High hopes for a safe landing

7th May 1999 at 01:00
Mentoring is all about you. Your needs, your future. Make sure you don't miss out, says Elizabeth Holmes.

The quality of mentoring you receive could be a matter of chance, but it is a key issue in your induction year. Mentoring practice varies considerably from school to school and may play a part in the problem of retaining high quality teachers. Being aware of this can help ensure you don't miss out.

Giving new teachers a mentor is still quite a new concept in the profession and there has been a lot of research on the subject in recent years. This is resulting in a stronger understanding of the demands of the mentor's role, and the benefits of effective induction to the newly qualified teacher, the mentor, the school and the profession as a whole. The standards of mentoring may be raised as a result, with a national qualification for mentors becoming a real possibility.

Your mentor (or induction tutor) is not simply someone who co-ordinates the support you receive; the role involves much more. They will be facilitators for your own learning in ways that build on your training. These will incorporate pedagogical and management skills as well as all other kinds of knowledge needed to perform your job. Effective mentoring balances the needs of the school with the needs of the new teacher and is delivered in a wide variety of ways.

Janet Colvert, East Sussex county council schools advisor, believes that having a mentor is important to a new teacher for many reasons. It "gives the new teacher the opportunity to bridge the gap between training and experience". The new teacher can "try out ideas and evaluate them, celebrate success and build on it, and acknowledge the need to improve and do so". She explains: "To achieve this there must be a real partnership, where mentor and new teacher are both committed to the ongoing education debate that marks the reflective practitioner."

Your mentor will be directly involved in the success (or otherwise) of your induction year, supporting and assessing you, and assisting in your developmental activities. It is fair to say that the quality of your overall induction depends largely on the quality of mentoring you receive. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers thinks so, and has been particularly vocal in campaigning for structured support for new teachers. Meryl Thompson, head of ATL's policy unit, believes that "limited mentoring skills compromise the whole induction process. Support will be most critically required in the training in mentoring skills which will be required not only by the induction tutor, but by other colleagues who, it is assumed, will be involved in the support, monitoring and assessment process".

Unskilled mentoring could set the tone for your professional development and could even make the difference between passing or failing your induction year. Your mentor performs many roles (some may say too many) from supporter, nurturer and critical friend to assessor and judge of competence. They will be looking for a demonstration of the standards for Qualified Teacher Status and the Induction Standards, and will help you to identify your needs realistically, to prioritise, plan and reflect; they will also challenge you. Support should underpin every role.

You should not think it unrealistic to have high expectations:

* a carefully selected mentor with excellent interpersonal skills who knows exactly what their role is and its importance * to observe and be observed * to be given effective, constructive feedback * to be assisted with appropriate target-setting * regular reviews of targets * to have copies of all documentation relating to your progress * a relationship with your mentor that can shift over the year in response to your progress and changing needs (support should remain a constant) * some LEA-provided training * to be appropriately challenged.

Unfortunately, there will be huge disparities in mentoring provision. If your school has the ethos of professional development for all teachers, your experiences should be positive and problems will be less likely to develop. However, if a school loses the profession a new teacher through ineffectual mentoring and induction, it must carry the bulk of the responsibility for an enormous waste of resources. Research from the United States suggests that the better the start you have in a profession the more likely you are to succeed.

Mentoring and induction may be only part of the picture -conditions of service play an important role in your job satisfaction - but it is well worth being alert to the quality of mentoring you are being offered:

* familiarise yourself with the Induction Standards and the Standards for the Award of Qualified Teacher Status * don't skip induction and "mentorial" sessions * Work hard on the relationship * be aware of the time constraints on your mentor or induction tutor * be receptive to new ideas * talk about your workloads as early as possible. Be honest - don't pretend to be more confident and capable than you feel * put forward ideas for your induction. How challenging do you want your targets to be?

* who were last year's new teachers? Draw on their support * what are your colleagues' areas of expertise?

* evaluate of your work regularly and acknowledge your progress * give feedback on the quality of your mentoring. Compare it with what new teachers in other schools are experiencing * talk to your union. Unions will be monitoring induction arrangements in your area. (If yours isn't, change union) * listen to your mentor, whatever you think about what they're saying. It will make for constructive discussion * integrate what you learn from your mentor into your work.

Elizabeth Holmes's book, 'The Handbook for NQTs', is published by The Stationery Office in August


Ros Kilford (mentor, below) and Lisa Poulton (newly qualified teacher, right) of Hawthorns County Primary School in Worthing have developed an excellent working relationship which is based on a feeling of mutual responsibility for its success. Ros believes firmly that a new teacher can and should have high expectations of mentoring. "A mentor must have a positive attitude to their role," she says.

"They must enjoy their job and the environment in which they work so they can instil some of that enthusiasm in their new teachers. I hadn't realised how time-consuming the job could be, but also how enjoyable I would find it."

Ros's obvious devotion to the role of mentor has clearly contributed to Lisa's enjoyment of her first year in the profession, but she is quite clear about her side of the bargain.

"You really do have to be honest about your needs and ask for help at the appropriate times," says Lisa. "That's easier in a school with a culture of openness and colleagues who are used to supporting each other. I've got that at Hawthorns."

They both believe that it shouldn't be unusual for a mentor to be in the new teacher's classroom, even though that may be hard to manage unless an effort is made to make the time to drop in and observe for a while or discuss something.

Regular contact of this sort is a tough problem for a school's management but one which both Ros and Lisa believe can be resolved. Ros also recognises that fairness is central to the success of the mentornew teacher alliance:

"Personalities can get in the way of professional relationships, she says, "and the mentor should be able to display empathy. However, support structures need to be well established in case the working relationship breaks down."

But Ros and Lisa's relationship looks in no danger of that.


* Frequent, informal support from the mentorinduction tutor and other colleagues * A critical dialogue between all involved including effective, quality feedback * Opportunities to observe and then analyse with colleagues why a technique has worked * Support that covers curriculum issues as well as day to day job management * 'Mentorials' - time for discussion, information and advice * Co-ordinated approaches to mentoring rather than ad hoc arrangements * Regular contact with mentors so that each meeting need only cover a few issues * Support with planning * A school ethos which sees mistakes as learning experiences


* Time constraints may demand a lot of goodwill on the mentors' part. leading to inequalities across the country * Your very little experience of mentoring. If this becomes an issue, raise your concerns with your local authority * Your mentor may be untrained. If so, ask to see your school's written policy on mentoring. What priority does your school give to mentoring?

* Different school personnel may have different ideas about the role and status of mentoring Ask at your interview:

* Have the mentors at this school received training in this role?

* Is the mentoring of newly qualified teachers done alongside the mentoring of initial teacher training students? Different people ought to be undertaking these roles because the skills involved are different * Will there be 'consortium' arrangements for induction and mentoring? In other words, will clusters of schools in your area be getting together to provide support

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