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Insights from the webinar “Do mentors want to be mentors? Defining a rich, broad, long-term vision for mentoring in education” — Dr. Lizana Oberholzer and Derek Boyle address the follow up questions

18 June 2024

On 27 March, 2024, the Chartered College of Teaching and Penrose Education hosted an insightful webinar exploring what a rich, broad, long-term vision of mentoring could look like. 

During the session hosts Helen Barker (Chartered College of Teaching) and Robert Caudwell (Penrose Education) were joined by distinguished guest speakers and co-authors of “Mentoring and Coaching in Education: A Guide to Coaching and Mentoring Teachers at Every Stage of their Careers” – Lizana Oberholzer and Derek Boyle – to explore the importance and future of mentoring in teaching.

As a follow on to the webinar, Lizana and Derek have delved deeper into the themes discussed to explore the questions raised and further share their perspectives on the future of mentoring in education and how mentoring could become a more attractive, better supported, and fully appreciated element within a holistic approach to teacher development.

Derek Boyle

SCITT Director, Bromley Schools' Collegiate

Derek Boyle has been the SCITT Director at Bromley Schools’ Collegiate since 2013. He holds an MA in Leadership in Education and is currently studying for a PhD with the University of Wolverhampton researching building mentoring and coaching capacity within schools that support Initial Teacher Training placements. Derek holds a Senior Fellowship of CollectivEd, the Higher Education Academy and is a Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching. He is an active member of the IPDA as a member of the International Committee and the Conference Committee.

Dr. Lizana Oberholzer

Senior Lecturer, University of Wolverhampton

Dr. Lizana Oberholzer is a senior lecturer in teacher education and programme lead for the University of Wolverhampton’s International MA in Education, as well as the Early Careers Framework and National Professional Qualifications for school leaders. She is passionate about leadership development, governance and teacher development.  Lizana is a BELMAS Trustee, and she supports the BELMAS Research Interest Group for Governing and Governance as a convenor. Lizana is a BAMEed Trustee, and supports WomenEd as a regional lead in the West Midlands. She is actively involved in IPDA, and is currently the IPDA England Chair, as well as the IPDA Chair of the IPDA International committee. She chairs the UCET CPD forum. She is a proud trustee of a Multi Academy Trust, and is a committed educator, striving to provide learners with learning opportunities and life- chances.

Q&A with Derek and Lizana

1. How, if at all, has mentoring and coaching been affected by funding issues? Are policy makers investing finances elsewhere and not in training and development of mentors and coaches? Is time being given to allow mentoring and coaching to be carried out effectively? Is this an obstacle we need to address?

Within England, Initial Teacher Training providers and schools hosting training placements have been told that funding is able to be claimed to release teachers to undertake mentor training of 20 hours.  This release time is linked to each ITT provider that the mentor works with, and their training programme is individualised to the provider.  

Ideally, recognition and time needs to be ring-fenced within schools to release experienced teachers to give them capacity to mentor and/or coach trainee and novice teachers as part of their professional role, rather than it being an add-on to existing teaching loads.

In addition, training is being funded on the Early Careers Framework (ECF) for Early Careers Teachers’ (ECT) mentors.  However, one of the challenges remain, time, and it is also important for providers, and schools to consider how to ensure that mentors will have the appropriate amount of time to engage well with their mentees. The issue is often that the same mentor is an ITT and ECT mentor, and even if some time is ring fenced, it does not allow for enough time to support on both courses well enough. In addition, greater clarity is needed on how mentor training on the ECF will also be recognised on the newly accredited ITT courses. Many mentors also act as coaches on the National Professional Qualifications (NPQ) too, which means that they are spread thinly, and it also impacts on their overall capacity, effectiveness, and workload. These are important issues to consider and address as these fairly new, or reformed initiatives move forward.

2. What would you advise for someone who wants to continue mentoring, but doesn't want to take on curriculum responsibilities in the school? I was made a mentor of an ECT 1 when I was Key Stage (KS) 4 English Lead in my school but I stepped down from this role last year. I was able to take the ECT 1 I mentored into ECT 2 this year, but am not sure yet if I will be able to mentor next year. All of the other mentors in the school are Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) holders or Heads of Department.

Having mentors that are curriculum leaders is a double-edged sword as on one hand they are potentially your more experienced and knowledgeable teachers, but they are also spinning a lot of plates, and have a wide range of competing priorities to keep in mind. There are often tensions between what is required for the mentee, and targets for their department. 

It would be interesting to have a discussion within your school as to why those with the most diverse workload are those in a mentoring role.  If mentoring was used as a developmental pathway for aspiring middle leaders, they would be able to gain the benefits of being a mentor with the mental bandwidth needed to reflect on the impact the role is having on them and the mentee.

3. Do you think we should return to the recognition awards that mentors used to be able to complete and receive accreditation towards Masters modules. Harking back to 2006! Learning recognition awards.

My thoughts are it will improve the motivation of mentors and those who want to support novice teachers. However, will it change the need for time in schools and capacity?

The motivation to mentor is a complicated interplay of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.  Yes, external recognition is a driving factor for some people to mentor, but recognition of the status of being a mentor and trusted professional that nurtures talent and colleagues within the organisation should also be considered.  From experience, some mentors are highly motivated by recognition, and accreditation to work to masters modules, whereas for others, it has no appeal, but they mentor due to the benefits mentoring itself holds, for them valuing the role is more important. Space and time to mentor with that role being linked to workforce development of the whole staff are key. Once the value of the mentoring role is recognised within their organisation then the employer seeking external recognition for the role would be a good next step.  This would indicate to the mentor that the organisation values the good work that they do.

4. Making mentoring more inviting for expert teachers often feels like a chicken and egg situation. What would you say is the 'first step' to making mentoring a more rewarding/viable role?

A combination of recognition of the value of the role, time allocated within the school day on timetables and enhanced pay for this key role, would support more experienced teachers to want to take on the role.  Adding mentoring as an expectation within the mental bandwidth relief will demotivate your best staff from undertaking the role.

5. Do you feel mentors are well equipped to make assessment on trainees progress towards Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) if they don't fully understand the ITT providers subject curriculum? They have a tendency to focus on the pastoral or general classroom practice rather than set subject pedagogical development targets (particularly when the mentor is non-subject specific). What advice do you have to address this?

Within the ITT Market review, the role of placement mentors has changed, and the expectation is that within the 20 hours of mandated training is a component on the providers curriculum. The ECF offers similar training opportunities too. The careful purposeful integration of the taught curriculum with the pastoral and pedagogical guidance provided by mentors is the reality of what is coming from Sept 2024.  Therefore, it will necessitate that in-school mentors will have to be subject or phase specialists.

Mentors have always had an assessment type role and we should be mindful of the “judge-mentoring” paradigm that mentors can find themselves in, which can add to the complexity of the role. However, final outcomes are often a triangulated outcome in agreement with the provider’s subject specific tutor, lead mentor in school, and mentor, and mentors will very rarely need to make the final assessment outcome decisions on their own.

6. Would you say that the “Mentor as an assessor” is a part of the role necessary due to a lack of mentoring capacity in the system? Would you remove this in an ideal world?

Developmental formative assessment has always been a key component of the placement mentor role (and as we know from research, formative assessment practices, aids learning, and enables the mentor and mentee to have focused discussions on the mentee’s progress and next steps) to assist the trainee towards gaining and utilising the professional schema needed to be ready for the award of QTS and employment.  How this works in relation to assessment for the recommendation for QTS is down to the ITT provider, but there should be multiple checks and balances involved in any assessment framework to ensure that no undue influence or bias should impact on the trainee teacher pathway to gaining QTS. As mentioned in the above, mentors rarely make the final decisions of a mentee’s outcome on their own, and it is a joint decision which is informed by a wide range of evidence of the mentee’s progress over time. 

7. What feedback framework do you recommend for mentors to use when providing feedback to trainee teachers?

We have not recommended a specific framework, but in principle the approach should be a discussion between the observed trainee and the observer.  Feedback works best if it is non-directive, enabling the mentee to reflect on their own practice. One question to avoid is – ‘how did the lesson go’. It is often best to thank the mentee for being able to observe, if appropriate and you have the space and time to provide feedback after the lessons- it is often more helpful to ask the mentee to talk through their lesson plan and thinking regarding the lesson. In this way the mentee is given an opportunity to reflect, and consider the choices they made for the lessons, and during the lesson, without having to make a judgement on ‘how they thought the lesson went’ which in principle, can stimulate a limbic response, and impact on how the mentee might engage with the rest of the feedback session. 

Questions should prompt reflection by the person that was observed as to what they would do the same next time and what they would do differently if they taught that same lesson again.  This steers the mentee  away from a negative deconstruction of what went “wrong” with the lesson.

Probing questions as to how they knew the pupils made progress allow the opportunity for reflection and developing their own solutions and approaches to be taken in future lessons.

8. I want to know that Mentoring and Coaching need expertise and skills. Challenges are growing day by day. Coach and Mentors need to update themselves. How? What would you suggest?

Mentors and coaches have a wide range of training opportunities available to them via the newly accredited ITT courses, the ECF, as well as the reformed NPQs. However, it is key to continue to grow, and there are many additional opportunities colleagues can engage with, like for example BAMEed offers a development opportunity for coaches via a 3-stage training programme, BAMEed also offers monthly coaching supervision which colleagues can engage with to help support and develop coaches on their journey. Colleagues can also engage with training via associations such as ICF, EMCC, and the Association for Coaching.  Professional learning and development as a coach and mentor is imperative, and can present itself in many ways, and learning is often co-constructive. 

The expertise and skills that mentors and coaches develop through these roles are transferable too, it enables them to reflect on their own practice and also working with a wide range of people both within their own organisations and outside.

We would encourage mentors and coaches to take time before and after each session with the colleague that they are working with to reflect on how the process makes them feel.  Utilising a self-reflexive approach, perhaps through journaling would be a way in which the mentor/coach analyses and deconstruct what they are gaining from the process as well as the person being supported. As mentioned in the above, coaching and mentoring supervision is another way to help support professionals, to continue to develop, and move towards reflexive practice to deepen their learning. 

Continuing to engage with evidence and research informed wide reading is also a key part of the professional development learning, and as life-long learners, educators, teachers, mentors and coaches, need to continue to read, and drive their own learning on a personal level more consistently too.

9. To what extent do you see in your research that the progress of trainee teachers and quality of mentoring is affected by the MAT or school curriculum and therefore conflicts in the expectations towards QTS and standardisation across the country?

We are training both future potential colleagues and for the wider profession during the professional formation of the training year.  ITT providers should be exposing their trainee teachers to broad research and evidence informed practice that enables the trainee to develop their professional competence and confidence to operate in any school.

We would argue that it is important for trainee teachers to analyse, critique and debate research, policies and procedures that they are introduced to during their training and develop this skill further in their ECT years.  The development of critically reflective and reflexive practice is a key requirement of any ITT programme.  We should be encouraging our new colleagues to understand the “why” as well as the “what” is taught within schools and to make an informed decision as to whether what they are doing is in the best interest of the pupils within their care and the wider profession.  Encouraging autonomy in thought may inform the new teacher as to whether they share the same values as those espoused by their MAT.

10. What advice would you give to a teacher in a secondary school wanting to set up mentoring in their school? First step to be taken?

Read about mentoring and talk to those who run mentoring programmes within their own schools to get views on what is working.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do you want to set-up a mentoring programme?
  • What is the purpose of it?  
  • What is the aim and over what timescale are you looking to realise these benefits?
  • Does the purpose of the programme align with the cultural values of the school?
  • What benefit will the mentors gain from it?
  • What benefit will the mentees gain from it?
  • How much support would you get from a line manager to set up the programme?
  • What are the logistical and organisational requirements of your programme?
  • How much support can the school give you to achieve the aims?

Have a think and reflect on your answers to these questions before moving things forward.  If you do decide to move things forward, the key is to start small, and work with a working party, or small group. Think carefully about the group’s demographic, and consider how you can have representatives of all staff in the school on the group as well, to ensure that colleagues can relate to the people and work you are doing. Develop them well, and make sure you use appropriate experts to develop their skills as mentors and coaches. Track their learning, progress and impact.

Once this group is firmly in place and established, share their success, they can often support and lead on insets, share their expertise in their subject, and invite others to join. Build it up for teachers by teachers rather than a top down, done to process.  Work with others, and develop a culture of coaching and mentoring, where effective professional learning relationships can flourish as defined by Connor and Pokora (2016).

11. Small schools (e.g. half-form village Primary, which have a teaching head and staff with multiple subjects to lead) can find it very challenging to release staff, or have the suitable staff to be a mentor. Similarly, they may have experienced staff ready to be a mentor, but no trainees. Have you had any experience of this and good suggestions on ways to help these schools? Any thoughts on schools 'teaming up' or hubs? Do these exist?

Small schools have a wonderful repository of knowledge and experience concentrated in a small number of colleagues.  Unlocking and sharing this expertise can be a challenge as you state.

Talk to your local ITT provider(s) to let them know about the expertise that you can share and perhaps offer a single placement in the first instance to help your team to assimilate into the culture that is needed to support a placement.  With a teacher being the main placement mentor, and a team of others within the school providing broader experience through being supervising teachers that welcomes the trainee into their classroom and facilitate feedback conversations on observed lessons, can share the workload out amongst a team.

Key take aways

Impact of Funding on Mentoring and Coaching

Funding constraints have significantly affected mentoring and coaching in education. While some funding is available for mentor training, time allocation remains a major obstacle, often leaving mentors overwhelmed with multiple responsibilities across different programmes.

Balancing Mentoring with Other Responsibilities

Teachers interested in mentoring without additional curriculum responsibilities should advocate for a school-wide discussion on workload distribution. Utilising mentoring as a developmental role for aspiring leaders, rather than an add-on for experienced curriculum leaders, can help create a more balanced and effective mentoring environment.

As the teaching profession continues to evolve, effective mentoring will undoubtedly remain a cornerstone of excellence in teacher training and development.

Webinar recording

For those who missed the original webinar, a recording is available on the Chartered College of Teaching’s website.

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