Mentoring pre-service teachers is a privilege and a duty

Last week I attended a professional learning day at ACU, one component of a course on mentoring pre-service teachers (PSTs) which includes both online and face-to-face activities. This post is a reflection on that learning.

View from Daniel Mannix building – ACU Fitzroy Campus

Mentoring Pre-service Teachers is a privilege and a duty

Similar to how teachers connect with their students by way of forming sound relationships, so a mentor needs to ‘learn’ their mentee in an effort to guide and inspire them to learn while also being open to learning themselves. Teaching and mentoring is learned through practice and by teaching, we also become the learner.

This learning partnership is encouraged through active participation in the mentoring of PSTs. While on professional placement, PSTs need and want to learn to be classroom ready. They are brimming with enthusiasm and eager to hone their skills. While in university we can provide the theory and discuss what it’s like in schools. There is no way we can replicate real life; that remains the domain of the school. As possible mentors to PSTs, we need to be mentee ready.

In schools, there is a need to move away from the supervisory model into a more productive and engaging mentoring program for PSTs. For this to succeed schools need to take an active role in providing professional learning for all staff so that quality mentors understand “the specific goals of mentoring in the context in which they are working and is familiar with the tasks to be undertaken by the mentee” (Ambrosetti, 2014, p. 32). Mentoring skills can be learned, so why not have schools and higher education institutions working in partnership to establish professional learning opportunities such as the one offered at ACU last week to enable mentoring skills to develop in school in preparation for PSTs?

I encourage educators to put aside concerns about time and extra workloads and instead, begin prioritising activities and tasks most close to our educative hearts. For me, at this point in time, they would be – inclusion, coaching and mentoring PSTs. These three priorities are linked and attention to them may just make a difference.

1: Inclusion

For those who read my blog, you would be aware that I am currently in the midst of a PhD seeking to learn more about special needs and inclusive practices, through collaborative partnerships between teachers and learning support officers (LSOs, AKA as teacher aides, paraprofessionals). Inclusion for me is belonging, not just a body in the classroom but feeling as if the person can and will succeed and is an integral member of the community in which they find themselves. Everyone has something to offer and would relish any opportunity to reveal it to us.

This idea is reflective of mentoring and coaching. Mentoring should be a positive learning experience for both mentor and mentee (Ehrich, Hansford & Ehrich, 2011). It empowers us to “see a possible future and believe it can be obtained” (Shawn Hitchcock), much like the idea of inclusion.

Quote – Shawn Hitchcock

2: Coaching

There is a fine line between mentoring and coaching – while I agree that mentoring is reciprocal learning, it is still very much a hierarchical relationship. As John C. Crosby states, “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction.” Mentee seeks mentor expertise, guidance, and feedback but similarly, there is room for a coaching relationship to also develop, not only between peers but also between mentor and PST. Coaching doesn’t provide answers but rather, a coaching conversation is one where the coachee is guided through questioning so they may come to the solution themselves. Parker (2012) discusses the roles of listening and questioning in his book The Negotiator’s Toolkit, where he encourages us to listen attentively and question with intent. This is an integral process of a coaching conversation and hence is valuable in a mentor/mentee relationship. While the mentee seeks answers during the conversation or observation, the process should also become an opportunity to figure it out for themselves. Our role as mentors should be to create safe havens in which PSTs can take risks, fail and gather themselves to go again, an “opportunity to create [and re-create] themselves” (Spielberg).

Collaborating

3: Mentoring PSTs

As educators, I think we should view mentoring PSTs as a privilege. It becomes a chance to fine tune and develop our own skills. It just may be an opportunity to see things differently, to be challenged and reflect deeply on our own practice. More importantly, it places us in an extraordinary situation where we get to imbue passion and love for teaching and learning to a new generation of educators. We are privileged to meet those on the cusp of a new career and as such should remember the words of Dewey (1933) who identified three key attributes of reflective people: open mindedness, responsibility and wholeheartedness (Yost, Sentner & Forlenza-Bailey, 2000). As educators, coaches and mentors we must be open to new possibilities through listening and observing others. We ought to take responsibility in seeking the truth and apply it to problem solve and overcome our fears and uncertainties in order to make meaningful change. As reflective practitioners, we need to critically analyse and evaluate ourselves and others, as well as our educational institutions and communities in general. As mentors, we have the possibility to instil this in our PSTs and offer them every opportunity to become great educators. We must prepare them to continue the great work we have started, teaching and learning with future generations. This is our responsibility to PSTs and to our future children.

Thanks for reading 🙂

References

Ambrosetti, A. (2014). Are You Ready to be a Mentor? Preparing Teachers for Mentoring Pre-service Teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(6), pp.30-42.

Ehrich, L. C., Hansford, B. C., & Tennent, L. (2004). Formal Mentoring Programs in Education and other Professions: A Review of the Literature. Educational Administration Quarterly, 40(4), pp. 518-540.

Yost, D. S., Sentner, S. M., & Forlenza-Bailey, A. (2000). An Examination of the Construct of Critical Reflection: Implications for Teacher Education Programming in the 21st Century. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(1), pp. 39-49.

On teachers’ work: Open the door & inspire others

Prompt number 14 in the #edublogsclub: Write a post that includes a “giveaway,” whether that is a lesson, a PDF, or something else. 

Open the doors & inspire others

This has to be one of my favourite things to do; share ideas and strategies to improve learning. As educators, we are not very good at boasting. I found this to be one of the greatest challenges when I left full time teaching to take up consulting.

In my adventures so far there have been good and bad experiences. I have written a number of posts about them and reflect often on how we can make a difference. I work hard as I know many of my colleagues do. We do, however, need more sharing in schools. Out in the cyber world, there are a myriad of websites and links to wonderful ideas and strategies for use in the classroom or for the professional learning of teachers. These are great, but I think the greatest of impacts come from colleagues who teach at the same school or neighbouring schools who open their classroom doors and invite others in to see, hear, experience and learn from each other. It’s time.

So, in the spirit of sharing or as the prompt suggests – ‘giveaway’, here are a few posts I’ve written about teaching and learning that may provoke further ideas and dare I say it – inspire you to try something different. If they do please let me know via the comment box below!

Reading from the outside in – A post about getting students hooked into reading

Playing the Picasso hook – Using visual imagery to provoke learning

Ma & Pa Kettle and other mathematical dilemmas – A post encouraging critical thinking in Maths

Teaching strategies that work for boys  – no explanation required

I wish my teacher knew, and other great reflections – a post about learning my students

Thanks for reading 🙂

The pendulum

Prompt 13 in #edublogsclub challenge is the pendulum.

Over the last 30 years as an educator, I’ve seen many changes. That my friends, as you have heard before, is the only constant in education – CHANGE.

In the prompt, there is talk about learning styles -the fact that for many, many years we were told that this was the way to go – teach to the learning styles of students. Well, research now suggests that this isn’t the case and that in fact teaching to learning styles has not increased student achievement.

Now what?

I remember when I first read about it, I was devastated. But then I realised that what they were negating was not in fact what we first thought -or at least not what I first thought. You see I’ve been doing a lot of work in this area for many, many years and developed a program about learning styles that my colleagues and I implemented in schools.

The whole idea of research that debunked learning styles mainly talks about pigeon-holing students into one way of learning and allowing them to think that if teaching is delivered in this way they will learn. That was never the objective of my program. Rather, the idea was that students could learn to learn using their preference but then they would need to be challenged to explore different ways of learning, depending on the situation. This point was never fully understood with those in management positions. This was a most frustrating predicament, even the students with whom we were working understood the concept:

“I think overall learning styles is really helpful because you know how you prefer to learn and it really helps. I don’t think there is anything negative about learning styles because some people may have lots of trouble at school and maybe that is only because of the way they learn. I have learnt how to adapt to different ways of learning. It has really helped me.” (Yr 7 student)

via GIPHY

Everyone learns in different ways. This is a given. For me, it’s still about getting to know your students, only I challenge educators to go one step further: Learn them.

So, while in education, things are constantly changing, as educators we still need to think about how, what and why we teach but more importantly WHO we teach. Learning them is a requirement in my book, no matter which way the pendulum swings.

Thanks for reading 🙂

7 boys, a mum & 28 pre-service teachers: A narrative of challenges

This post also addresses prompt number 6 in the #edublogsclub challenge – Challenging situations.

Once upon a time….

No, sorry…

This semester sees me working with 2nd-year pre-service teachers. The unit is the same as the one from 2016 and once again we get to go out to a school in Week 3 and ‘teach’ a couple of Year 7 students on campus. This is usually done during our tutorial time, however, this year proved to be a little challenging in that our tutorial time is 4-6 pm!! Um, schools don’t usually have students ready to go at that time – but alas – the time slot couldn’t be changed regardless of how important this ‘teach’ visit is to my students’ first assignment, (that’s another story!).

Anyhow, let’s not get side-tracked. I wanted to share once again the wonderful adventure we had that afternoon and how we managed to pull it off considering we went from 28 Year 7 boys willing to participate, all the way down to 6. With pizza and choc mud cake on the menu, the boys signed up to remain after school and participate in the activity. Until…

The bribe

They realised it was actually parent/teacher/student (P/T/S) interview evening and they finished school at 2 pm! The numbers dwindled down to 10 boys, and with only a couple of days before the activity, we went to Plan B – there is always a Plan B!

The hour we had with the students would need to be split into two. We have 10 boys participating in two sessions. This would be okay, as the teaching was only for 30 minutes, so my own pre-service teachers would be prepared and it would not impact on their lesson plan. Emails were sent to all and preparations made. I would pick up the food and make my way to the school, arriving in time to feed the students and set up the space. A half dozen of my students, who didn’t have a class before the tutorial would meet me to help with preparations. And then the phone rang…

It’s the day of the activity.

“Hi Jo. How are you going?”

It’s my contact from the school.

The conversation goes something like this….’Everything is okay. We are all set to go except we are now holding the activity in the library and not in the performing arts centre (where I told my students to meet me). No problem we’ll send the boys down to direct them. See you later in the afternoon.’

All good.

And then the phone rang…again…

“Hi Jo. How are you going?”

It’s my contact from the school.

“I’ve got some bad news.”

We are now down to 6 students.

Time for Plan C. Hang on. I don’t really have a Plan C. I have 11 groups (28 students in 2s and 3s) and 6 students. Each group except for 2 are expecting to be teaching 2 Year 7s for 30 mins. I get in my car to pick up the food and head on over to the school. Plan C, if I had one, won’t work, at least not without disppointing my students.

Later, at the school, I’m so happy to see my students who have arrived early as promised. We make our way to the library space, Plan C still isn’t coming.

“Hi Miss!” exclaim 2 little Year 7 boys awaiting our arrival.

I already feel better.

“Here boys, have some pizza. Now while we set up why not go find a friend to join us?”

“Ok,” they reply enthusiastically.

They soon return with another student willing to join in. That’s 7. Is Plan C on it’s way?

Slowly my other pre-service teachers begin to arrive while a few get caught in traffic and message to say they are running late. No problem. Plan C is slowly appearing. We have 3 groups already here and we’re 30 mins early – let’s start the first session and instead of 2 rotations we’ll do 3, plenty of time till 5 pm! H-E-L-L-O … Plan C!

And so the sessions begin.

In no time at all we have paper planes flying, gold coins appearing and science experiments taking shapes.

Planes, coins & science

My pre-service students keep arriving and another student arrives after finishing with P/T/S interviews in tow with mum and dad ready to join in the learning. “Please join us, mum and dad, you’re most welcome!” Mum is keen. So now we have 7 boys (yes I know that should be 8 but one has to leave to attend the interviews so really it’s still 7). The boys grab another piece of pizza and make their way to join another group ready to go again. In this session we’re doing kinetics, working probability and travelling to the land of ancient Egypt. There is also evidence of more science experiments to do with chocolate. I also spot one young man exploring through a paper telescope – I can’t wait to read about that one!

I spy…

Ancient emoji?

30 minutes later … A-N-D … TIME! Last cycle: the 7 boys and the mum rotate one last time. In this session I find more science experiments, this one has balloons and looks very interesting. In another corner, Japanese is being taught, while yet another group is deep into the medieval world and a third is working on area and perimeter – looks and feels nothing like when I went to school. Much laughter and engagement prevail and it looks like Plan C worked!

‘konnichiwa’

More pizza and mud cake, lots of thank yous and satisfaction prevails. We did it!

Time for reflection….

Reflecting on our teaching

Many thanks once again to De La Salle Malvern and especially their Year 7 coordinator who supported us all throughout this process, including entertaining the idea of having students stay after school to accommodate our tutorial time. Hopefully next year common sense will prevail and the tutorials will all be scheduled during the school day when students are actually in school!

Thanks for reading 🙂

A toothpick slowly scraping at the mortar between the bricks

When first organising my thoughts for the third prompt in the #edublogsclubs challenge – Leadership, I quickly jotted down some ideas I was toying with while waiting for my dad at a medical appointment.

notes on my iPhone

Reflecting back to my Masters in Educational Leadership, I was happy to recall quite a number of researchers, whose papers we were reading and writing about a decade ago. What did leadership mean in the years prior to my completing the masters 10 years ago?

There were a number of areas we explored including change, context, quality learning, leading authentic learning, but one area that stayed with me was that of authentic leadership.

Contemporary approaches to leadership are defined within the context of the authenticity of a leader. “Authentic leadership implies a genuine kind of leadership: a hopeful, open-ended, visionary and creative response to social circumstances, as opposed to more short-sighted, precedent-focussed and context-constrained practices typical of management” (Begley, 2003 p. 101).

My own reflections on leadership at the time were such that I have almost been catapulted back to 2006. Could these same thoughts still to be here in 2017?

In my own leadership at this school, I found it very difficult at first trying to get others to move with me, especially those who had been there a very long time. Sinclair’s (1998) comment that quotes a company CEO who says that the same old people sitting around talking equates to no change at all is reflective of the practices I found at this place. I have run up against such brick walls many times in my own leadership roles where this attitude is prevalent. I like to use the metaphor of a toothpick slowly scraping at the mortar between the bricks. It has taken a long time to get to this point already, where people acknowledge your passion for change, and begin to see it as non-threatening but as a means to improving the current practices in order to align ourselves with our ever changing environment in which our students are expected to survive.

It reminded me of this:

Twitter feed from Research Ed 2016

and sadly even this:

“instead of risking…” via https://marketoonist.com

To some degree, no I won’t colour it with ‘fancy’ talk – THIS IS the reason I moved out of full-time positions in schools. I became very frustrated and torn at what was happening and just how hard it was to break through that mortar with a toothpick. I left in search of a wrecking ball! Don’t gasp! I’m better now. I have my sights set on this tool called a mortar rake which speeds things up a little!

much more practical than a toothpick!

But seriously, my experience of leadership has been both positive and negative. I have worked with many wonderful leaders who gave me plenty of opportunities, who trusted me and let me shine and who I will never forget. Sadly, I have also worked with those who seemed threatened and unhappy no matter how hard we tried. Each experience assisted me in forming my own skills in leadership which I will continue to develop for the rest of my life. You see, I believe leadership is like learning – it never ends.

I often wonder whether there is such a thing as ‘born leaders’ and while I can name a few I think may be, I can’t help but think – really? They were born with leadership skills? Dr Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and his associates found that it may indeed be in your genes!

But for me…I say…No… A leader ‘learns’ the skills… from other leaders, who in turn learned them from others and so it goes… .

Giancola and Hutchinson (2005) emphasise that the transformed leader’s primary focus is “to build a team of leaders who are going in the same direction based on the similar belief that a leader’s main focus is to serve and support the growth of others” (p. 74).

To be a leader

This is a little closer to what I think leadership may be… an opportunity to empower others, only it may also be fruitful if some are going in a different direction just so to add a bit of spice to the journey. I like to be challenged – but not to the point where I feel I cannot go on. I felt that sometimes throughout my career.

I moved on eventually but it did eat me up for a while.

I like what I do now.

For many years I imagined I could do more as a Deputy Principal and sometimes I even considered Principalship but I’m glad I came to my senses even though it did take 20 years! As an education consultant, I get to lead but more importantly, I get to serve and collaborate. I like that better. My passion and vision for better learning continue to spur me, to speak out, to help others, to serve, to learn, to collaborate. I don’t think I’ll ever give this up.

Thanks for reading 🙂

References (from my paper ‘Dimensions which shape contemporary approaches to leadership.’ (2006)

Begley, P.T. (2003). Authentic Leadership and Collaborative Process: Foundations of School Community. Leading & Managing, Vol. 9. No 2, pp. 100-105

Giancola, J. & Hutchinson, J. (2005). Elements of transformed leadership culture. In Transforming the culture of school leadership. (pp. 78-98). Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Sinclair, A. (1998). The traditional path: Heroic masculinity. In Doing leadership differently: Gender, power and sexuality in a changing business culture (pp. 37-53). Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.