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Investing in mentoring might well be the best staff development money you ever spend

It may seem like a luxury, but Catherine Carden argues that providing mentoring for your teachers will give you tangible results

  • Investing in mentoring might well be the best staff development money you ever spend

Early career teachers are leaving our profession in droves. The 2018 Workforce Census identified that 15% of 2017-18 NQTs left within a year of qualifying and 32% of teachers are leaving within the first five years. 

Such attrition carries significant consequences for the profession and, most importantly, for ensuring children access the best possible education.

The DfE’s Recruitment and Retention Strategy 2019 is a cohesive attempt to address such retention issues alongside the challenge of recruitment into the profession in the first place. This can only be good news for schools and the DfE must be applauded for this move.

It is, however, still in development, and the strategy that includes an Early Career Framework will not be rolled out until September 2021. Let’s hope it has the anticipated impact.

In the meantime, and beyond such a central strategy, leaders must consider how best to support and develop their early career teachers to avoid seeing this alarming attrition trend within their own schools.

Mentoring is a proactive way to invest in teachers’ development and brings significant benefits to both the teacher and the wider school community.

Honest conversations

Mentoring and coaching provides an opportunity for staff members to reflect upon their practice and grow and develop as a professional through guided and honest conversations – a key element of the mentoring and coaching process.

Providing a mentor who is external to the school community offers a safe and confidential space that allows teachers to explore differing perspectives, share ideas and thoughts as well as offload issues and concerns.

Mentoring and coaching also supports the professional learning and development of teachers through building self-awareness, as well as improving specific skills and areas of practice.

Moreover, the teacher feels that they, and their career, are being invested in. Such feelings increase motivation and drive, which often leads to teachers performing more effectively and reduces the chances of them leaving your school or, indeed, the profession.

In 2006, Hook et al produced a summary identifying the benefits of mentoring for teachers. They found that it helped teachers to:

- Think more clearly about things
- Feel valued and listened to
- Recognise and appreciate their skills and resources
- Increase their range of options
- Clarify how they’d like things to be as they get even better and understand what they need to do to get there
- Become more creative and optimistic
- Feel more positive and confident about change

Element of trust

Realising the benefits that mentoring has on teachers, a two-form entry primary in Kent decided to invest in the benefits of mentoring and coaching by offering one-to-one external mentoring to its four early career teachers for an academic year.

This offer consisted of an entitlement to a monthly meeting with a mentor and relevant support and guidance in between.

The mentor shared opportunities, articles and literature that related to the teachers’ interests and professional goals and also identified areas for professional and personal development.

The mentoring was confidential, with the mentor only reporting generic progress to the headteacher, rather than anything relating to individual teachers.

This undoubtedly requires an element of trust on behalf of the headteacher, who needs to believe equally in the process, mentor and mentees. 

The scheme began in July 2019 and the impact is already being realised by the teachers involved.

Investing in mentoring may seem like a luxury, yet it could well be the best staff development money you ever spend.

In fact, investing in a mentor for a member of staff will not cost much more than sending the same staff member on one or two day courses that have little impact on their practice or professional perspective.

It is the sustained relationship across an academic year that enables such significant impact and results in tangible professional growth. Such investment also makes mentees feel highly valued and invested in, which in turn is likely to encourage them to commit to the school community and, most importantly, remain in the teaching profession.

What being mentored did for me

Harriet Smith
Third year Y4 teacher and RE lead

Being afforded the opportunity to have a mentor has made me feel that I am being invested in by my school.

It is amazing to have someone who is taking time to communicate with me about my personal and professional development and career.

Through our regular conversations I have become extremely excited about my future. I leave each of our meetings feeling that my confidence in my own ability has been boosted.

My mentor has given me impartial advice as well as signposting me to various opportunities that I would have otherwise not have had access to.

We also discuss contemporary research and issues affecting education and my mentor often sends articles to me.

These conversations and articles enable me to stay up-to-date with current debates and discourse in the teaching world.

Having someone with a wealth of expertise and experience guiding me in my career has had a real impact on me which, in turn, is positively impacting the children I teach and the wider school community.

Rosie Bransfield
Third year Y3 teacher and PSHE lead

I have found my mentor meetings extremely useful both professionally and personally and value having access to an experienced professional who is external to the school.

My mentor uses questioning that encourages me to look at a variety of situations, from everyday gripes through to how to improve my practice from perspectives that I have not, or would not, have considered before.

Having time to meet with my mentor has supported me in putting myself first in terms of my wellbeing and professional development.

I have been encouraged to ask myself when working out how to prioritise my work, ‘How will this benefit the children?’.

I feel grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to have a mentor at this stage in my career.

Mitchell Woollcott
Second year Reception teacher and computing lead

The mentoring process has helped me to look at situations from a different perspective.

I now feel that when difficult issues arise I have someone to talk to who understands. This has helped my wellbeing on a day-to-day basis.

Having the time to sit down and discuss issues and problems that I have faced in school with a more knowledgeable person has also helped me to develop as a professional.

The sessions have given me newfound confidence and I now feel ready to explore career choices that I would have never considered before.

Catherine Carden is an experienced teacher educator who specialises in teacher development and leadership. Find her on Twitter at @catliscar. To access one-to-one mentoring and coaching visit bowdeneducation.org and follow @bowdeneducation on Twitter.

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