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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How can we help school-based mentors to engage with the National Mentor Standards?

Alison Grasmeder discusses the SHOOC and how it can be developed to further meet the needs of mentors.

The National Standards for school-based initial teacher training were developed in response to the Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training (January 2015) with the aim of facilitating greater coherence and consistency in the practice of school-based mentors in order to support the training and development of trainee teachers. (National Standards for school-based initial teacher training (ITT) mentors, 2016). As a school-based mentor, and more latterly a senior mentor, I was excited by the advent of the National Standards, seeing them as a key catalyst for raising the profile of mentoring within educational settings to ensure that support and challenge is offered to those embarking on their teaching careers, as well as those within the early years of their professional development.

My interest lies in how providers of teacher education can assist schools to engage with these standards and use them as a medium to improve the experience and learning of those training to teach. Face-to-face meetings with an opportunity to network are generally considered to be the traditional method for developing networks of partners and trainers, and the best way of exploring educational practices and developing mentoring practice. Few of us would dispute that it is vital for partnerships to continue to develop their capacity to improve by training mentors – ensuring opportunities for trainee teachers are maximised, in order to impact positively upon the achievement and life chances of young people. However, the reality in schools and colleges is that mentors often find it difficult to find the time and space within the school working day to be able to attend these face-to-face meetings. Higher Education Institutions (HEI) try hard to support mentors in being able to access meetings and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) events. For example, they may offer financial support for supply cover or carefully consider the calendaring of these events. Despite these well-intentioned efforts there are still a considerable numbers of barriers for some mentors who unfortunately cannot access these training sessions.

With the development of information and communication technology there are now a range of other opportunities that can be explored and developed to ensure that mentors are involved in consideration and application of the National ITT mentor standards to their professional practice. The Enhance your Mentoring Skills open online course (SHOOC) is one model of this and evaluations and comments from the 3 iterations of the SHOOC to date, indicate what the participants think they need to develop their mentoring practice:

  • a space/opportunity to be able to reflect deeply
  • a collaborative community where ideas can be shared and developed
  • a structure for learning and an opportunity to hear from a diverse range of individual experts
  • a variety of activities to engage with, including case studies which provided context
  • differentiation to meet the needs of all participants including: flexibility about when to engage, freedom to choose what elements to engage with and limited deadlines
  • links to Continuous Professional Development/appraisal targets within school
  • a chance to be able to apply the tips from the course to current mentoring roles

The SHOOC attempts to offer some of this, and we are working to improve it further. Feedback so far has been very encouraging.  Natasha Hargrove, for example states:  ‘it has inspired me and pushed me to do more learning’ (A Mind Apart); while for Charlotte Jones (Heritage Park School) it has allowed her to become ‘familiar with mentor standards and unpicking what they mean on a practical basis has been really useful’. This, Charlotte feels, has ‘improved my own confidence’, adding ‘looking at the research has been interesting and I am keen to read further’. I am particularly interested in this last statement with regard to Mentor Standard 4: Self-development and working in partnership, and the need to engage with robust research, often perceived by mentors to be one of the most challenging strands.  The SHOOC facilitated access to a variety of academic literature, providing a bridge between the dichotomous camps of the practising, school-based mentors and the world of academic research. The SHOOC created space to think in a metacognitive way, to challenge established ideas and assumptions about mentoring, and then to be able to use this learning to impact directly on subsequent mentoring practices, something highly valued by participants.

So are online courses the way forward for those who wish to engage with the ITT mentor standards, or learn how to mentor, or to enhance their current mentoring practices? The evidence from the SHOOC evaluation would suggest that online course can be beneficial. However, it is possible that the full benefits of the SHOOC are not entirely quantifiable. The rate of full completion for the SHOOC course was 15% and, while this statistic is in line with other online courses of a similar nature, this doesn’t reflect the positive impacts that the online learning approach had for a number of participants who chose to participate in just some elements of the course, (whether this be a week or two of the programme or just certain activities such as the webinars or exploration of the case studies). These participants may not have formally submitted their reflections and evaluations through the  PebblePad  platform.  The SHOOC team are currently in the process of considering how we improve the course completion rate whilst maintaining the efficacy of the course.  It is my belief that online courses need to exist alongside face-to-face activities that potentially enable more complex discourse to take place.

So what next? Online learning appears to have enormous potential to support and enhance existing mentoring practices. The challenges that lie ahead for the SHOOC include: deciding exactly what aspects of mentoring it is best to share, such as operational information or softer and more complex mentor skills; to increase the confidence of those that are new to this style of learning approach and to raise the profile of these types of courses with senior leadership teams in schools, so that they are able to appreciate the positive benefits that are available through this style of collaborative learning.

With regards to accessing and engaging mentors with the National Standards, an audit of mentor confidence seems a sensible starting point for initially engaging mentors and is something that many providers have already initiated. The next challenge is for individual mentors and groups of mentors to explore how to embed and evolve these non-statutory standards to the next level, much like teachers have done with regards to the statutory teacher standards. The ability to network, to share, reflect upon and learn from each other’s experiences is key to any form of learning. What is essential is that this learning then has an impact on professional practice and this is something the SHOOC has achieved.

Alison Grasmeder is the Geography PGDE Lead Tutor in the School of Education, at The University of Sheffield and was a founding member of the Enhance your Mentoring Skills SHOOC. a.grasmeder@sheffield.ac.uk  @agrasmeder

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Virtual CPD: enhancing mentoring skills online

Can you learn how to mentor online? The suggestion that people can learn important interpersonal skills, such as those involved in the mentor/mentee relationship, through an online course appears, on the surface at least, to be doubtful. We asked participants on the SHOOC to rate the kinds of professional learning that they have found useful and to comment on what works for them.

Amanda  suggests: ‘It is really important for me to be able to reflect on what effect this will have on my ability to mentor and lead across both mentees but also across school.’. (Amanda Woods, Stocksbridge Junior School). Mark makes the case for CPD that has to be specific to the area that it is addressing and should involve collaboration and learning discussions’ (Mark Avis, Aspire Educational Trust). Whether the effort is worth it is important for Fiona: ‘Would it bring a benefit to my existing role? Improve efficiencies or encourage better approaches which improve pupils learning? Would it deepen my understanding of teaching and learning?’ (Fiona Heath, Sheffield South East Learning Partnership). How can we learn from this?

What have we learned about enhancing mentoring online? Running the SHOOC for the two runs in 2017 so far we have had over 500 people register with 338 workbooks completed and 338 digital badges have been awarded. 59 participants have completed all five workbooks and 59 digital certificates of completion awarded. This level of participation is in line with practice elsewhere in open online courses – there were just over 15% completion of the SHOOC which is above average for this type of delivery. Evaluations of the course showed excellent effect (23%), or very good effect (73%), overall on participants’ mentoring practice. What was interesting in the second run of the SHOOC (July 2017) was that the webinars were recorded (they were the ones we run in January) and the Tweetchats were not live. This does not appear to have affected the level of participation (although there may be an effect on the sense of a learning community – we are currently researching this). What people said they liked was the examples and case studies of actual practice (thank you to our partner schools for these!).

How are we putting lessons learned into practice in the SHOOC?  The practicalities of taking part in an online course mean that we are again aiming to help participants study in their own time, at a pace and place that is convenient for them. Therefore in the third run of the SHOOC, starting on Monday 2nd October, we are allowing people to register on a rolling programme. This means that people will start and finish the course at varying times between now and when the course closes on 15th January 2018. For this to work all of the five workbooks must be available at the same time. rather than being released one at a time, owing to the logistics of mananging this flexible approach. We hope the course continues to be useful and of benefit to our mentoring practices.

Richard Pountney, SHOOC Leader.

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Back by demand


Richard Pountney, SHOOC Team leader

Setting out in December 2016 to provide the first free open online course on mentoring in SIOE our main worry was that if we built it would anyone come. By the start of the SHOOC in January over 400 people had registered from all over the UK.

The success was in part due to the quality of the course team, but what amazed us was the commitment by very busy people to attend (or watch the recordings) the weekly webinars and to contribute to the forums discussing mentoring practice and issues. And the willingness, and generosity, to post tips and ideas to the shared spaces in Twitter, Padlet and Answer Garden. We estimated that the SHOOC would take people about four hours per week but looking at the workbooks produced it is clear that people were willing to invest more than this. Why?

Week 4 Badge Supporting and Guiding Mentees

Week 4 Badge: Supporting and Guiding Mentees

The team mapped the curriculum to the UK National Standards for School-based Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Mentors (2016). In the end 290 workbooks were submitted and 42 people completed all five workbooks and received the digital badges and certificate. This level of participation is in line with practice elsewhere in open online course – there were just over 10% completion of the SHOOC which is above average for this type of delivery. Evaluations of the course showed excellent effect (23%), or very good effect (73%), overall. Against the course objectives the broad indications are shown in the table below.

evaluationHowever it was what people said about the course that pleased us the most and made us feel that our work was worthwhile. Typical was Sarah’s comment: ‘The opportunity to reflect on what mentoring is, why we do it and how we do it has been invaluable in boosting my confidence and in helping me to move forward within my role. Specific examples from case studies and readers have helped me to develop in this area (Sarah Jackson, Wath Comprehensive School). Charlotte saw the course as building her skills and her confidence in mentoring:It has affirmed my ability and improved my own confidence that my practices in mentoring are appropriate and strong. (Charlotte Jones, Heritage Park School, Sheffield).

We go again on the 12th June. Come and join us!

Richard is the SHOOC team leader and leads on curriculum development and technology enhanced learning in the Sheffield Institute of Education. He researches the school curriculum and teaching quality in project based learning.

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What is the best form and focus for professional learning of mentees and mentors?

Dave DarwentDavid Darwent leads Post 16 Professional Practice modules and Mentor Training, and is a tutor to PGCE and Certificate of Education trainees in the Teacher Education Department in the Sheffield Institute of Education. In March 2017 he took up the post of Faculty E-learning Technologist, supporting the Sheffield Institute of Education to develop its e-Learning provision. In this blogpost he develops a conversation about approaches to mentors’ professional development.

Nurturing by nature or design: approaches to professional development of mentors

This week in the SHOOC we are looking at the nurturing aspect of mentoring, with particular reference to the period when mentees move on to another phase of their careers, whether that be with no mentor, a new mentor or the same mentor and irrespective of whether that phase-change has been long-planned or a sudden and unexpected move.

One key word from this week is reflection. We are looking at:

  • mentors reflecting on their own practice and careers
  • mentees being encouraged to reflect on their development

In the case study this week we have a reflective account of the first four years of one professional’s career which certainly wasn’t expected or planned to be as fast-paced as it has been and in that same interview we have learned about a powerful mentor – mentee relationships at a number of different career stages and about the impact that mentoring relationships have had on other areas of professional practice. Impact which was not planned nor anticipated but which – on reflection – has been transformational and substantial.

We’ve also asking the participants in the SHOOC this week to reflect on the past five weeks and consider what changes have happened in their thinking, knowledge, skills and understanding of being a mentor.

The learning stages of becoming a mentor

The other really major point I want to comment on this week is the cyclical nature of most aspects of mentoring and of career development and two cycles in particular come to mind: one is Noel Burch’s cycle of developing competence:

learning stages model

Although Burch presents this in a tabular form, I prefer to think of it as a spiral (or at the least a cycle) because we are all continually being unconsciously incompetent about something and equally we are all continually at each of the other stages of the model about something. If we focus on a particular aspect of our lives, the time to complete a cycle from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence is likely to increase as we take on increasingly complex tasks – hence a spiral getting forever greater in diameter.

When anyone embarks upon a new career it is likely that they don’t know at the outset what their ultimate career goal is and it’s almost certain that they don’t know every step that will be required to realise their career goal. The process of discovering what goals are available / attainable and then working out how to reach them can easily be likenend to Burch’s model. I use this model to represent the phases of career planning and realisation.

learning stages model2

The other aspect to consider is the nature of mentoring mentees to become mentors (which we looked at briefly in the context of the role of the Senior Mentor Co-ordinator in any organisation) and similarities to the teacher-education process. Whenever we seek to show another person how to do a role we do ourselves we effectively enter into a teaching / mentoring / coaching / training relationship with that other person. Some of these – notably teaching and mentoring other teachers or mentors – tend to result in the teacher or mentor learning more about their role simply by carrying it out, i.e. by reflecting and evaluating and in turn the practitioners often then go on to seek others to teach or mentor them as they develop further, thus creating an endless process of forever learning about themselves.

learning stages model3

Moderating and ensuring consistency

The ‘poor relation’ this week has been the topic of moderation and standardisation, which is again a reflective process and is always easier in organisations where there are many mentors and mentees who can collaborate. Moderation is also always at its most challenging in organisations where there is just one mentor and a very small number of mentees.

As I reflect on this week in particular, but the whole Enhance your Mentoring Skills SHOOC, I notice some emerging themes in contributions from some of our tutors and guest speakers and from our participants. One of the most powerful of these is the unpredictability of mentees’ needs and strengths; another is the highly predictable need for mentors to be very responsive and adaptable; and a third is the number of ways in which we all surprise ourselves when we reflect: and to this end I have surprised myself by making strong connections between my own current research interest in praise and feedback and the nurturing nature of the business of mentoring.

And that brings me back to the first part of this week, the reader, which began with that film of me, in my greenhouse, reflecting upon a reflective dialogue about the similarities between nurturing tender plants, nurturing learners (with reduced aspiration) and nurturing early career professionals who don’t yet know what they aspire to, still less how to achieve those elusive goals.

Further Reading

Standards for Teachers’ Professional Development (DfE, 2016)
Avalos, B. (2011). Teacher professional development in Teaching and Teacher Education over ten years. Teaching and teacher education, 27(1), 10-20.
Devos, A. (2010). New teachers, mentoring and the discursive formation of professional identity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(5), 1219-1223.
Hobson, A. J., Ashby, P., Malderez, A., & Tomlinson, P. D. (2009). Mentoring beginning teachers: What we know and what we don’t. Teaching and teacher education, 25(1), 207-216. (download)



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What part can mentors play in developing teaching quality and effectiveness?

Jenny DeinJenny Kurobasa is Senior Lecturer in Secondary Education in the Sheffield Institute of Education. Jenny works closely with mentors in schools. This blogpost aims to develop a conversation around the the key ideas of effective teaching and developing quality of teaching, and how this is related to the role of the mentor.


The role of mentors in developing effective teaching

It is clear that mentors play a critical role in supporting mentees to develop into effective and reflective practitioners. In week 4 of the SHOOC we are looking at how the mentor supports and guides mentees to set high standards, and inspire, motivate and challenge learners: essentially, to understand what effective teaching is and be accountable for the achievement of learners. It is becoming increasingly recognised, that the benefits of high
quality mentoring can ensure a successful and positive transition for the beginning teacher into teaching and continue to make a substantial contribution to their professional development through their careers. It is also worth considering that the benefits can be just as far reaching for the mentor, school or college setting, and ultimately learner outcomes.

Beginning teachers are concerned with the understanding of the ‘act’ of teaching. How and where to stand in the classroom, learner entrance and exit, voice and pitch, controlling the class etc. Although, crucially important for preparing for constructive learning to take place, the trainee may not be fully understanding of why or what they are doing it for. This is not surprising because classrooms themselves are complex and dynamic environments and for the novice this can be overwhelming. The mentor, as an experienced teacher, is able to ‘think’ and consider learner progress and intuitively identify learning in a lesson because they are ‘unconsciously competent’ in managing the classroom environment. There is an interesting piece of related research to read. ‘Learning to See in Classrooms: what are student teachers learning about teaching and learning while learning to teach in schools.’ (Edwards and Protheroe, 2003)

Given that our aim is to develop the understanding and skill of mentees in becoming effective teachers, it is therefore essential to understand what effective teaching is and the role mentors play in impacting on this. A definition of effective teaching is that which leads to improved student achievement using outcomes that matter to their future success. (Sutton Trust 2014), Essentially, the most effective teaching is that which enables the most effective learning. The Sutton Trust report outlined six key components to assessing effective teaching:

1. (Pedagogical) Content knowledge (Strong evidence of impact on student outcomes)
2. Quality of instruction (Strong evidence of impact on student outcomes)
3. Classroom climate (Moderate evidence of impact on student outcomes)
4. Classroom management (Moderate evidence of impact on student outcomes)
5. Teacher beliefs (Some evidence of impact on student outcomes)
6. Professional behaviours (Some evidence of impact on student outcomes)

What can the mentor contribute?

A mentor is an experienced and expert teacher who takes on the additional role of supporting and developing colleagues. At different times the mentor is a:

  • coach who provides a model of effective teaching and sharing practice.
  • critical friend who observes the trainee teach and offers encouragement to develop expertise.
  • trainer in subject knowledge and pedagogy.
  • assessor for the Teachers’ Standards

The successful mentor/mentee relationship is collaborative and mutually active. Both parties have a responsibility to explore, define and resolve mentoring issues. Mentors draw upon a wide range of relevant experiences, strategies and techniques from other aspects of their work. The mentor is not there to provide ‘the answers’, but to guide the mentee towards ‘the answer’ that is right for them. You do not have to have all the answers either; posing questions which can be resolved by working and learning together is far more important:

‘Asking a question is the simplest way of focusing thinking. Asking the right question may be the mostimportant part of thinking’ (Edward de Bono).

Sometimes during the relationship the mentor may be a ‘model’ to the mentee: giving direct support usually at the beginning of a training or learning activity when
understanding of the teaching pedagogy is limited or unpractised. The mentor may be a ‘guide’ to the mentee: developing the mentee’s understanding and confidence and then the mentor may be a ‘critical friend’: extending, enhancing and consolidating practice promoting independent thinking. However, it is not a master class. Mentoring is a ‘complex range of training activities and this is what makes for a complex relationship’. (Wright, 2012). Tomlinson’s (1996) model of mentoring assistance is useful here.

Understanding the journey that a novice takes

An examination of research literature on the process of learning to teach confirms the common sense observation that trainees typically go through a number of distinct stages of development, each with its own focal concerns. It is crucial to understand and part of getting to know and building a positive working relationship with your mentee. There are many theoretical interpretations of these stages. Maynard and Furlong (1993), ‘Common stages of student learning’ gives insight into how the mentee may respond to the learning activities through the training journey. This knowledge and awareness of the mentee journey is useful for the mentor to appropriately assist and ‘pitch’ the learning activity.

However, the development of any one mentee is more complex than a simple stage model implies; they will develop at their own rate and will need to revisit issues because they have forgotten them or wish to relearn them in a different context or at a deeper level. Therefore stages of mentoring should be considered flexibly and with sensitivity: cumulative rather than discrete. As mentees develop, mentors will need to employ more and more strategies.

Further Reading

Dudley, P (2011) Lesson Study: what it is, how and why it works and who is using it, www.teachingexpertise.com
Edwards, A., & Protheroe, L. (2003). Learning to see in classrooms: What are student teachers learning about teaching and learning while learning to teach in schools?. British educational research journal, 29(2), 227-242. (available here)
Furlong, J., & Maynard, T. (1995). Mentoring student teachers: The growth of professional knowledge. Psychology Press.
Furlong, J., Whitty, G., Barrett, E., Barton, L., & Miles, S. (1994). Integration and partnership in initial teacher education‐‐‐‐dilemmas and possibilities. Research papers in Education, 9(3), 281-301.
Tomlinson, P. (1996). Understanding mentoring. Reflective Strategies for School-based Teacher Preparation. British Journal of Educational Studies 44 (1):127-129
Wright, T. (Ed.). (2010). How to be a brilliant mentor: developing outstanding teachers. Routledge.
Wright, T. (Ed.). (2012). Guide to mentoring: advice for the mentor and mentee, ATL (available here)

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How do we help mentees (and mentors) to manage the workload?

adrian FearnAdrian Fearn is the University link tutor in the Sheffield Institute of Education. He works in partnership with schools in the region to support trainees professional development whilst on school placements. This blogpost aims to develop a conversation around the the key ideas of professionalism and self-reliance.


How do we help mentees (and mentors) to manage the workload?

One important aspect of the Mentor Standards is standard 3: Professionalism. This standard deals with inducting the mentee into professional norms and values, helping them to understand the importance of the role and responsibilities of teachers in society. Managing time effectively is one of the five sub-standards and is a huge challenge for most mentees. Some already have inherent strategies to assist them in prioritising their workload, but for others the need is for the workload to be broken down into manageable sections.

There are some useful discussions to be had around ‘qualitative workload’ and ‘quantitative workload’. Sometimes it is the difficulty of the workload that mentees find hard to deal with, such as writing a Masters Level assignment or having a challenging face to face conversation with a parent; sometimes it may just be the volume of book marking that is using up considerable amounts of time. In  response to teacher workload the Government established three working groups that reported back in March 2016 :

The Planning and Resource group review (2016) specifically states that ‘ Burnt-out teachers are not best for pupils. ‘ (p.6).  When being inspected by OfSTED, any ITE institution will need to show how they have responded to these in order to support the next generation of teachers.  A recently published report comment on aspects of this:

‘Although it is early in the revised training for 2016/2017, trainees talk positively about how this is helping them to develop useful skills to manage a range of difficult situations, including stress, workload and colleague relationships.’ (Wildern Partnership SCITT OfSTED report, 2016).

It is therefore heartening to see that the reviews are being noted by the teaching profession and that this is being supported by the OfSTED inspection framework. It is also at this point worth reminding ourselves of the wider OfSTED mythbusters.  Sean Harford’s, OfSTED National Director of Edcation’s blog is a useful primary source of this.

professionalism6Managing Time

Covey’s (1991) Time Management Matrix is a useful tool to assist mentees with the prioritisation, enabling them to consider the importance and urgency of their
workload. It is also useful to structure the time in the day into clearly
defined episodes:

A. ‘Me’ time – protected for you
B. Scheduled time – timetabled lessons and meetings
C. Non-contact time – for marking and planning
D. Transitional time – ‘spare’ time that can be used as
you require

Most important here is the imperative  that the ‘Me’ time is never subsumed.

As a creative approach to linking this with recruitment, Nottinghams’ Education Improvement Boad (EIB) have developed a ‘Fair Workload Charter‘ that school’s can sign up to and get accredited  as a ‘Fair Worload Charter School’.  This leads me to ask how would your institution answer if an applicant inquired at the end of the interview process – ‘So, how will you support me with my workload?’

Further Reading

Aspfors, J., & Fransson, G. (2015). Research on mentor education for mentors
of newly qualified teachers: A qualitative meta-synthesis. Teaching and teacher
education, 48, 75-86.

Covey, S. R. (1991). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York, NY.: Simon & Schuster.

Parker, G. (2015). Postmodernist perceptions of teacher professionalism: a critique. The Curriculum Journal, 26(3), 452-467.

Timoštšuk, I., & Ugaste, A. (2010). Student teachers’ professional identity. Teaching and teacher education, 26(8), 1563-1570. (download)

Younger, M., Brindley, S., Pedder, D., & Hagger, H. (2004). Starting points: student teachers’ reasons for becoming teachers and their preconceptions of what this will mean. European Journal of Teacher Education, 27(3), 245-264.

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How do we develop trust and confidence in mentoring relationships?

Helen WriglesworthHelen Wriglesworth is course tutor on the SHOOC and a Specialist Leader of Education and School Direct Primary Lead with Delta Teaching School Alliance, part of Delta Academies Trust. The post aims to develop a conversation around the key ideas of trust and developing confidence.

Developing trust and confidence in mentoring relationships

In the case study for workbook 2 of the SHOOC we explore the importance of modelling and developing secure relationships in effective mentoring relationships.It is perhaps rather obvious that mentors who are approachable, make time for mentees and who prioritise meetings and discussions are likely to be viewed as more supportive and constructive by mentees. Somewhat less clear is how to achieve this, especially where time dedicated for mentoring is restricted. What experience has shown is that the first meeting is crucial in developing trust; that trust is needed for the mentee to develop confidence; and that without confidence …

Setting out together

The most important impressions are often the first ones and with any first meeting it is crucial that the one that starts the relationship with your mentee is a positive one. This meeting involves the mentor being positive, open and confident (difficult sometimes during busy professional lives). Body language is key and smiling, making eye contact and projecting appropriate confidence is part of saying ‘I am here to help and guide you’. I have found that it pays to set out the ground rules for you both at the start, including pre-planning weekly meetings together to ensure you both have dedicated time. And to ensure your focus is entirely on your mentee, book a quiet room where you will not be disturbed and where your mentee will be comfortable.

Of course your interest in your mentee is a vested one – in other words in declaring your interest in the mental and professional well-being of your mentee you are entrusting to and  investing in her success. I find that small talk goes a long way and I ensure I have knowledge of my mentee’s hobbies and interests outside the workplace so that I can build a rapport that will be useful when developing a trusting relationship. The trick of course is to build independence, or perhaps more exactly, to scaffold it while it develops, and to know when the support can be taken away.

Managing emotions

In week two of the SHOOC we pay particular attention to the mentor’s empathy for the challenges faced by mentees and how addressing such issues can have a positive impact on mentee progress and development. It is important therefore to have an understanding of the qualities needed to successfully mentor others before mentoring commences. The role requires a complex use of interpersonal skills in order to effectively address issue and support mentee well-being. Every individual you mentor will require a slightly different approach in order for her learning needs to be addressed. The diversity of challenges offered by mentoring a range of different individuals allows you to enhance your mentoring skills, and will add to your experience which will allow you to mentor more effectively. The benefits are often reciprocal.

In knowing ourselves and our mentees we can allow our support to be tailored to their learning needs. It is essential that we have integrity when dealing with the emerging needs of mentees. Honesty and a strong moral purpose is a vital characteristic of any mentor. In many instances the messages that need communicating during mentor meetings are often difficult, and challenge the practice of our mentees. However it is vital that we understand the background of those we mentor and understand why they require support. We are all professionals despite our stage of development, and it is essential that we respect the needs of our mentees in order to adequately support them.  Optimism for the future is part of well-being, and nurturing and encouraging colleagues in transitional practice (from novice to established practioner, or from practioner to middle or senior roles) involves recognisinig and learning from mistakes, through a reflective process (Harrison, Lawson & Wortley, 2005).

Learning from critical incidents

There are a number of models that can be used to support the development of reflection, and it may require several to be explored before finding a strategy that suites your mentee. The Critical Incident Method focuses on a specific event and guides your mentee into describing the incident allowing key points to be identified. This could be useful when discussing the behaviour or progress of a specific learner.


Harrison, J. K., Lawson, T., & Wortley, A. (2005)

Feedback forms an integral part of the mentoring process. In order for emerging need to be identified the practice of mentees must be observed. The most important part however is developing an individual’s ability to reflect on their practice and identify their own areas for development which relates back to Goleman’s model. This is a personal skill that forms an integral part of a successful practitioner’s work but may be natural to some individuals while other may need to be taught the skill explicitly. The Reflective Practice Model by Gibbs identifies the need for a structure to be followed in order for reflection to impact positively on practice, and identifies key feature –  ‘Describing What Happened.’

The hope is that over time mentees will then develop the skills needed to reflect on their own practice on a daily basis and evolve into independent professional as suggested by Pappas (2010) – which of course relies heavily on the confidence of mentees being nurtured and developed. This is the virtuous circle in which mentees are guided to identify positive areas in their practice in order for them to be open to and to benefit from the challenges. Furthermore this allows their confidence and resilience to be established as they begin to develop the tools they need to deal with novel situations arising in the future.

Further Reading
Dudley, P. (2013) Teacher Learning in Lesson Study: what interaction-level discourse analysis revealed about how teachers utilised imagination, tacit knowledge of teaching and freshly gathered evidence of pupils learning, to develop their practice knowledge and so enhance their pupils’ learning, Teacher and Teacher Education, Teaching and Teacher Education 34 (available here)

Harrison, J. K., Lawson, T., & Wortley, A. (2005). Mentoring the beginning teacher: Developing professional autonomy through critical reflection on practice. Reflective Practice, 6(3), 419-441. (download)

Pappas, P. (2010). A taxonomy of reflection: Critical thinking for students, teachers, and principals (Part 1).  Online at: http://www. peterpappas. com/2010/01/taxonomy-reflection-critical-thinking-students-teachers-principals. html.

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Is there a difference between mentoring and coaching?

Dave DarwentThis discussion aims to develop a conversation around the differences and similarities of the mentoring and coaching roles.

In the case study for Workbook 1 of the SHOOC we explore the distinction between mentoring as a structured sustained process for supporting professional learners through career transitions, including entry to the profession; and coaching as a structured sustained process for enabling the development of an aspect of a professional learner’s practice (Lofthouse, Leat, & Towler, 2010). We wanted to pay particular attention to how mentees understand and experience this as a starting point to help us reflect on our mentoring roles. 

Coaching and Mentoring

One significant difference is that a mentor normally encourages their mentee to take risks and be innovative, creative, and consider the widest possible range of options for completing the task or process facing them, whilst a coach usually wishes to ‘train’ their coachee to carry out particular tasks or processes in a specific way which is the accepted ‘correct’ method.

It was interesting to see the responses that colleagues give when we asked them to think about their own experiences as mentors or mentees.  Significantly, several participants commented about how they had quite recently been mentees themselves and now, as mentors, are modelling themselves on either their own mentor or on what they wished their mentor had been. Another very significant recurring comment was about the relationship between mentor and mentee and the need for this to be trusting and non-judgemental. Weare (2004) comments that being judgemental and / or punitive “…does nothing to build up trust that is the bedrock of relationships.” This is something which many mentors and probably coaches too are all too familiar with as they understand that when they give judgemental feedback to mentees / coachees, only too frequently this results in ‘barriers’ developing between them (Hobson & Malderez, 2013).

Some of the participants gave sage advice on this area, such as “don’t rush in with what you perceive is the correct way of doing something” and “Listen without judgement” and a good number of the Top Tips posted to our Padlet included remarks to the effect that Mentoring someone helps the mentor to reflect on their own practice and develop themselves further too.

So, some questions to think about as we move towards the end of week one of the programme:

  • Reflecting on your own experience, are you acting as a mentor or a coach?
  • When you have been a mentee, have you actually been a coachee?
  • How can you foster a reflective attitude in your mentees?
  • and perhaps most importantly, how can you facilitate the building of that ” trust that is the bedrock of relationships”?

Further Reading

Coaching and Mentoring: Approaches to support the Professional Update process (General Teaching Council Scotland) (link)
Aspfors, J., & Fransson, G. (2015). Research on mentor education for mentors of newly qualified teachers: A qualitative meta-synthesis. Teaching and teacher education, 48, 75-86. (download)
Hobson, A. J., & Malderez, A. (2013). Judgementoring and other threats to realizing the potential of school-based mentoring in teacher education. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 2(2), 89-108. (download)
Lofthouse, R., Leat, D., & Towler, C. (2010). Coaching for teaching and learning: A practical guide for schools. United Kingdom: CfBT Education Trust. (link)
Weare, K. (2003). Developing the emotionally literate school. Sage, London (link)

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What do mentors need to know and be able to do?

‘… good listening skills … be approachable … patience … empathy …’

On Thursday 24th November 50 or so senior mentor coordinators (SMCs) attended the regular SMC Community meeting at the Sheffield Institute of Education. Led by SHOOC tutor team colleague Jenny Dein the discussions were around how we support our mentors and trainees effectively and part of the day was given over to looking at the SHOOC and how it might help SMCs in their work.


People felt that participants in the SHOOC needed awareness of practice and of the strategies for helping trainees and newly qualified teachers, and especially in terms of basic expectations and procedures and how we can help mentees match practice to standards. The experience that trainees have before placement begins was considered to be very important. How to support lesson planning, how to set SMART targets and lots of good examples rated highly alongside practical expectations of time, paperwork and commitment for mentors. Regarding the content of the course itself SMCs colleagues wanted to see materials that ‘de-mystify the standards so that they don’t become overwhelming’ with video examples of mentors in practice. A course reader setting out the information in a straightforward way was valued by the group as well as practical guidance, based on research, of what works.

We also discussed activities for participants to complete during the course: self-evaluations of mentoring skills and knowledge was commonly agreed to be important, although quizzes to check understanding was viewed less so. Tips on key practices, provided by the course and sourced from the community, together with materials that encourage and support reflection drew the highest approval from the group. In the final activity SMCs contributed to an AnswerGarden (see below) in which they were asked to respond to the question ‘What skills do mentors need? In less than 40 characters.

answer garden SMCSee the Answer Garden and make your own contribution here

One key outcome for the planning of the course was to address teachers’ professionalism earlier in the course. We have done this by swapping the order of weeks 3 and 4 (see Curriculum page). This feedback was extremely useful to the course team in helping us plan and prepare the SHOOC for its opening on 16th January 2017.

Would you like to contribute to the development of the course? Please complete the survey at: https://goo.gl/forms/kkJJReEsR2d9Bytq1

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