Following an evaluation of its initial teacher education, including the mentoring of its trainee teachers, the Education Training Collective looked carefully at how mentoring can be used most effectively. This case study explores the process it has gone through, the conclusions it has drawn, and the role of the ETF Mentor Training programme in the progress it has made.
The Education Training Collective (Etc.) consists of Bede Sixth Form College, NETA Training, Redcar and Cleveland College, Stockton Riverside College and The Skills Academy. The group meets the needs of different communities in the Tees Valley, providing academic and vocational programmes for young people, adult learning programmes, apprenticeships and provision for students with high needs.
The group currently has fourteen mentors engaged in the ETF Mentor Training programme. Although Bede Sixth Form College has been involved in the programme since its inception, this (2022–23) is the first year that the Etc. has taken part as a group.
In April 2022, the Etc. group carried out an evaluation of its initial teacher education (ITE) provision which included a review of the mentoring of trainee teachers. The findings led the team to question why some mentoring relationships with the trainee teachers were more successful than others.
A couple of months later, the Grant Lead, Angela Stevenson, attended an ETF webinar aimed at leaders who have responsibility for mentoring and coaching in their organisation.
As well as helping Angela to understand what effective mentoring looks like in practice, a key takeaway from the training was the importance of having the infrastructure that would promote a culture of developmental mentoring:
“The ETF webinar helped me to realise I needed everyone on board, so I began to work with our Head of HE, the Director of Quality, Head of Sixth Form and the Principal responsible for HE, looking at the whole group approach to mentoring, and then came up with a proposal about the benefits of mentoring staff and creating that supportive environment to develop staff to become the best they can be.”
Since September 2022, formal observations have been phased out. Learning ‘Walkthroughs’ and Drop Ins are being used as a tool to help teachers review and improve their practice.
Ahead of the new academic year, mandatory training was held for all the mentors across the group – 28 in all – as well as any others who had an interest in being a mentor. The training was delivered by two members of staff who had completed the Mentoring programme in the previous year. The session focused particularly on the initial meeting with mentees to ensure a consistent approach when supporting staff. It also emphasised the importance of creating positive, supportive relationships during mentoring sessions, for example by using active listening and ensuring there is sufficient time to share practice, reflect and discuss new strategies. This approach was encapsulated in a ‘coaching top tips’ infographic, which served as a reminder of the importance of cultivating positive relationships with mentees, listening to identify barriers, obstacles and vulnerabilities, supporting rather than scrutinising, and prioritising the time necessary for effective mentoring.
The fourteen mentors engaged on the programme are working with a total of 42 mentees. Those being mentored are existing teachers and managers, as well as those working towards their ITE qualification. Mentors work closely with new members of staff, with mentoring a key feature of the induction process.
During the programme, the mentors have been encouraged to work together, and as a result a community of practice is developing in which they are providing support to one another.
Using coaching conversations, mentors use the knowledge and skills they are learning on the ETF programme to help their mentees identify a specific action they would like to work on that they think will have the most impact on their practice. This has included support with planning, experimenting with different teaching strategies, stretch and challenge, classroom management, developing questioning techniques, differentiating learning and giving feedback to learners.
Mentees undertake personal development projects in which they reflect on their practice with their peers, drawing on relevant educational research, to ensure any developments are evidence based.
In conjunction with individual mentoring sessions, action learning sets help mentees to explore their challenges and successes and share practice.
Feedback from the mentors suggests that the ETF programme is having a significant impact on the development of their mentoring knowledge and skills. In particular, they have valued the opportunity to develop and improve their listening skills:
“The programme has really improved my listening skills and stopped me from trying to solve everything, instead, facilitating others to find solutions.”
By exploring a range of mentoring models, the programme has helped mentors to develop their confidence to use a range of approaches, so that mentoring is tailored to the specific and changing needs of the mentees. Two mentors who engaged in the ETF programme last year have now moved into management.
Comments by mentees suggest that they are valuing the individualised support they are receiving from their mentors that will ultimately impact on their learners:
“A big benefit has been being able to incorporate new ideas and techniques into teaching or adapting what I am already delivering to make to more effective to the learner. Everyone has a different way to prepare, deliver, check understand and give feedback, but to have a mentor that can see and feedback to me on my overall effectiveness has been beneficial to me.”
“My mentor is a fantastic support. We have discussed different strategies and resources to help me stretch and challenge my lower-level learners, as I was worried about challenging the learners too far. My mentor gave me ideas to help encourage the new Level 2 students to communicate more in the class and take an active part in group discussions.”
In the coming months, Angela would like more of the existing staff to self-refer for mentoring support. She is confident this will happen, as the culture of developmental mentoring becomes more embedded in the organisation.
The aim is to grow the team of mentors and demonstrate the value of them, celebrating the success of the mentors and how their support has impacted on mentees, for example at the annual Learning Fair.
Involvement in the ETF programme is clearly benefiting the organisation and is supporting the Etc. group in its development of a whole organisation approach to coaching and mentoring.
Key recommendations include: