Building A Culture of Mentoring: How We Are Doing It

“I feel that this year more than ever, the mentor has a crucial role in supporting the students through their placements.  Schools are just not the same as ‘usual’ and I feel it is the role of the mentor to support the students even more during these strange times.” Hallam Mentor

Recently we have been revisiting some key questions:  What does it mean to us, as a partnership, to be ‘Hallam Educators’ or to train ‘Hallam Teachers’? What are our common values and aspirations? Within what frameworks and using what models can we achieve our goals?

These questions have arisen because, like all Initial Teacher Education providers, we are redesigning our curriculum in response to the introduction of the Core Content Framework (CCF) and the new Ofsted framework for ITE. The role of mentors in the training of teachers has always been essential but will be even more so as we better integrate key learning, particularly in relation to trainees “learning how to…”.

However, we were working on this well before the introduction of the CCF in response to rising withdrawals, the workload reforms and our institution’s focus on relational pedagogy (that is for another blog!)

We have identified four ‘pillars’ or ‘dimensions’ which we think are important to establish a climate for training.  These are social relationships, critical reflection, an emotional dimension and celebrating success.   As a large partnership, we are determined to ensure that these dimensions of mentoring are understood and adopted across the whole partnership to foster a climate in which our trainees can not only survive but thrive as they engage in their professional learning.

We have developed an on-line mentor induction and development programme which includes an annual induction to Hallam mentoring and an extended training development programme based upon our successful and impactful mentoring SHOOC launched several years ago now.  Both address the mentor standards, Hallam process and documentation but, most importantly and powerfully, are built around our 4 pillars and simple messaging:

Social relationships

Everyone brings their own personal story, cultural background, strengths, life experiences and circumstances.  We want to provide a training experience that recognises and takes account of the rich diversity in our region.  We need to be flexible and prepared to adapt to support individual needs and circumstances. We need to take time to ask and listen, especially in the first few weeks of the placement.  Some trainees already have stronger supportive relationships than others.  Some will need additional help and support with this.  Ask them.

Here’s a comment from one of our students on a positive mentoring relationship: “She has made us feel like teachers and truly part of the team from day one, even when we felt like we didn’t have a clue, and that has been priceless.”

Critical reflection

Weekly mentor meetings are framed around a ‘reflections and actions’ discussion including reflections on trainee progress, pupil progress and critical incidents analysis.  Mentors are encouraged and signposted to reflective models.

 “I have allocated a weekly time slot with (the) trainee to meet …they will reflect in the first half of the hour and then we will meet and discuss this in the second half.”

An emotional dimension

It is well researched that trainee teachers undergo many emotional experiences.  Our own Sally Hinchliff (Course Leader for PGCE Primary) made this the focus of her Masters’ dissertation.  Sally identified the following sources of heightened emotion from the literature:

  • the volatility of feelings
  • the challenges of new learning
  • the struggle to adopt a new professional identity
  • intense relationships with children and adults, and
  • the perception of constant judgement

I found the ‘Emotional Dimension’ very interesting reading and it made me consider what personal story and background my trainee is bringing with her and how the challenges of adapting to a new professional identity can impact on her emotional responses.”

Celebrating success

There is an emotional impact receiving any sort of feedback, especially as the trainee may well have very little previous experience and may be starting from scratch.  Highlight the positives, particularly early on in the course.  We all perform better when we feel good about ourselves and what we are achieving.  Acknowledge the tension of being both support and assessor.

“I need to remember to celebrate success and not just focus on needs,” one mentor commented.   

“I like the fact that the trainees’ likely difficulties are acknowledged and that developing a good relationship with the trainee is encouraged,” another added.  “My trainee appears to need a boost to her self-confidence and self-belief.”

This year’s Covid challenges mean these pillars and our on-line support for mentors have become more important than we could have imagined.

But there’s no need for me to have the last word. I’d like to give that to one of our mentors, reflecting on their mentoring this year:

“The students could be in a difficult position with pupils/mentors/themselves suffering from the effects of the current climate. As mentors we have to be mindful that this is their first experience of ‘life as a teacher’ and make the process as positive and as normal as possible.”

Written By Heather Wain, Head of Academic Development, Department of Teacher Education