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NQTs – How to get the best out of your teaching mentor

Steph Caswell shows how you can create a spellbinding relationship with your very own Albus Dumbledore to bring out the Harry Potter in you...

  • NQTs – How to get the best out of your teaching mentor

It takes a certain type of person to be an excellent mentor. From Obi-Wan Kenobe and Mr Miyagi to Morpheus and Gandalf the Grey, film and literature are littered with the best examples of experienced and trusted advisors.

For me, however, there is one relationship that beats the lot. A relationship full of trust and wisdom, cemented together with mutual respect. And that relationship is the one between Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter.

If, like me, you were slightly disheartened when your NQT mentor was not someone with a long white beard and half-moon spectacles perched on the end of their nose, you’re not alone.

However, spectacles aside, we can learn a lot from one of the strongest mentoring relationships ever to grace children’s literature.

But what does the relationship between these two characters show us that’s so important when forging good relationships with your NQT mentor?

Respect their experience

Your mentor should be an experienced teacher. One who’s earned their teaching stripes and knows the ropes. True, they may not have an Order of Merlin (First Class), but they have years of being at the chalk face.

Sadly for you, there is no Pensieve, ready to show you all the experiences they’ve been through with angry parents or stressful lesson observations, so you’ll have to take their word for it.

But experience is one of life’s greatest teachers. So listen when they give you advice as to what might work or what you might like to try. Don’t have the attitude that you know better.

Maybe you won’t agree with all that they say and maybe you won’t try a particular strategy they recommend, but it’s important that you value what their experience brings to your relationship and treat their advice in a respectful way.

Use their expertise

Curiosity doesn’t always kill the cat; it couldn’t even kill Mrs Norris. To be a curious teacher is to be one who is willing to learn, who is willing to make mistakes and be comfortable with it.

As Dumbledore says, “It’s our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Make the choice to ask questions, to seek improvement from those who can help you. Observe good practice, listen to feedback and seek further support should you need it.

Your mentor is there to provide all of those things. No, they won’t be experts in everything, but they should be able to point you in the right direction if they don’t have the answers themselves.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask if you’re not sure; there are no silly questions when you’re honing your teaching skills.

Meet regularly

Great relationships are built on great communication. In order to have a strong relationship with your mentor, you’ll need to meet on a regular basis to discuss your progress.

Your mentor should have excellent listening skills, with a willingness to hear whatever you have to say. No, they won’t be at your beck and call at all hours of the day, but they should be there when you really need them.

Dumbledore isn’t always around for Harry, but it’s his way of enabling him to stand on his own two feet, to experience things and make mistakes. Up until his death (and afterwards), he is there when Harry needs him.

Your mentor should give you the space to grow, but always be there to lend a supportive ear… and the odd liquorice snap. If you become too dependent on them, you won’t develop your full potential.

Embrace the challenge

Your NQT mentor is not there to carry you through your first year; support you, yes, but it’s not their job to tell how to do every tiny thing. You have to find out what works for you.

By challenging you to try new things, your NQT mentor will ultimately help you to become a better teacher and your confidence in your own abilities will grow.

Dumbledore challenges Harry in so many different ways during the series. From entrusting him into the care of the Dursleys as a baby, to leaving him to find all seven horcruxes, Dumbledore believes in Harry’s abilities. He has faith in him.

So, whether it be challenging you to try a new seating plan or supporting you to organise your first school trip, your mentor will only help you grow as a teacher by providing these challenges for you to tackle head on.

Accept different personalities

In Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Dumbledore arrives in Little Whinging to speak to the Dursleys.

Despite his obvious anger at everything the family has put Harry through, he speaks calmly at all times, even offering them a drink. The glass of mead continuously bumping against Vernon’s head acts both as a reminder of Dumbledore’s respectful personality and Mr Dursley’s terrible manners.

This scene is an excellent example of Dumbledore’s mentoring skills. He’s showing Harry that, no matter who you’re talking to, you should always remain calm and respectful.

Everyone has different characters and it may be that your NQT mentor has a very different personality to you. It may take a while for your relationship to bloom into something that works to benefit the both of you. Stick at it, and keep working to build those communication skills between you.

If, for whatever reason, it’s just not working, speak up. Share your concerns with a senior leader. Be professional. Your mentoring relationship is a two-way street; you need to listen, but you also need to be heard.

Room for growth

As with Harry’s magical skills and abilities, your teaching will take time to develop and grow.

Your relationship with your NQT mentor is part of that process. Your ability to listen, reflect and try new things will be what helps you to develop into the teacher you want to be.

Sadly, there’s no magic wand, but maybe, just maybe, you’ll find your Albus Dumbledore anyway, sherbert lemons and all.


Magical meetings with your mentor

Do you want to know the secrets to successful meetings? Why not wave your wand and give these a try?

  • Bring evidence
    Look back at your targets from your previous meeting – what evidence can you bring to the next one to show the changes you’ve made/things you’ve tried?
  • Listen
    Don’t be tempted to interrupt, even if the news is hard to hear. Let your mentor explain things fully before you make comments or ask questions.
  • Practise reflection
    Talk to your mentor about what you’ve been reflecting on and how it’s changed or improved your teaching. A reflective teacher is an effective teacher.
  • Be solution-focused
    Come to meetings with solution-based thinking in your pocket – it will show your mentor that you’re not simply thinking of the problems, but you’re also thinking of the solutions, too. They might not always be the right solutions, but it shows you’ve got the ability to investigate your options.
  • Show gratitude
    Being a mentor is a tough job. Sometimes it can be quite emotional supporting a new teacher in the first year of their career. Be grateful for their time, their suggestions and their patience. Don’t take them for granted.

Steph Caswell is an educational coach and author. Find her at strivecoachinganddevelopment.co.uk and follow her on Twitter at @stephcaswell_.

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