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Mentoring – igniting sparks or diminishing them?

Mentoring – igniting sparks or diminishing them?

I love being a coach, and a mentor especially in teaching. I love the fact that trainees arrive to school, or on various teaching programmes, full of enthusiasm, and passion to make a difference to our young people. There’s a spark that needs oxygen adding to, in order fuel a blazing burning desire that can drive them and their momentum…. and then they leave. Why is that? What is it that causes this spark that should have been ignited to just fizzle out?

I tend to get on well with trainees. I make it my job to get on well with them because what I do, and say, and model and the time I invest in them will shape them, their career and future in teaching. Let me be the first to say it is not easy at all. However as a mentor I have a huge responsibility to further ignite that passion, or put it out. Nevertheless I need to help them fulfil their potential and part of it may be to help them realise teaching is for them, or that it isn’t ( a trainee realised that with me last year and is now studying an MSc instead).

What has concerned me is the feedback I get from my trainees about their peers. One of my trainees, in the past, had to “tone down” the level of support I gave her when she was with her peers, as she felt bad for them. They had experienced mentors who hardly spoke to them, didn’t have time for them and felt they couldn’t approach their mentor for any help. Some were saying “when I was a trainee I did…”. What was disconcerting was out of 22 trainees she was with, by the first half term over half wanted to drop out of teaching due to issues with mentors.

These trainees probably feel that mentors are selected because they are caring, they know how to feedback, good role models, probably best at teaching in the dept., and this may be the case, however speaking to different University tutors this often is not the case, also from personal experience due to being overstretched in the dept we know this is not always the case. And that is a shame. A complete shame as without the right mentor that trainee could take up a career and change their life path and destiny completely and not ever meet the children and make the difference that they were destined to make …. because they didn’t have the right mentor for them.

So here are my personal top tips on mentoring which I have learned through personal experience (you’ll notice they’re not textbook tips)!

Speak to your trainee with a view to get underneath and find out about the person you are dealing with. By asking questions you’ll get an idea are they “gritty”, or “up for a challenge” or will they need some extra hand holding. It’s a bit like when you write a CV you tailor make it to suit the job you are applying for. Understand your trainee. This is really important. 

Find out why they came into teaching. If you don’t get a clear answer you’ll have an idea of what you’re up against. Most of them generally have a clear reason for coming into teaching.

Find out what they are excited about and what their concerns are. Ask them if there’s anything else they feel would be beneficial for you to know to help them ( I’ve had some reveal they suffer from anxiety, or panics etc).

Ask what have they been told or taught at Uni about teaching ( I constantly trip up on this one and assume! Don’t assume anything).

Then tell them about you and what you’ve done or ask them what they would like to know about you. Relate it to what they need to know e.g. if they need a bit more support show how you are going to be supportive, if they’re up for a challenge tell them what they’ll face that would be a challenge etc. Avoid comparing them to you when you were a trainee or anyone else for that matter. They’re all different.

Set your expectations. Ask them what the University expects. Tell them what you expect. Let them know about the culture in dept. Introduce them to fellow colleagues.

Now your groundwork is set. 

Throughout this process you will have built a good relationship with your trainee. This is absolute key. My trainees get that I am crazily busy as I want to help everyone … yet I tell them they must come knocking on my door if they get stuck ( I also have a back up person they can go to if I’m not around).

Now the textbook part begins where you can sort timetable, peer observations etc.

I usually start with:-

Teach them how to plan a lesson. Doesn’t need to be all singing dancing.

Tell them how to embed routines right from the outset.

Teach them how to teach and not give task after task.

Build it up slowly. E..g first 2 weeks I want to see you consistently embedding routines and planning lessons as we discussed. Week 3, routines, lessons, + another action point. Etc. So there’ll be aspects of their teaching that they need to strengthen.

Make feedback specific and constructive. Then refer to it next lesson to check they’ve done it.

Have regular meetings and keep reflecting on their journey or help them to reflect on their journey.

I hope these tips are useful to you. They are my personal experiences and my reflective journey. Mentors may do things differently and still get results so it would be nice if that’s you, to share it also. 

One of my trainees said to me as she left after one term with me “you have set my career for life Amy. Thank you”

That, to me was a job well done.

Happy mentoring and good wishes to all trainees.

Should anyone wish to DM me or post their own good mentoring tips on Twitter, please tag me in @amyjeetley #mentoringtoptips

Amy Jeetley

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