In an environment where it has unfortunately become the norm for a new teacher to be thrown in at the deep end, some sort of system for supporting these staff during their induction is vital; a solid, reliable support system that can help to counteract the sometimes negative experiences that result for the new teacher and for the organisation.
Enter mentoring. This article explains how one organisation is addressing this issue, through mentoring.
Within the organisation there is a position established called the Teacher Development Advisor (TDA), who acts as a core resource to support all teaching and learning activities across the organisation. A natural key role is providing one to one mentoring for all teaching staff, and in particular, new staff. However, to date, any mentoring assistance provided has been on a very reactive, ad hoc basis, the mentoring occurring only if the staff member requests it.
As much as mentoring is emphasised as a critical support mechanism during the staff members induction, inevitably few people take up the offer. A survey conducted recently, to identify new staff members opinions about their induction experience confirmed that as much as they recognised the benefits of mentoring in supporting their teaching, they were too busy coping with the administrative requirements and teaching for the first time to access the mentoring help.
In late 2006, a proposal was put forward to initiate a pilot scheme for setting up a mentoring programme for new teaching staff as an integral, accepted part of their induction, during the first six months of employment. With senior management approval, a policy and process were designed for commencement of the programme in 2007. The process is as follows:
1. In the first two weeks of the new teachers employment, a meeting is arranged with the TDA, where a semi-formal needs analysis is conducted.
The needs analysis aims to ascertain whether the new teacher needs to be involved in the mentoring programme. For example, if they come with years of experience teaching in the adult education environment, they may not require such intensive support.
2. At the needs analysis meeting, the staff member is given a Mentoring Introduction Letter, which outlines the TDAs role as the mentor and highlights a variety of areas that the mentoring meetings could focus on.
3. If a mentoring programme is deemed beneficial by the TDA, the structure and scheduling of this is discussed with the staff member. The programme would include scheduling a number of discussion sessions and teaching observations over the first three to six months, approximately half to one hour per sessions per week/fortnight.
4. Before dates for the mentoring meetings are established, the TDA contacts the staff
members manager to discuss the recommended mentoring programme.
5. Within a week following the initial needs analysis meeting, the staff member and TDA
identify how often the mentoring meetings will occur and the areas of teaching practice to
focus on. Included in this structure will be teaching observations with a follow-up
conversation between the TDA and the staff member.
Mentoring assistance could include the following areas:
Writing learning outcomes
Ideas and techniques for effective teaching
Ideas for how to work with challenging students
Organising for the staff member to observe other experienced teachers
6. Over a period of three to six months, the staff member and the TDA maintain the
agreed mentoring schedule.
The successful implementation of such a programme requires support at all levels of the institution.
Fundamental to the mentoring programme design and delivery is its integral link to the institutes induction policy, to the performance agreement process and of course to the individual needs of the staff member.
Senior management approval of and Human Resource involvement in designing the pilot programme provide the necessary endorsement for all staff to realise how much importance the institution places on supporting teaching and learning. Middle management are also integral in this programmes success, as they need to enable the new teacher to actively engage in the process. This may mean time allocation for the meetings, teaching coverage if required or ensuring they regularly get feedback from the new teacher as to how the mentoring is helping.
As the mentoring process identifies, the individual teacher in conjunction with the TDA determines what areas of support they will receive in the mentoring programme. In other words, the staff member tailors their own programme.
If the mentoring programme reduces the incidences of new teachers floundering and sinking or swimming, to coin such phrases, it will be providing a valuable tool for contributing positively to the institutes induction process and enriching the teaching experiences of new staff; which ultimately leads to the core goal of enriching the student learning experience.
The pilot programme has only commenced this year, so there is no data yet to verify or validate the benefits (or otherwise) of such a support mechanism for a new teachers induction to teaching.
There is however a plan in place to evaluate the programme, six months after inception. This evaluation will involve two key areas:
A semi-structured interview will be conducted at the conclusion of the mentoring
period with the staff member, to identify if the mentoring has supported their teaching
practice and contributed to a positive induction experience. Feedback from their manager
will be gathered, regarding whether the mentoring has assisted the new staff
member in their teaching role.
An evaluation of the benefits for the institute of the new mentoring programme will also be completed. A report from the TDA will be provided for the Human Resource Manager and senior management, including anecdotal feedback from the interview with the new staff member and their manager. The report will also identify any possible barriers to the programme.
This programme aims to support new teachers in their teaching practice and enhance the quality of the institutes teaching and learning. It is this authors belief that such an intensive, individualised programme of mentoring will contribute to the achievement of such an aim and meet the challenge.