Masterclass - Mentoring - A positive approach

5th June 2009 at 01:00
Look for good points as well as pitfalls - and don't forget when coaching someone just how hard it is to master the essentials

Mentoring and coaching have become growth areas in schools in recent years. As a teacher trainer, I frequently come across ex-students charged with this responsibility very early in their careers.

The majority assume this duty with aplomb, but I'm often disappointed at the selective memory of the few who have forgotten that it took them quite some time to master the essentials of classroom teaching.

Given that a great deal of mentoring is based on classroom observation, it's surprising how few schools train people to do this. It is always worth remembering that much observation of teachers takes place against a background of high stakes in terms of Ofsted and performance management.

As a consequence, it's important to ensure that, wherever possible, the heat is taken out of the situation and observation becomes the basis of genuine professional dialogue.

The establishment of this dialogue, built on trust and respect, has to be at the root of any approach to mentoring - and it's worth acknowledging that this may take longer than you think.

Although it may be glaringly obvious, it is worth reminding yourself that you should be looking for positive aspects of performance, as well as potential shortfalls. Recognising ability and accomplishments is just as much a part of mentoring as the identification of problem areas.

It's an occupational hazard of teaching that we love to talk, but when it comes to mentoring and coaching, it's much more important to listen.

In particular, it's worth noting what people aren't saying or acknowledging about their teaching that you may think needs addressing. Spotting these gaps is often central to worthwhile mentoring and coaching.

Above all, make sure that targets set are sharp, clear and achievable - and are formulated in English. This often means making the most down-to- earth and practical suggestions, rather than something that sounds rather grand, but means nothing to the person who needs and wants to improve.

Better, in other words, to suggest that a teacher forms a clear idea in their own head of what the lesson is about than banging on about differentiated objectives.

Finally, as a coach or a mentor, don't be afraid to analyse your own performance. A good rule of thumb is always to ask yourself whether you are capable of doing the things you are suggesting others should implement. The standard challenge for leaders is to ask yourself if you would do what you are asking others to do

Jon Berry is the senior lecturer in curriculum research and development at the University of Hertfordshire

Key Points

- If you're a coach or mentor, don't forget the hard times you have had. Make allowances for the fact that much of what you have learnt has come through experience.

- Try to be as positive as possible, acknowledging what has been done well along with what needs addressing.

- Make sure that you listen as well as talk.

- Set targets that are clear, sensible and achievable. Couch your comments in language that people understand.

- Analyse your own performance: are you asking for too much?

- In a high-stakes environment, keep your approach to coaching and mentoring as low-key as you can.

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