Meaningful mentoring

1st June 2007 at 01:00
Coaching and mentoring initiatives across Scotland are having an impact at all levels

A pound;1 million Scottish Executive project to extend coaching and mentoring to support teachers has shown early indications of "important impact".

But future funding beyond this month will depend on whether the new education ministers decide to continue supporting the initiative.

Graeme Finnie, project consultant with the schools directorate at the executive's education department, says around 1,000 school and authority staff have already benefited. Although at this stage much of the evidence of the impact is anecdotal, he will publish a more detailed evaluation later this summer.

The enterprise is a response to the commitment made in the last executive's Ambitious, Excellent Schools programme to extend coaching and mentoring opportunities for education professionals. The broad-based project, which provided funding of between pound;20,000 and pound;50,000 per authority, has built on some existing work and also created some new professional development opportunities.

One of the biggest areas of focus has been the induction scheme, principally through developing the skills of mentors through programmes offered by universities and by developing mentors' coaching skills. This has led to a number of effects, including a greater awareness of role, skills and approaches that a mentor can adopt with a teacher in the early stages of their career; and the development of more focused and more skilful approaches.

A number of education authority staff are now working towards professional recognition as mentors with the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

While many teachers and senior management staff have benefited from a tradition of informal mentoring from colleagues in the past, the SEED programme makes the approach far more explicit.

"There will always be a place for the informal as well as the formal. When it becomes formalised, it can have the life sucked out of it," says Mr Finnie.

But the practice of explicitly supporting the professional development of new or recently appointed headteachers through coaching and men-toring is growing, he finds.

"The benefits of effective mentoring for new headteachers are well documented and have been confirmed in Scotland through university research and through activities such as the flexible routes consultation exercise,"

he says.

Among the more innovative approaches are:

* principal teachers at Newbattle Community High in Dalkeith are taking part in a coach development session to cultivate critical mass for the school;

* Orkney and Shetland island councils have set up headteacher coaching pairs;

* coaching with and for pupils in schools, including one school where S6 students are coaching staff and primary pupils;

* another school where the probationer is coaching the headteacher;

* and another where a teacher who had "hit the wall" was able to find her motivation again.

What they said

"Coaching gives people ownership. It allows them to ask themselves the questions that they would never normally ask. It puts them in a position where they examine where they're at; they themselves identify options. You enable that person to come to that point." Primary head.

"Coaching has been a bit of a revelation... It really slows you down and focuses you on what's important. Conversations with people are at the core of everything that's been done and that's fantastic... and the solutions often lie within themselves." Secondary head.

"The best professional development opportunity I have ever been involved in." Teacher

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