One of the more frustrating elements of being an induction coordinator is that, despite how hard you work at providing good CPD, pretty much the most vital element of helping new teachers improve is out of your immediate control. This is subject mentoring. For those not steeped in the lingo of Teach First, this means a member of the trainee’s department who takes responsibility for their day-to-day mentoring.
From personal experience (as mentor and mentee), as a subject mentor you are the person who has the most profound impact on a trainee’s development. This input can make the difference between indifferent progress and general misery at the start of a teaching career to a teacher who is motivated and equipped to improve.
To start with, I think it helps to build a picture of good and bad mentoring.
Being an effective mentor is not rocket science. It’s not even particularly onerous. It doesn’t – or at least doesn’t often -require giving up hours of valuable free periods to your mentee. What it does require is that you keep close attention to the targets that are set within your (weekly) mentor meetings, provide assistance – in terms of modelling, resources and advice -towards meeting them and track carefully whether they are being met. Equally, it requires that targets set are appropriate, achievable and linked.
To my mind, a good mentor meeting (30 minutes to an hour) should progress as follows:
1) Discussion of general issues: This section of the meeting can end up taking the entire allotted time, moving towards being more of a “bit of a moan” than a purposeful meeting as tired, jaded trainees begin to unload all their issues on you at once. This is important but should not be allowed to take more than (say) ten minutes. If important issues arise, these can then be fed into the next stage of the meeting.
2) Discussion of targets: Here, you should bring up the targets set in the previous meeting(s). These can have rolled over for only a week or – if they are quite wide – for months. What is important is that you hold your mentee to account for working towards them. A trainee could, for example, have a target to ensure a calm and orderly start to the lesson. As a fairly wide target, this could be broken down into different areas such as greeting the students at the door, having a starter ready and building a reward and sanction system to deal with issues of compliance. What is important at this stage is that progress against these targets is measured and discussed, with evidence given for improvements.
3) The setting of new targets: Once previous targets have been discussed, it is time to set new ones for the coming week. If the trainee has now achieved a calm entry to the room, the next stage might to ensure that students all complete their starter in silence. Measures taken to achieve this can be discussed and the target should be recorded. Likewise, if the previous target had not been achieved, the discussion should focus on why and what could be done to ensure that it is in the future.
4) Accountability measures: Trainee teachers have such a lot on their plate that it is, for them, the easiest thing in the world to leave the mentor meeting and forget entirely about targets set until the following week. As such, in this section of the meeting you should focus on the leverage you have to ensure that your mentor is actively focusing on their targets. This can be as easy as setting up a drop-in observation to witness a part of a lesson. What matters is that it is in place for every single target set.
Sadly, following this structure is easier said than done. In my time as induction coordinator, I have witnessed many fantastic subject mentors with exactly the right balance of toughness, compassion and organisation required for the role. I have also seen a few who clearly would rather be doing something else and this shows in the quality of the mentoring provided.
So, how can you ensure that mentoring is of a reasonable quality?
Short of sitting in on mentor meetings (quite an extreme measure), I think that mentors can be given a nudge in two positive directions. Firstly, they can be given a system to help them ensure that targets are tracked and monitored. Secondly, they can be given guidance about areas to discuss within mentor meetings, particularly to ensure that targets set are useful and appropriate.
This is why I developed my ‘Subject Mentor Meeting Journal’. This has the following sections, each of which I will discuss below. The complete document – with a page for every week of the year- can then be found to download below.
1) Suggested ‘Reflection’ and ‘Technique’
These are based on the Teach First participant journal, as many of my first year trainees are from the Teach First programme. The reflection matches what the trainee themselves has to reflect on in their own training journal
For example, in their first week in September, first year trainees are asked to think about the following points:
- What is the ethos you want to create in your classroom? What steps have you taken this week in creating that?
- What does ‘Behaviour for Learning’ mean in reality now you have your own pupils? How does it relate to pupil success?
I agree with a ‘Behaviour for Learning’ focus in week one as this is the issue that most trainees will struggle with at first. The points are, however, quite broad and do not help trainees narrow down on specific behaviour strategies and techniques that they can use in their own classrooms. As such, in my journal, I include techniques from Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov that match the overall reflective focus for the week. Given the behaviour focus for week one, I chose ‘Entry Routine’ and ‘Do Now’, techniques designed to help teachers get students into the classroom efficiently and working quietly and calmly at the start of the lesson. This suggested technique is simply designed to give some form to the mentor meeting, ensuring that the you have specific strategies to discuss – if needs be – rather than talking aimlessly about the reflective foci.
2) Recap and reflection of last week’s targets
Next, there is space for discussion and notes about last week’s targets, specifically so that you, as the mentor, can keep a detailed record of whether targets are being met. There is also a choice as to whether targets are ‘carried forward’ to the following week or ‘met’ in which case new targets must be decided upon.
3) Setting new targets
Fairly self-explanatory, this section also contains prompts to remind the mentor to ensure that targets made are measurable and specific: a) what lesson / class can your mentee use this technique with and b) how can they practice this technique before trying it with a class? You should ensure that your mentee is comfortable with their target before they try it for real, even going as far as making practise it in the meeting.
Finally, this section asks your to reflect on what measures can be put in place to support your mentee in meeting their target. The aim is that you discuss with your mentee what they need from you, what you are going to do to support them and what you will be doing to check that they are making progress.
The idea behind the document is that it provides a weekly record of exactly what trainees are working on, how they are progressing against targets and what is being done to support them in this. Mentors can use this as a guide to their meetings and can keep a clearer eye on key areas in which help is required much more easily than if they are keeping all the information in their heads. Equally, it pushes them to ensure that their participants are accountable to make changes to their practice.
While it does not go all the way to guaranteeing effective mentoring, I think that it takes steps to ensure that mentor meetings are purposeful.
The entire document can be found below.