Beverly Collins (Bev) is a highly skilled and experienced teacher who has mentored students from the university on many occasions. She is also a trained AITSL assessor and co-ordinator at Seaview High School. In this session she shared with us her experiences as a mentor and asked us to reflect on some key ideas surrounding it.
One of the first tasks we were asked to complete was a reflection. We were asked to consider a moment when we needed mentoring to overcome a tricky situation. We were asked to consider what skills and qualities that person had that had been helpful. This was an interesting one. To be honest, it felt a little personal to start with! However, it was quickly evident that most of us wanted a mentor who was supportive but challenging and, perhaps most importantly, non-judgemental.
We discussed how mentors are different to coaches, pointing out that a mentoring role was a holistic one. Mentors work with the whole person not just their professional side. As a classroom teacher we often use these skills to help our students. Emotional intelligence and growth is very important in this role too. This includes well being; both our own and our student teachers.
Being in the position of working in a classroom for the first time is very stressful – we all remember it! Many of the skills that we have, we’ve developed almost unconsciously through years of practice. These students may not have the sixth sense to read their room yet. Student teachers may enter the room thinking that they should have their teacher version of a spidey sense all ready to go. That’s just not realistic. It takes years to work out what kind of teacher you are, in fact, I’m sure it changes a little over time. Everyone has to learn to move into their own teaching style and we should share that with our student teaches. Help and guide them to understand that this idea of a perfect teacher, is not always possible. In fact, I would argue that perfection isn’t even desirable.. what would there be to learn!?!? – No fun in that.
During our conversation, Bev touched on some research into frameworks for working with the subject of well being. The PERMA method of well being management, is something I would definitely like to explore further. Bev talked about how this questionnaire had helped her to understand the way she responds to others and how she needed to make sure she was more balanced across all areas. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore this in the session today but this is definitely something I will do some further research into. The idea that researchers like Dr Martin Seligman are focusing their studies on defining the world’s state of happiness is just too interesting to ignore! This TED talk will most likely feature in a new post soon!
mentoring “is a two way process – You’re not the fountain of knowledge you are a collaborator. You’re both going to learn in he placement”
Either way, the message today was that mentoring should be viewed as a two way street. In the earlier session we’d explored how the student teachers who are working at the schools needed to learn and be open to developing themselves professionally. Now, Bev was suggesting that we the mentors should also open themselves up to the learning opportunities that having a student to work with provides. She stated that mentoring “is a two way process – You’re not the fountain of knowledge you are a collaborator. You’re both going to learn in he placement”.
Trust is a key factor in this relationship. Confidentiality, permission to take risks and to fail. To have someone along side you to help keep things moving along. There needs to be some mutual benefit for the mentor teachers. When we explored what we brought to the table, as mentors ourselves, and what we might get out of it, the conversations naturally shaped themselves around focus area 6.3. Stories of fantastic collegial engagement emerged; particularly from Mitcham Primary school . I will explore the fabulous Enquiry program that the Early Years Team have set up in a subsequent post. Needless to say, this shared experience of learning can have an amazing impact on the students, the teachers they are working with and the school community itself.
These stories link well with my experiences running and supporting teachers who are using Edufolios. Reading and reflecting on the work of others naturally leads to reflection on your own skillset. If you are able to remain open minded about making progress, if you can remain an effective learner then these mentor conversations will provide opportunities for self-reflection and development for both parties.
Listening to the teachers around the room, as they described, the experiences they’d shared with pre-service teachers, I was struck by the shared passion to help them to come to grips with the realities of the profession they were choosing to enter. With teachers, there is a theme that returns again and again when it comes to reflecting on practice: perfection. The teachers I listened to today wanted their student teachers to understand that there is no such thing in the classroom. That resilience and the ability to get back up and try again was the best way to learn. There was also some discussion on our propensity to focus on the bad rather than the positives.
I strongly believe that the framework provided by the university, along with the requirement for students to gather evidence in an eportfolio, will really help everyone to benefit from these mentor relationships. The standards are being used here as a guide for colleagial conversation. As they were intended, they are acting as a focal point through which parties can familiarise themselves with their practice and begin to find growth areas. It would seem obvious to me that, the more time you dedicate to reflection and developing a deeper understanding of the events of your day, the more you will benefit.
Of course, part of the learning process has to involve being able to give helpful and constructive feedback. Often, giving feedback can be difficult though and Bev had some great strategies to help mentors create opportunities for on-going feedback.
As an assessor for Aitsl, she described how she is required to use a method called “Heat Mapping” when evaluating a portfolio. This process involved a colour code and a rubric. In the example shown here, she is using colours to indicate where a student has provided evidence, is some way through providing it or has none at all. In her model she chose three colours. One to represent that there was no evidence, one for some evidence and one for completed.
This is exactly the method that assessors use when judging a porfolio of practice against the standards at H.A. or Lead. If evidence is missing then that doesn’t mean that the candidate has failed. It simply means that the evidence needs to be located elsewhere. The gaps will turn into investigative questions for principals and line managers. We need to give students a chance to gather their evidence and the permission to grow into it. Of course, the fact that you have such a clear record of your student teachers’ progress over time is a handy example of you working at H.A. Make sure you put that in your own portfolio and explain it!
When it comes to giving feedback however, bringing out this heat map at least each week of the prac. is an excellent way to keep the conversation focused on progression and learning. The document outlines what needs to be completed and even breaks down the graduate standard into three progressive sections. If used continually in this manner, it would most definitely help avoid any interesting surprises occurring – and therefore, with luck, any awkward conversations.
Either way, focusing on the growth that a student is making is the key here. None of us are going to be perfect in all areas of our practice. Not ever. The key here is to ensure that we are making progress. If, at the end of prac., we’re missing evidence then there is an opportunity to set targets for growth on the next one.
It’s easy to forget the impact our experiences of teaching has on our own expectations. It takes time to develop that sixth sense
Feedback should be:
- Specific – use the criteria
and we should be mindful of our tone of voice and the way in which we move our body. Gesticulation, as a non verbal cue, can send just as many signals as our words can. If you do end up responding to an awkward scenario then remember that you need to look for a solution not a way to make he problem bigger!
Relating this to my own practice:
What we’re exploring here is a complex relationship between learner and learner. A chief learner and a someone new to the profession. I love that. I always have loved that idea and have always shied away from the authoritative, fountain of knowledge approach. It’s great to hear that mentor teachers are being given tools to enable them to enter into this relationship in this way.
Upon reflection on my teaching at the university, I can see greater opportunities to incorporate the idea of the “heat map” into my work. In fact, this year, I’d like to further develop the rubric given to my students for each assessment. Develop them in line with the same descriptors they have in this practicum booklet and give feedback with a heat mapped copy when I mark. This might actually reduce the amount of marking I have. If possible, I would also like to incorporate that heat mapping exercise in a feedback session. The middle assignment would be perfect for this.
Ask students to rationalise the colour coding against their work and set themselves a target for their first teaching year or subsequent practicum. Doing this will enable them to make further connections between the theories and content we are studying and the world of the classroom. It may also give them a chance to further develop their identity as a learner and that’s got to help make the lives of the mentors a little easier! 😉