Haili Hughes

Those of us who have worked with teachers for years have always known how valuable the support of a mentor can be – and with nationwide roll-out of the Early Career Framework (ECF) and more emphasis on mentoring in the ITE Market Review report, it seems that the government has finally realised this. Millions of pounds has been earmarked for mentor training and their skills and expertise is now being rewarded with the launch of the National Professional Qualification in Leading Teacher Development.

Mentoring really matters. However, in order for it be successful and to support teachers to stay in the classroom, where they have the most impact on their students, mentors need to be highly skilled and given the time to execute their role effectively. I work with a huge number of mentors in my roles as Teacher Development Mentor Lead at the University of Sunderland and as Head of Education at IRIS Connect. I also deliver the ECF to mentors and early career teachers for UCL, with my local Teaching School Hub.

Therefore, I have a deep and thorough understanding of the demands on mentor’s workloads and how they are finding their new elevated status. Many mentors are telling me that they are enjoying their roles but that balancing the academic reading required in the ECF and Core Content Framework (CCF), coupled with a full timetable and being an energetic, positive support for early career teachers is taking its toll.

This is why I wrote my book, Mentoring in Schools. I attended a roundtable with the Department for Education when the CCF was being formulated, and it became clear to me very quickly that mentors, who were being called ‘Expert Colleagues’, had a vital role in the new direction of ITE. They are expected to be experts of their craft, well read, and at the forefront of current developments in educational research. It seemed quite a big ask for an unpaid role.

My book explores each section of the ECF and breaks the research underpinning it down into easily digestible, chunked parts – so teachers don’t have to. It also uses case studies to examine how other mentors have developed their mentees and bridges the gap between research and practice by giving explicit strategies mentors can take away and trial.

Of course, there is tonnes of educational research out there but very little which is specifically aimed at mentors. The excellent CollectivEd at Leeds Beckett University hosts some brilliant events and this is where the idea for my latest attempt to celebrate mentors came from: a national conference, solely dedicated to mentoring.

MentorEd will take place on Saturday 19th March 2022 and will be streamed live on Twitter over on my profile @HughesHaili and also at @MentorEd2, where it will be pinned to the top of the feed. The initial plan was to hold the conference as a face-to-face event but due to Covid-19 restrictions and the uncertainty surrounding legislation, we switched it to a virtual event. The great thing about virtual events is that it suddenly becomes much more accessible to people and that if they wish to re-watch or re-visit something they have heard, they can come back and watch it as many times as they like. It should be a fantastic event, as there are some excellent speakers, including a keynote by Professor Rachel Lofthouse and a session on instructional coaching by Jim Knight.

Mentors are worth their weight in gold in a school and they could be so important in the fight to keep these teachers in the classroom. But being a mentor can be an extremely rewarding experience for mentors too. The dialogue between mentor and mentee can encourage mentors to become more confident to use a wider pedagogic range of techniques, so mentoring will impact on planning, monitoring and improving teaching quality for all who are involved in the mentoring relationship (Lofthouse, R., Leat, D. and Towler, C. (2010) Coaching tor Teaching and Learning: A Practical Guide for Schools. Reading: CfBT Education Trust. Available at https://www.ncl.ac.uk/media/wwwnclacuk/cflat/files/coaching-for-teaching.pdf).

But for mentors to feel fully supported, there needs to be a mentoring culture in the school – from the top, all the way down. This would clearly demonstrate a school’s commitment to developing their staff and show they have strong values on continuous learning. It also emphasises the importance they place on having a supportive and collegiate community. Part of creating this culture is seeing mentoring as the vital job it is and mentors receiving the support and profiles they deserve in school, where excellent mentors are celebrated.

Finally, it is key that mentors are provided with the time, support and encouragement they need to be able to do their job well. Many mentors are expertise-rich and time-poor, so giving them some extra support and free time to develop themselves fully as an excellent mentor will really be worth it. Hopefully some of the things I am doing, such as the book and MentorEd, will help.

Haili Hughes is Senior Lecturer and Teacher Development Lead Mentor at the University of Sunderland, Head of Education at IRIS Connect, Journalist, Speaker and Author



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