Gentle marathons and concrete building: Making the most of CfEM Action Research Mentors 

Mentors were introduced to CfEM action research for the first time this academic year. The idea was to connect Action Research Leads to support (that is. relevant professional development, nurturing and motivation) that could still be available (for a consultancy fee) after CfEM funding ends in March 2023. Six months on, it feels like a good time to review how this support for Action Research Leads is going?

Overall, it appears that mentors have been an overwhelmingly positive feature of CfEM Action Research. It is great to hear positive feedback, for example, “My mentor has kept me motivated and inspired throughout the project so far” and “She has been amazing!” It’s equally good to learn what is working particularly well in more detail, and to identify any improvements.

In the first term, Autumn 2021, Action Research Leads were asked by ETF to try establishing a positive working relationship – it’s a gentle marathon, not a sprint. At least some mentors either observed or actively participate in Action Research Group meetings where effective teaching practice and research design was discussed and agreed. By attending such meetings, it’s clear that mentors can share their knowledge and give feedback (during or after meetings). They also gain essential understandings of what Action Research Groups want to research and group dynamic.

“She attended the first ARG meetings, where we discussed the idea of the whole project and understood what we were planning to do.”

“Invaluable for advice on how to get the most out of my ARG meetings and training sessions.”

Almost inevitably, there were a few minor misunderstandings or mis-interpretations of communications in the early months. Open lines of communication with ETF swiftly clarified arrangements and expectations. So far, no Action Research Lead has changed their mentor, though switching at some point in future could be a healthy way to learn from the diverse skill sets of different mentors.

Most mentors were recruited for their expertise in practitioner research, as well as maths education. This has enabled rich discussions about research methodology, which one Action Research Lead summed up in the following way:

“It was good to take a second opinion on the research design, and data collection in terms of devising the questions.”

Action Research Leads who report that they are communicating regularly, keeping their Mentor up to speed, proactively asking for support, are finding the working relationship very worthwhile. For one Action Research Lead, a key to building up her knowledge is bringing concrete work to each meeting “so that we can discuss finer details rather than just talking in generalities”.

Examples of other effective practices include:

  • bouncing ideas around for each cycle of action research
  • directing Action Research Leads to useful sources for the literature review
  • co-writing questions for teacher focus groups
  • facilitated contact with other researchers
  • feedbacking back on drafts to develop report writing skills further.

All the above suggests that mentors can add very valuable support in the areas of action research methods and running CPD sessions for colleagues. Further, their approachability, positivity, modelling and feedback are all important in achieving success.  To find out more about CfEM Action Research Mentors please contact Cath Gladding, CfEM National Research Adviser at cath.gladding@etfoundation.co.uk

Cath Gladding, National Research Adviser, ETF

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