katherine zagotsis
Highly Accomplished Teacher. AAC Communication Partner & Advocate. Mum of one. Accidental Leader. Reflectionist, Mentor and life-long learner.

Engaging Now! 7.4

Demonstrating 4.5

Mentoring in Practice: Video Observations, Professional Conversations and Vicarious Learning

June 3, 2018 | Focus Areas: | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | 4 COMMENTS

I’ve been lucky enough to be mentoring a Pre-Service Teacher during her final placement. I didn’t tell Giulia this while she was working alongside me, but my Research Project while at uni was ‘Do student teachers implement the theory that they’ve learned at university while they’re on practicum?’ I’d found….not really. They were often more likely to be mirroring their Mentor teachers. Good habits and bad. This was something that was always in the back of my mind during the six weeks.

Week 1

Since her lead-in days, Giulia had already been showing lots of professionalism and initiative, forming relationships with the children, assisting with extra tasks and coming in on extra days to speak with me, so I was not at all surprised when she requested an observation on the first day of her block. The first day however happened to be the first day of Term 2 and I knew that the chances of the kids being unsettled were high. This is what I suggested as an alternative (an idea I’d gotten from some colleagues at a PD day in the holidays):

“I wouldn’t expect you to undergo a formal written observation on the first day back, would you feel comfortable if I filmed you teaching and we went through it together at the end of the day?”

After asking Giulia how much responsibility she felt comfortable taking, I recorded her working with three children in the afternoon on literacy tasks. What was interesting about this was that it forced me to step right back. (That was another thing to work out. Where do I sit so I can observe, but also not be in the way?)While I was focused on keeping the iPad steady and trying to keep M. out of the shot, I was also observing other things. While working with one student, Giulia was working from behind. This was making it difficult for her to provide hand over hand assistance. It also put her in a vulnerable position if it was a student who threw their head back in frustration. I made a mental note to let her know that I work from the side. The last student that Giulia worked with started to look around, tap his feet on the floor and tap his head halfway through. I could see that he needed a break, but could also see that it wasn’t bad enough for me to intervene. I left it. I also didn’t comment on it afterwards or prior to watching the video. The only thing I said was “I noticed something, tell me what you see.” We got to the exact point where I’d have given him five minutes and Giulia said “He needs a break!!” Afterwards we spoke about wait times, cognitive load, waiting until the student has left to undo their work and encouraging students to remove and put back on the lids of whiteboard markers. The first SSO I ever worked with insisted on that last point and I’ve continued to do so-it’s a great way to fit in some extra fine motor practice and encourage independence. Giulia has written her thoughts on her video observation, including how she felt her practice had improved the next day from taking the time to reflect and discuss. In that same post, she also mentioned how she felt strange doing so, but stepped up to provide some recommendations to the relieving teacher on both days I was away. (I’m never away. I felt terrible about being away).

What I really liked about that first week was that because we had already established a respectful partnership during Giulia’s lead-in days, we were already comfortable in commenting on each other’s practice. I’d also made it clear that I was open to receiving feedback myself.

Me: You’re using a little too much verbal language and sometimes that can be unsettling. Maybe try using visuals and ProloQuo2go a little more?

I’d just said “Chairs are for sitting” while a student was swinging as an alternative to ‘Stop!’

Giulia: Nice use of positive phrasing there.

We also took the time to explain the reasons behind why we might be finding those strategies difficult. I’ve been implementing Structured Teaching for a few years now and I’m used to the different style of teaching that minimal verbal language requires. Giulia, who was more familiar with early childhood, was used to commenting on what the child was doing and feeling, especially if they were upset. So, if a child was having a tantrum, her original strategy was to talk to calm. Positive phrasing, a strategy that Giulia had been reminded of at recent PD didn’t come naturally to me and I think this is mostly due to my experience with quite challenging behaviour over the last two years. If it was a meltdown, I would stop talking altogether to try and prevent escalation. And I didn’t always have time to say “Hands are for helping” as I was often busy moving myself out of the way of students.

Target: Continue using positive phrasing with the students in my class.

Giulia had also asked me whether or not she was entitled to NIT, something that her handbook didn’t mention. She had emailed her uni liaison who said it was up to the school and I checked with leadership, who said she was able to have half days. We spent this time in the first week clarifying expectations and checking when everything was due. Giulia also asked me for my thoughts on a few of her assignments.

Something that I also noticed in Week 1 was Giulia’s hesitation to use a firm tone of voice while managing behaviour. I could hear the doubt in her voice that the students wouldn’t listen to what she asked…and if I could notice that, then so would they. I modelled how to use a firm but fair tone of voice and how to rebuild the relationship afterwards.

4 responses to “Mentoring in Practice: Video Observations, Professional Conversations and Vicarious Learning”

  1. Wow! This is an amazing post. You have obviously done an outstanding job at being a mentor. Your model of teacher as learner is amazing and has obviously had an enormous impact on both you and Giulia! When you look back to your initial worries about being a mentor, how do you feel now? Especially when you consider the new learnings you experienced at the Mentor induction day etc. I’m curious to understand whether you’re able to accept your growth in the same way that you managed to encourage Giulia ?

    • Thank you! My main concern was that I wouldn’t be able to be articulate when providing verbal feedback, I’m feeling more confident with that now. Saying “um” too often isn’t the worst thing in the world anyway. Advice from Mentor induction day to choose two focus areas instead of trying to cover it all was really helpful, I learned a lot from doing that. You and Giulia have both give me very positive, specific feedback that’s hard to ignore ?

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