Mentoring a trainee teacher is a real privilege. It is an acknowledgement of your expertise and an opportunity to inspire the next generation of our workforce. Every experienced teacher will be able to recall a mentor who made their training year easier and who gave them the tools to be successful in the early days. However, most experienced teachers will also be able to recall someone who almost made them quit too.
Your first port of call will be the National Standards for school-based initial teacher training mentors, developed by The Teaching Schools Council, but here are some of my top tips for establishing a meaningful mentoring relationship:
Establish a professional, honest working relationship from the start
Discuss your role openly with your trainee to establish an early rapport in your first meeting. Let them know what they can expect from you and vice versa. Ideally, they should come to you with a trainee profile. If not, find out as much information about their personality as you can, just as you would with your students. Making them feel part of the team straight away is crucial to their success. If they feel like a burden or afraid to ask questions, then it really won’t work. You should enjoy this experience together.
Agree when your trainee should submit their plans to you and how
This is one of the most common reasons why trainees struggle. Having a clear understanding of when and how they should submit their lesson planning to you should be negotiated early on. There are usually no prescribed rules or expectations set by the ITT provider. You should set an example and role-model efficient and smart ways of working. Make sure they have access to resources and schemes of work before expecting them to plan on their own. Even if you didn’t when you were training. Provide clear instructions and find a way of working that suits both of you. Supporting a trainee teacher should not be a massive addition to your workload if you get the communication right about the planning. Consider what is a reasonable expectation of a new teacher. It took you four hours to plan a lesson once!
Prioritise the weekly mentor meeting records
This may sound simple but it ensures that your trainee is keeping accurate records of their meetings with you and reflecting on their targets. You might meet them at different times, and it won’t always be structured or formal, but it should always be private and you need to make sure they capture the key points from your discussions and know their targets. Different providers will have different mentor meeting records, so be prepared to be flexible if the templates vary. Capturing their progress steps towards meeting the Teachers’ Standards is key.
Be their champion around school
According to research entitled The Mentoring Chameleon, schools can be isolating environments. If you can be their champion in school, and get them settled quickly with introductions to colleagues, then they will make better progress. Trainees across all provisions will benefit from explicit instructions and guidance. If they see you as a ‘judge mentor’, they might hide their concerns and struggle in silence. Avoid catching the curse of knowledge or you’ll forget what it’s like to be an overwhelmed novice.
Find time to meet with other mentors
This will ensure consistency in your approach and avoids trainees comparing their experiences in a negative way. Your school’s/trust’s/alliance’s approach to teacher training is what provides the contrast of experience from one placement to the next, so try having joint meetings or shared CPD time where mentors and trainees come together from different departments or even schools. Creating a community for yourselves and for your early career teachers will really aid your school’s recruitment and retention. We all have an obligation to renew our profession; to make it evidence-informed and to celebrate it.
Take small steps
Remember that becoming an expert teacher has taken you hours of investment and practice. If your trainee is a career changer, they may find it quite a ‘culture shock’ coming into school; very few professions are comparable. Give them short-term targets, explicitly linked to the Standards, and let them make their own mistakes. It’s a great chance to reflect on your own research and practice. “All teachers should try to improve, not because they are not good enough but because they can be even better” (Wiliam, 2018).
Jones, M., Nettleton, P., Smith, L.B., Brown, J.C., Chapman, T., & Morgan, J.E. (2005), ‘The Mentoring Chameleon - a critical analysis of mentors' and mentees' perceptions of the monitoring role in professional education and training programmes for teachers, nurses, midwives and doctors’.
Wiliam, D. (2012) ‘Every Teacher Can Improve’.