Julia and elizabeth

Julia Mackintosh, Associate Consultant Primary Geography

Dr. Elizabeth White, Principal Lecturer, University of Hertfordshire

As emphasised on NASBTT’s Teacher Educator and Mentoring Zone (TEMZ), one of the best parts of mentoring an early career teacher is that you are developing yourself as much as you are developing your mentee (NASBTT, 2022). There are plenty of sources from which you can gain new knowledge about mentoring, including those listed within the TEMZ pages, but it can be difficult to recognise and access some opportunities for professional learning that could be useful (White, Mackintosh & Dickerson, 2022). In this short article, opportunities that have evolved in an Initial Teacher Education Partnership in England to support mentor learning are highlighted and the case is made for a personalised needs-led approach to mentor development. This article is a summary of the open-access article ‘A personalised needs-led approach to developing mentors of student teachers’ (White, Mackintosh & Dickerson, 2022).

Mentors have a diverse range of needs depending on their prior experience of mentoring and the length of time they will be mentoring a student teacher. In primary settings, trainee teachers are likely to be with their mentor for the whole school day, whereas in secondary schools they are likely to be with other experienced teachers for some of their lessons. There are also different aspects to professional knowledge and practice across the age-phases. In addition, mentors may have preferences for their own professional learning and development. Dengerink et al. (2015) found that intentional informal learning such as reading, experimenting and conversations with colleagues involved in their school-provider partnership were the preference of many mentors, rather than formal courses. Considering this diversity, it is clear that ‘one size fits all’ is not a good model to meet the varied needs of teachers who take on the mentoring role, let alone to extend their professional learning and practice. This article outlines how ‘core-essential’ and complementary mentor learning opportunities can support the development of key mentoring principles and skills whilst recognising the differences between individuals.

The ’core-essential’ learning opportunities provided for all mentors in the authors’ Initial Teacher Education Partnership were identified by mutual consensus of lead practitioners and developed over a number of years using the written and oral feedback received from school-based teacher educators and institute-based teacher educators and from student teachers. These essentials are research-informed and common to many teacher education programmes. Mentors are introduced to the Partnership team, values, procedures, and timeline of important dates and to basic mentoring principles and skills as part of their induction. They have opportunities to practice and deliberately focus on the feedback that they provide to trainees and to participate in structured discussions in a supportive community of teacher educators as they meet during synchronous mentor learning sessions (Stanulis et al., 2019).

In response to global events and changes in the teacher education landscape, mentor learning in the Partnership has developed to include opportunities that complement these ‘core-essentials’. These include apprenticeship activities for mentors working in specific contexts e.g. Special Schools; the establishment of teacher enquiry and peer coaching groups; workshops using teacher educators’ stories to enable mentors to discuss possible approaches to problems of practice as they explore stories together; and the development of a collaborative professional learning network for teacher educators. For a description and cameo of each please see the original article. These activities, combined with the ‘core-essentials’, have helped to develop a “rhythm” of learning opportunities for mentors through multiple instances of ongoing support and follow-up activities across the year. Mentors can access a variety of teacher educator-led, structured, informal and formal opportunities for professional learning and development depending on their identified needs, aspirations, context and starting point. In combination, these activities provide mentors with opportunities to participate in peer learning and support and examine their practice and beliefs about trainee teacher learning as well as the pedagogy of teacher educators (how to support trainee teacher learning) and subject knowledge (what trainee teachers need to learn).

Professional learning and development opportunities for mentors need to be fit for purpose. Sometimes one-to-one, sometimes in groups of different sizes and different compositions, sometimes reactive (driven by a mentor’s specific needs) and sometimes proactive (driven by vision to improve practice). By surfacing the practice that has evolved, it is possible to examine future possibilities and to aid each mentor to construct the best pathway for their current needs and desired trajectory.

Julia Mackintosh is NASBTT’s Associate Consultant for primary geography and senior lecturer in ITE at the University of Hertfordshire.

Dr Elizabeth White is involved in mentor development at the University of Hertfordshire, her research interests include the professional development of teacher educators working in school-university partnerships, and she has published extensively in this field.


Dengerink, J., Lunenberg, M. and Kools, Q. (2015) ‘What and how teacher educators prefer to learn’, Journal of Education for Teaching,41(1), pp.78–96.

NASBTT (2022) Teacher Educator and mentoring Zone. [Accessed: 26 September, 2022].

Stanulis, R.N., Wexler, L.J., Pylman, S., Guenther, A., Farver, S., Ward, A., Croel-Perrien, A.and White, K. (2019) ‘Mentoring as More Than “Cheerleading”: Looking at Educative Mentoring Practices Through Mentors’ Eyes, Journal of Teacher Education,70(5),pp. 567–580.

White, E., Mackintosh, J. and Dickerson, C. (2022) ‘A personalised needs-led approach to developing mentors of student teachers’, TEAN journal, 14(1), pp.19-31.  [Accessed 27 September, 2022].

Leave a Comment