Exploring the benefits of mentoring

Helen Harrison is the Primary strategic lead for Doncaster ITT Partnership, part of Partners in Learning Teaching School Alliance. She is currently a practising head teacher in a Doncaster school.

Although I have extensive experience of mentoring others, I have never been a recipient of someone else’s expertise. As a newly qualified teacher, I was mostly left to my own devices in the classroom without any support whatsoever – it was a long time ago!  The theory was that you should know what you are doing having spent four years learning how to be a teacher. Similarly, as a new head teacher, I missed out on the national head teacher mentoring scheme that was no longer in operation and available to me.

Despite these deprivations throughout my career I have been motivated to explore the concept and associated skills of mentoring in more depth so that I could find out more about what is entailed. Over the years I have taken every opportunity to encourage colleagues to be mentors.  I came to realise that having and being a mentor gives a lot of value added at a personal and professional level with reciprocal benefits to the mentor and mentee.

So, I do fervently believe in the value and benefits of mentoring at an individual and an organisational level. I have observed how effective mentoring provides a basis for reflection and professional dialogue on teaching and learning and observed how trainees grow in confidence and develop their skills.  At the same time, I and many colleagues admit that sometimes we felt we have gained even more than the trainees.  I often think that if all the staff in the school were well trained as mentors working at different levels and within different contexts, the potential for institutional development could be immense.

However, a lot of what is on offer in mentoring training is operational and procedural. Yes, we need that, but are in danger of forgetting what the real essence of mentoring is about and how to develop the associated skills and competencies. As stated, if all the staff were mentors and acquired these skills, the impact on the school could be striking. Active listening, negotiating, conflict solving, effective questioning, giving feedback and setting targets are all part of the teacher’s repertoire. They are integral to teaching and learning so the widespread benefits of mentoring skills in raising achievement across the school should be an area worth exploring.

In partnership with Sheffield Hallam University in the Mentoring Practice Enhancement Programme we are developing a range of approaches, including self-led learning; online learning with peer support; and online learning with dedicated time from school leadership models.  Our aim is to evaluate these models and we are working with the Sheffield Institute of Education and the Doncaster Research School to research this. One part of my own involvement in this is to create a support group with colleagues in school, working together on the workbooks and the learning tasks.

All of this to be explored!

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