship between them can make or break the new teacher.

Good schools have always provided programmes of induction and allocated mentors to new teachers. But now that there is a statutory obligation to serve a year's induction, all schools must have structured arrangements for the guidance and assessment of new staff. So, who should be taking on a role that includes overall and day-to-day responsibility for NQTs? What kind of functions should they be fulfilling? And what qualities should they possess?

Being an induction tutor gives teachers the chance to develop personnel management skills, offers a new professional challenge - and a chance to do something tangible to influence a new generation of teachers.

Overall responsibility for induction tuition is definitely the remit of senior managers, as they can influence and direct policy and action. They can make induction a central aspect of school practice and ensure newly qualified teachers have a voice at the highest level. Other key factors are their knowledge, experience and whole-school perspective - and, hopefully, the respect they command.

A mentoring brief will often depend on whether managers feel they can combine the roles of induction co-ordinator and assessor with the more hands-on roles of being booster, therapist and (occasionally) shoulder to cry on. Then there are the various administrative tasks, such as organising an in-service programme and making assessments of NQTs. They also must ensure consistent monitoring and guidance across the school.

Consequently, induction managers should see themselves as team leaders, who act as movers, developers and overseers of the new teachers in their schools.

What about the other members of these teams? They are the people who will have the closest and most regular contact with NQTs, dealing with their development and needs on a day-to-day basis - which is why they must be teachers able to offer effective support to individual NQTs. The future status and quality of our profession is a stake.

Factors such as the size of a school or department, timetable constraints or other commitments all narrow the field. Where choice is possible, tutors must be people who:

* have a good professional reputation in the school

* are willing to give time in offering guidance and support

* are competent enough to monitor progress and provide sound feedback.

They also need to be ableto deal sensitively with adult learners and accept that NQTs are individuals whowill bring with them a rangeof experiences and whoneed to find their own teaching styles.

In secondary schools, it is usually heads of department who take on this job. Their experience and involvement in subject management helps them communicate an overview of the work of the department, its policies and procedures. In many primaries, induction managers carry a tutor-mentor brief. However, NQTs will obviously benefit from working with a number of teachers with expertise in core curriculum areas.

Recently qualified teachers can also be involved as "buddy" mentors. They can provide the NQT - often informally - with someone closer in age and status with whom they can share queries or concerns that they might feel reluctant about broaching with more senior staff.

Whoever acts as the induction tutor or mentor,it is vital that the whole department - in primary schools, possibly the whole staff - are involved in supporting their newest colleagues.

Finally, there's the ingredient that lies at the heart of successful induction - the quality of the professional relationship between induction tutor and NQT. Research I have carried out over the past 10 years in Walsall comprehensives has found that new teachers most often mentioned approachability and empathy, while mentors favoured being a listener. Other qualities mentioned by NQTs included communicating well, exercising confidentiality, making time for others, helping diagnose problems and devising solutions and giving support.

Every induction tutor will bring his or her own particular strengths to mentoring. But communication skills and attributes - in which talk is central - are cardinal in making or breaking a relationship between tutor and NQT.

Kevan Bleach is senior teacher at Sneyd community school, Walsall, and visiting lecturer at Wolverhampton university school of education. He is the author of The Induction andMentoring of Newly Qualified Teachers (David Fulton pound;15).His next book, The NewlyQualified Secondary Teacher's Handbook, will be publishedthis year.

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