Teaching other teachers is as challenging and as exciting as teaching young children. And while there has been much written about pedagogy for teaching adults in recent years, there is also a growing consensus that adults learn in much the same way as young people do. So just as we understand the limitations of ‘telling kids stuff’ as a method for facilitating their deep learning, the same applies to supporting the professional learning of other teachers – especially newly qualified teachers.
The Teachers Council’s new Guidelines for Induction and Mentoring and Mentor Teachers (Teachers Council, 2011) puts a lot of emphasis on ‘educative mentoring’ (Feiman-Nemser 2001) within a deliberate culture of evidence-informed professional inquiry and collaborative, professional relationships. Understanding and commitment by a school or ECE service’s leaders are essential to create the climate and structures for effective mentoring. Equally important is the need for mentors themselves to be clear about their role and its potential to profoundly influence the professional practices of colleagues – and thus the learners in their care.
National workshop programme
To communicate these messages to the profession, the Council began a programme of one-day workshops throughout New Zealand last year, introducing the new Guidelines to professional leadership teams and mentor teachers. Led by Massey University Centre for Educational Development, with support from Council staff, the dynamic facilitation, scaffolded learning and carefully thought out resources have been warmly welcomed by participants from early childhood education and secondary and primary schools. Workshop evaluation shows extremely high ratings for their usefulness, content and delivery. These workshops have followed on from the successful 2009-2010 education programme to introduce the new teaching standards, the Registered Teacher Criteria. Facilitators observed that those who attended the previous workshops, and were well advanced in introducing the new Criteria, were definitely at an advantage in picking up the new approaches to induction and mentoring. Those who came focused initially on compliance questions about “how much evidence for each Registered Teacher Criteria” soon realised that the guidelines are much more about building a culture and developing strategies for intensive professional learning. That’s when they got excited.
“ … I enjoyed the workshop but I originally thought it would unpack more of the actual requirements to meet full registration and what the important relevant records were that needed to be kept. But in saying that, it shifted my thinking in other areas of practice. Thank you.”
Schools or ECE services that sent a full senior leadership team really took advantage of opportunities to become familiar with, and consider the implications of, the guidelines for their processes and particular aspirations. Although many had longstanding, adequate systems for supporting new teachers, they soon realised that the shift to ‘educative mentoring’, focused on the inquiry-centred new Registered Teacher Criteria, would enable them to shift practice across their teaching staff, not just the new teachers.
This kind of leadership is essential as professional learning of individuals does not work in isolation from the organisational learning and system support that good professional leadership strives to implement. The workshop programme ensured there was time to discuss and apply ideas and strategies to their own setting. Some also appreciated the opportunity provided at breaks to discuss with others or with a facilitator a particular problem or situation they were striving to deal with.
“I came with the expectation of relating RTC and mentoring with school-wide appraisal and professional learning. I achieved this through initial discussions and then one-on-one discussion with facilitator. This was excellent. I am not as concerned with the mentoring procedures. I was interested in the global picture for school-wide change. An excellent course.”
At the same time, the workshops deliberately promoted mingling and cross-fertilisation across the sectors. Participants frequently commented on how valuable this was to appreciate both different and common perspectives, regardless of the ‘shoe size’ of their learners. Quite often practical ideas and strategies were able to be transferred and adapted to different settings. The morning programme focussed on unpacking the key ideas, especially educative mentoring, and essential components of the guidelines. Time was given to read, listen, watch, talk, ask questions, and think about implications for their setting after each session, using a tracking sheet.
“We were blown away by how quickly they moved from their initial ‘low level’ questions to really tuning in to the exciting potential of educative mentoring and building a professional learning culture at their place…” (Massey facilitator)
A taster of mentoring skills
For many (but not all) participants, the highlight of the workshops was the interactive sessions introducing the Mentoring Toolkit Resource. Working with a new ‘stranger’ for each activity, participants took part in activities that scaffolded them through mentoring skills ‘101’. They identified and practised active and empathetic listening, different levels of questioning, and observing and giving feedback. Not only did they get to interact with a lot more people and from other sectors, they courageously and courteously demonstrated that many do indeed have the passion, skill and commitment to build effective mentoring relationships and to challenge teachers to explore their professional practice openly and constructively.
The Council is providing a further round of 10 workshops in 2012. They hope that many more professional leaders and mentor leaders will take advantage of these – especially the so far under-represented primary school sector. But while the workshops are important to cue people to the current expectations for high quality induction and mentoring, leaders and mentors need to take this initial planning and learning further themselves.
One initiative that could well become a prototype for others is the setting up of a network learning group by Khandallah School Principal, Louise Green. Teachers from schools around Wellington have worked together with Louise and other facilitators, meeting once a month to share their learning and support each other as they deepen their understanding and practices for high quality induction and mentoring of provisionally registered teachers (and other teachers) in their schools. Is this an idea you could build on in your community?
All the workshop resources are on the Council’s website along with a list of mentoring courses and qualifications offered by university and other professional development providers that teachers can enrol in.