Guiding hands for new heads

22nd March 2013 at 00:00
Jean McLeish reports on a pilot mentoring scheme that involves experienced leaders imparting their knowledge

Experienced headteachers are to mentor less experienced heads at other schools, as part of a new programme being piloted by Aberdeen City Council.

Headteachers' feedback on the pilot will then further the development of the scheme before it is offered to city teachers as part of their continuing professional development.

The new CPD venture was introduced to heads last year, and mentors and mentees began pairing up at the start of this year.

Mentees will choose strategic objectives, which are focused on their leadership role as heads and set out in a professional learning plan.

Graham Legge, head of Aberdeen Grammar, who was at the introductory CPD session, said: "I have done buddying of headteachers previously - new headteachers - but that has been more on a practical, day-to-day, less strategic side of it. And this side, focusing on the strategic development of what is happening in a school, supporting and giving advice in that way, is a good way to go forward."

It is envisaged that heads will be better equipped to support their staff when teachers start the mentoring programme, having tried and tested the model themselves.

"This is a key part of our leadership development programme across the education, culture and sports service," explained Anne Darling, quality improvement officer with Aberdeen City Council, at a twilight CPD event to introduce the project to headteachers.

"So we've been developing the policy, and core to that is targeting key groups of staff to whom we want to give quality CPD experiences."

She believes that individual schools do undertake a whole range of mentoring and coaching activities, but this is the first time as a service that they have taken a strategic view of this as being really important for the future generation and for getting a consistent quality through the schools.

After the pilot, the authority plans to offer the scheme to teachers, with the first cohort perhaps in 12-18 months.

In the meantime, they will review the programme, along with the findings of the Donaldson report on teacher education and the national perspective, to inform their decisions as to how it will develop, said Mrs Darling.

Independent educational consultant Margaret Orr, a former head of special educational needs with Glasgow City Council and former member of the national CPD team, is working with Aberdeen on the new mentoring pilot. She gave a presentation to the heads at their CPD session. "This is the first time that I've been aware of an authority looking at this in such a systematic way, in wanting to ensure that they try and test a model before actually adopting it authority-wide," said Ms Orr, whose consultancy operates as M.O.S.E.L. - "Margaret Orr Supporting Educational Leadership".

The pilot will explore important issues, such as how the mentor and mentee are matched. "I think that the chemistry between the mentor and mentee or a coach and a coachee is critically important and I think that's one of the interesting things in terms of a national adoption of a mentoring programme," she said.

"How do you ensure that people who are paired up are actually going to be of benefit to each other? And that's one of the things that in the course of the pilot we want to be quite candidly exploring with colleagues. What is the best match? Should it be two strangers? Should it be pals? Maybe it's a mix of both.

"I am fascinated and I think there are lots of big organisational questions to be asked about how you ensure that the pairing is not just a paper exercise but that it becomes quite an effective one."


Aberdeen heads are expected to benefit from their role as mentors and may even become mentees themselves further down the line.

"The authority was very keen from day one that the mentors would also be learning in this process, so they're not being held up as 'Here are the gurus and you will go and sit at their feet and you will learn everything'," according to educational consultant Margaret Orr.

"But at the same time, it does acknowledge that there are experienced teachers in the authority and, as Graham Donaldson is encouraging, that they be recognised and able to contribute to the learning of their own authority, but also have their own learning enhanced."

The expectation is that this will happen in the course of conversations that take place between the mentor and mentee - "Even just being involved in an initiative like this will stimulate their own thinking."

Heads who embark on a role as mentors may decide to become mentees in a couple of years' time, Ms Orr said. "Just because you're an experienced head doesn't mean to say there are not things you would benefit from."

Feedback after the pilot from heads like Barbara Gray from Charleston Primary will influence how the programme develops. Mrs Gray is excited about having the opportunity to have professional dialogue with a colleague at the same level as herself.

"I think that heads, as Margaret alluded to, perhaps feel a wee bit left out sometimes in terms of CPD. We are very busy and we are ensuring that our staff are properly trained and well developed to do the job that they have to do in the classroom. But because we are busy doing that, sometimes our own CPD can slip."

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