In this guest blogpost, Sarah Tohill explores the mentoring relationship that all beginning teachers will experience during their first two years in the classroom. There are great tips and advice for both beginning teachers and their mentors. Read on!
When you qualify as a teacher in New Zealand and you’ve finished all those assignments, readings, exams and placements, it’s time to spread your wings from the Student Teacher to the “Beginning Teacher”. [The official term is Provisionally Certified Teacher (PCT) but that is a bit of a mouthful, so we’ll stick with Beginning Teacher in this post].
An integral part of becoming a teacher is the mentorship relationship. This is the relationship between the beginning teacher (mentee) and an experienced fully-registered teacher (mentor).
This mentoring and induction program is probably one of the most important working relationships you will have in your teaching career. It is so important to the growth of the beginning teacher as well as the teacher who is mentoring you. A truly successful mentoring relationship will provide growth for all involved.
The Ideal Mentor
Ideally, an effective mentor will be someone who:
- You feel comfortable to be vulnerable around and that you can develop strong relational trust with (this will take time).
- Listens and coaches rather than just tells and does (Educative Mentoring/Coaching).
- Might not have all the answers but can help you find them.
- Will ask you questions to help you reflect on your own practice.
- Can balance your needs for support and your needs to learn by doing it yourself.
Tips to start the Mentoring Relationship positively
- Meet with your mentor/mentee before School starts. If time is scarce, maybe meet at school mid-morning and go for lunch after. Relationship building is important.
- Start a document that you can add questions to, as they come up. This way you are doing something about them at the time, but later can decide which ones you want to ask.
- Organise a time that suits you both for your weekly (first year) or fortnightly (second year) meetings. Be flexible, it needs to be suitable for you both.
- In your first meeting with your mentor/mentee ask each other what you hope to achieve in the mentoring relationship, make a set of norms to create success, it might sound trivial but it helps hold everyone accountable.
- Observe your mentor in their classroom ASAP during your PCT time. If you are a first-year teacher in your first-ever classroom you will pick up lots of things that can be difficult to get the hang of without seeing it in action e.g; students talking while the teacher is, transitions, redirecting undesired behaviour.
- HAVE FUN, ask the questions you need to and trust in the process. YOU WILL SURVIVE IT and be the best teacher you can be.
My Experience as a Beginning Teacher
I still remember my time as a beginning teacher like it was only yesterday. The excitement to use those 10 half days to relieve in a classroom and the scouring over the Education Gazette looking for the right job, or in my case, any teaching position! Some are fortunate enough to find a position before the end of the school year. Others apply for every position that even remotely fits what they are looking for to hear back from only a few… if any at all.
Becoming a teacher is not an easy feat. Ingersoll (2003) & Ingersoll & Perda, (2011) discuss the high turnover of teachers in comparison to other professions, particularly teachers in their first years of the job. Studies show between 40 – 50% leave within their first few years (our PCT’s).
This high attrition rate does nothing to help our Education system. It does nothing to help societies view on the importance of the role each teacher plays in our children’s lives. It does nothing to encourage more passionate people to join the profession.
Teaching is an incredibly full-on, difficult, draining and emotionally exhausting job. However, if you truly have a passion for it, it is worth it. It does get easier with the right support. This is where the Mentoring relationship plays a vital role in fostering the growth of the great teacher within all of us who have stuck with it through to graduation. I repeat, if you made it this far you ALREADY ARE a GREAT teacher.
The first year of teaching will be the hardest working year of your life. Fact. No matter what your strengths are it is likely you will feel like you constantly have more balls up in the air than you can juggle. You’re likely to doubt everything you thought you were great at because the workload is so huge. But the good news is this: this feeling DOES NOT last forever.
Education Council Requirements for a Mentoring and Induction Program
The Education Council (EC) requires all beginning teachers working in a full time or full-time equivalent role to be part of a mentoring and induction program. More details can be found here. The first and most important thing to note about this program is it will look different for every school and centre in the country. The Education Council allows the schools we work in to create their programs based on what is best for the needs of the school.
Key components to a successful Mentoring Relationship:
1. Vulnerability and relational trust
Vulnerability requires us to take risks and to be exposed emotionally. Brene Brown describes vulnerability as the birthplace of things such as creativity and to reach clarity and purpose we need to be willing to walk the path of vulnerability. In teaching, you have to be vulnerable to show your students that being vulnerable is where growth happens. Your mentor is someone you should be able to be vulnerable with, so they can help you be creative and reflective within your role.
- Being able to ask for help.
- Holding yourself accountable.
- Saying no when you need to for the sake of yourself and your students.
- Admitting to fears or to not knowing what to do.
Allowing yourself to face this vulnerability alongside the support of a great mentor will be empowering and uplifting. In fact, it is the first step in major growth of the GREAT teacher you already are.
Building trust, successful collaboration, and effective communication tools takes time, and both parties need to be willing to open up and believe that everyone wants a positive outcome.
The Education Review Office (ERO) acknowledge the importance of effective communication and high relational trust.
“Where there is relational trust, members feel free to open up and acknowledge what they do not know, take risks, and use their knowledge and expertise to support others in the community” (ERO, 2016.)
There will be times in your teaching career as a beginning teacher or a registered teacher that you will be a part of a challenging conversation. When there is high trust, the hard and often awkward chats can take place. You will know that the difficult conversation is to grow you, rather than condemn you. Where there is trust there will be vulnerability.
2. Educative mentoring through Effective Communication and coaching
If I have learnt anything in my life, I have learnt that ALL relationships require effective communication to be successful. The mentoring relationship is no different. The thing we need to keep in mind is that effective communication should be a two-way street; it should involve talking and listening.
Effective communication could involve:
- A casual chat in the morning.
- A quick question or email
- An official weekly or fortnightly meeting with your mentor
- Team meetings
- Parent meetings
- Pre and post-observation conversations.
You will notice from this list a range of formal and informal ways of communicating with your mentor.
Active listening and a focus on reflection
Effective communication requires active listening by both the mentee and the mentor. It is important the mentor is able to listen for purpose, not just to respond. When active listening is present you should notice that your mentor will take a less directive and more inquiring approach. They are likely to ask open questions to get you, the mentee, to delve deeper and think critically.
Van Nieuwerburgh (2012) shares that one-to-one conversations should focus on learning and development, increasing the awareness of ourselves and personal reflection.
If we are involved in an educative mentoring relationship, the mentor will coach the mentee to direct and guide their own learning through:
- Relevant questioning
- Active listening
- Appropriately challenging the mentee in a safe and supportive environment.
An educative mentor should not be seen as the knower of all knowledge but the person to help you inquire into discovering knowledge.
The first two years of teaching are tough but if you are passionate about teaching and learning they are worth it all. The first time you get a note from one of your students telling you how much they love you, a compliment from a colleague or parent, or that first visible “a hah” moment with your students will make it all worth the effort.
My last bit of advice for both mentors and mentees within the mentorship relationship is this:
Remember, every teacher is a great teacher just waiting for their chance to shine. Therefore, always assume positive intent. It is very rare to find a teacher whose heart is not in the right place and this goes for both beginning teachers and experienced teachers.
- Mentees: believe in your heart that your mentor is doing acting in your best interests to help you grow.
- Mentors: believe in your heart that your mentee is already a great teacher and that you have the honour of helping them reach their true potential.
About the author:
Sarah has been teaching in NZ for the last six years and held the responsibility unit for Te Reo Maori and Kapa Haka. She has taught years 2-8 in both single cell and collaborative learning spaces. Sarah has worked as a mentor for the last two years and completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Educative Mentoring. She is the founder and administrator of NZ Teachers Mentorship Group on Facebook. Sarah is passionate about mentoring, coaching and supporting both PCT’s and Mentors within the Mentoring relationship. In 2020, Sarah will be facilitating a course for second-year PCT’s that teach Year 0-2 at Kohia Teaching Centre in Auckland.
More in our Beginning Teacher blog post series:
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