Your teacher training year is a notoriously challenging time – full of highs, lows and hard work. You are likely to feel that the most significant individual in guiding you through this process is your school-based mentor; the one who sees you daily and gives you much-needed advice and pep-talks. Mentors, however, are busy people who cannot be available to you 24/7, regardless of how willing and supportive they might be. In order to make the most of your mentor, be proactive in managing your professional relationship by following these four top tips:
1. Discuss boundaries
You are likely to be offered a regular meeting with your mentor, which should be formalised on both of your timetables. Beyond this, the availability of your mentor’s time will depend on their other commitments. Try to arrange a convenient time each week to check in with them outside of your set meeting time (and when might be the times to avoid!).
Also confirm your mentor’s other expectations.
- How far in advance of a lesson do they want to see your lesson plans?
- Are they available on email over weekends or holidays?
- Do they expect you to mark students’ books straight away or wait for further guidance?
The clearer you are about their expectations, the better your relationship is likely to be.
2. Make feedback manageable for your mentor
Your mentor’s feedback on your lessons will be enormously valuable as you progress through your training year. However, although they might be present in every lesson, they will not always have the time to discuss the lesson with you afterwards (unless it’s a formal observation) as they are likely to be rushing off to teach, or to tackle a pile of marking. To avoid feeling as if you have missed a vital learning opportunity, keep an exercise book with you and give this to your mentor (or whoever is present) so that they can note down feedback during the lesson. This book will soon fill up with useful advice. By keeping the feedback all in one place, you will be able to flick through to see if there are any patterns or themes emerging (positive or negative) which will help you to reflect carefully on your practice.
3. You first, mentor second
Most training providers will stress to you the importance of reflective practice, and with good reason. Teaching is not a science. There are no formulas or approaches on which you can rely to give you the same results every time. Instead, research shows that the way to develop your expertise is to reflect carefully on your lessons, acknowledging the complex range of factors involved in their success (or otherwise). Your mentor’s feedback will be an essential part of this reflection but it is crucial that you form your own sense of the lesson first. Your own ability to reflect will be what guides you through the rest of your career once the training year is over.
Your training provider may supply you with a template for post-lesson reflection (usually at the bottom of the planning template) and this can be useful. Tripp (1993) recommends beginning by noting down a description of what happened in the lesson, in as much detail as possible, before moving on to any kind of analysis. The detail should help you to reflect carefully, spotting patterns and incidents that you otherwise might have missed. Whilst not always practical, if you can give yourself time to do this before consulting with your mentor, it can be valuable. Research shows that reflective dialogue about a lesson improves significantly with about a day’s thinking time for both observer and observed (Williams and Watson, 2004). Nevertheless, even if you only have three minutes before the conversation with your mentor, a few key thoughts, notes and reflections will ensure that you are an active participant in the feedback session, rather than just a passive receiver of someone else’s thoughts.
4. Make sense of the feedback
The amount of feedback and advice you are offered after a lesson can be overwhelming, particularly when you begin your training. Whilst it is important for you to hear all the expert advice, it is also important to sift through it in order to arrive at your key areas for development at that time. This is something that a mentor should help you to do, but you may need to ask the right questions.
Ask your mentor, for example, what they consider to be the most pressing area for development arising from the lesson, or the top three. Once that is established, ask your mentor to help you to set some tangible actions based on those areas for development. What can you do in the coming week to improve your practice? You also might ask your mentor to list the three most successful aspects of the lesson – the things that you should carry on doing. Apart from anything else, this can help you to see that you are making progress and experiencing success in some areas of your practice.
Tripp, D. (1993) Critical Incidents in Teaching: Developing Professional Judgement, Routledge: London and New York.
Watson, A., and Williams, M. (2004) ‘Post‐lesson debriefing: delayed or immediate? An investigation of student teacher talk’, Journal of Education for Teaching, 30(2), pp.85–96.