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Innovation-induced injection: A reflection on the reconceptualisation of the mentor’s role in an ever-changing educational landscape

Written by: Helen Joan Tyler
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Helen Joan Tyler, Director, Forest Independent Primary Collegiate (FIPC) (SCITT), UK

With the shift from school-based to school-led ITT, the role of the school mentor has been reconceptualised into that of teacher educator. Mentoring theory and practice have increasingly been applied in a number of fields and professional contexts. Mentoring has been an essential element in teacher training and in supporting newly qualified teachers with studies claiming to attribute success to the quality of the mentoring received. Early models focused on mentees’ acquisition of knowledge and expertise, but this was transformed into a more fluid, relational and hence mutually beneficial process between mentor and mentee. For the purpose of this reflection, the term ‘mentor’ includes the network of professional tutors supporting teachers. The mentoring role in education, in one way or another, has existed long enough to have a plethora of texts that mentors may refer to, in order to develop their practice. Such literature includes a variety of mentoring models that mentors may wish to explore. However, confronting current research and moving forward through relevant pedagogical discussion is vital in promoting effective mentoring in the move from school-based to school-led ITT. This change takes place alongside other significant evolving elements within the field: the introduction of the new ITT curriculum, ensuring that the clear trainee teacher focus is on the acquisition of subject knowledge per se and pedagogy; research-informed practice; professional standards for mentors; and deeply enquiring formative assessments of trainees, culminating in summative assessments at the end of the programme to meet the teachers’ standards.

While not questioning mentors’ efficacy in the previous school-based framework, mentors need to be equipped to handle the onus of responsibility placed upon them to become effective professionals in this developing role. Examining this issue from within the workplace enables evidence to be gathered from the experiences and perspectives of a diverse range of educational professionals involved in ITT. To effect change successfully, a feeling of shared ownership has to permeate every cell of change. O’Donoghue and Clarke (2010) suggest that teachers need to be powerful learners if they are to maintain a high level of professional performance in an occupation that has become increasingly difficult. A teacher’s capacity to learn constitutes an important form of leadership in itself. Here lies the dilemma: in order to enhance their mentoring practice, on the one hand, the mentor must collaboratively learn and work with others within the school but, on the other hand, the mentor needs to engage with professionals who are not largely focusing their work on the learning of pupils, and this can only be done outside the school environment in a spirit of collegiality.

At a time when the landscape of education is ever-changing with the current Conservative government, and alliances are being formed among myriad institutions involved in ITT, the way forward is collaboration. This was highlighted by the mosaic mentoring model in research entitled ‘School-based to school-led ITT: Reconceptualising the mentor’s role’ (Tyler, 2015): by enhancing the practice of mentoring, the quality of teaching improved, with a direct impact on the learning of children.

This system of support was devised to develop trainees’ research-informed subject and pedagogical knowledge for teaching through principal and senior professional mentors (PPMs and SPMs). By equipping mentors with the lifelong learning skills and knowledge to engage with current research, enquiring minds were and continue to be created, establishing new pathways of thinking for leaders of the future. The support in the mosaic model exploded from the trainee as the nucleus, building capacity across the system with a level of intense mentor support. This mentoring model has exceeded the two hours per week recommended by the current ITT market review (DfE July 2021) but in turn creates a debate around the 24-hour initial training time recommended by this review prior to the commencement of supporting an ITT programme. The impact of the mosaic mentoring model saw teachers move from novice towards expert mentors within the first term through the injection of innovative strategies of professional development. To cite a couple of examples, the ITT provider regularly hosted a themed ‘Book Club Brunch’, engaging mentors in discussion around, for example, Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli’s ‘Teaching WalkThrus: Five-step guides to instructional coaching’ (2020); there were regular interactive workshops featuring high-quality engagement in an environment demonstrating the esteem in which the mentors are held; the PPM and SPM visited the mentors and engaged with the school staff as a whole to embrace the myriad of professionals within the school professional learning environment. Maya Angelou confirmed the importance of environment and respect when remarking that ‘people will never forget how you made them feel’.

The Teaching School Hubs, recently established throughout the country and building on the renowned work of the Teaching Schools, are providing a centre of excellence network with the aim of being fully established from August 2021 to provide high-quality professional development to teachers at every stage of their career. This forms part of the implementation of the recruitment and retention strategy to raise quality and effectiveness (DfE, 2019a) One important strand is the concentrated focus on researched-based practice that has evolved over the past 40 years and links beautifully to the core message in the new ITT framework. This empowers the mentors to engage with the latest research and developments in their field. This hub model can only reaffirm the broader objective of enhancing the practice of the wider community of practitioners. One strand of the hub’s support utilises the instructional coaching model, focusing on professional learning conversations (Sherrington, 2019; Timperley, 2011) and championing the side-by-side collegial critical reflection to explore not what is wrong, but what is next.

No formal programme existed for preparing the mentors as teacher educators of the future to enhance their knowledge of current theoretical developments and research. While different models of mentoring are required to suit the different stages of trainee learning, the constant adaptation and progression is an exciting challenge.

The sequencing and connectivity of this development is vital in committing learning to long-term memory, enabling this mind alteration in the process of valuable critical reflection between mentor and mentee. This in turn will strengthen the understanding of subject mastery and engage teachers in lifelong learning and professional development.

As well as supporting the ‘ITT core content framework’ (DfE, 2019b), a further support strand of the hub is the ‘Early career framework’ (DfE, 2019c), which establishes an entitlement to a three-year structured package of support, from training through early teaching. It could be argued that teachers need this support and funding throughout their career, not just during the first three years, if we are to retain our best professionals and create leaders of the future. The previous minimal attention paid to the components that contribute to high-quality teacher preparation will hopefully be addressed in a welcome move to the integrated research-focused approach highlighted in the new ITT curriculum framework. This is to be applauded, while echoed in research conducted by Daniel Willingham (2007) that found an over-emphasis on stand-alone theory in previous programmes.

The findings of the research (Tyler, 2015) demonstrated the necessity for high-quality mentor support to be used as a tool for disseminating excellent practice, impacting children’s learning needs. The spectrum of engagement is growing rapidly in our schools. Let us hope that government-driven changes are not subjected to such imposed urgency that the unintended consequence of this urgency leads to schools ceasing involvement in ITT. Mentors are key players and influencers in an ITT landscape that needs to maintain its academic freedom to thrive.

References

Angelou M (1999) And Still I Rise. London: Virago Press

Department for Education (DfE) (2019a) Teacher recruitment and retention strategy. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/786856/DFE_Teacher_Retention_Strategy_Report.pdf (accessed 23 July 2021).

Department for Education (DfE) (2019b) ITT core content framework. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/974307/ITT_core_content_framework_.pdf (accessed 23 July 2021).

Department for Education (DfE) (2019c) Early career framework. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/978358/Early-Career_Framework_April_2021.pdf (accessed 23 July 2021).

Department for Education (DfE) (2021) Initial teacher training (ITT) market review report. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/999621/ITT_market_review_report.pdf (accessed 10 August 2021).

O’Donoghue T and Clarke S (2010) Leading Learning: Process, Themes and Issues in International Contexts. Abingdon: Routledge.

Sherrington T and Oliver Caviglioli (2020) Teaching WalkThrus: Five-step guide to instructional coaching. Woodbridge: John Catt Education.

Sherrington T (2019) Rosenshine’s Principles in Action. Suffolk: John Catt Education.

Timperley H (2011) Realizing the Power of Professional Learning. Open University Press, London.

Tyler HJ (2015) School-based to school-led initial teacher training: Reconceptualising the mentor’s role. DProf Thesis, Middlesex University, UK.

Willingham DT (2007) Cognition: The Thinking Animal. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

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