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.
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.
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.
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).
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 🙂
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.