Mentoring, Mariah Carey, and the performance-improving difference they can make

Joanna Stokes is a trainer on the Education and Training Foundation’s (ETF’s) New to Mentoring and Advanced Mentoring Skills programmes, which began in October 2020. Here she reflects on the experience of delivering the programmes, the difference doing so online rather face to face has made, and the important role mentoring can play in and beyond the FE and Training sector.

Wednesdays and Fridays are my mentoring training days.

I love them!

I am a trainer on the Education and Training Foundation’s New to Mentoring and Advanced Mentoring Skills programmes.

The courses for New and Advanced mentors are blended learning programmes, currently involving online learning on the Future Learn platform and interactive, trainer-led sessions on Zoom. Participants also spend a further 40 hours mentoring in the workplace to develop their skills.
These programmes have been running online since October 2020 and are producing some amazing results. With almost 250 FE professionals enrolled, this is a big programme, but one which is desperately needed.

Recent surveys (DfE College staff survey 2019 follow up and Hayes Wellbeing in Education report 2020) show an increasing number of teachers leaving FE due to poor college management, unmanageable workload and poor staff wellbeing. Effective mentoring can provide much needed support to help an individual develop their resilience, empower them to make changes and, ultimately, improve their performance.

Each week I meet up on Zoom with my group and my co-trainers; we are all employed by Alpha Plus, who have developed the content with a group of experienced trainers. I have come to realise how much I enjoy delivering training in a team. It allows you to learn from others and grow your confidence and skills, as well as sharing the highs and lows with someone.

We always start with music in my groups; a variety of upbeat tunes to set us up for a high energy, powerful session. My impersonation of Mariah Carey at Christmas will never be forgotten! But the learners tell me they love it.

We have fantastic groups on both programmes. Even though they are all working flat out trying to manage in the new ‘normal’, confusing, constantly changing environment of FE, they turn up week after week, beaming smiles through the Zoom window, willing to try new things, share their ideas and improve the mentoring support in their organisation. I have received a lot of extremely positive feedback from my groups with comments such as “I thought I was being a good mentor, but the skills I have learnt on this course have shown me how much I had to learn, I am now a much better mentor”, and “I have changed my approach with my mentee and can see how they are changing their outlook because of the questions I am asking them instead of giving them the answers”.

These programmes were originally meant to be delivered face to face. I remember joining a meeting of trainers back in late September 2020 and witnessing the sheer disbelief, fear and anxiety that some of the team were experiencing at being told we were going 100% online. How were we going to build relationships with the students? Surely, mentoring skills could not be developed purely online. What was Future Learn? How would it all work?

The first few weeks of delivery came and went as the team at Alpha Plus and the learners got used to their ‘learning sandwich’; pre-work on Future Learn, then interactive Zoom session as a group, followed by reflection on Future Learn. Many lessons were learnt on both sides, but as the weeks turned into months it became easier and everyone settled into a routine of blended learning.

I can honestly say I don’t think moving it online has been detrimental. Yes, it would be lovely to see each other in person, but the benefits of not having to lose precious time travelling, not to mention the cost, and to be able to have people in your group from all around the country has been fantastic.

Many learners have connected with each other and now meet up virtually outside the sessions, establishing their own communities of practice to share ideas and provide peer support. For decades FE has been encouraged to collaborate and share good practice; perhaps the acceptance of virtual meetings as the norm will now allow this to happen more often. A number of the mentors on the Advanced Programme have made comments such as “I can now see that my organisation’s approach is one of judgementoring and I am keen to show how we can move to a developmental approach that will be beneficial for everyone in the long run”.

We need more programmes like these. Mentoring is a skill that can develop and empower people, increase resilience and help with wellbeing. It’s not just for teachers, it’s for anyone at any level in any organisation – we all need mentoring at some point in our lives. It can be the difference between staying in or leaving a job.

Further details of the ETF’s Mentoring offer are available on the Mentoring page of the website.