Secondary Languages

Sara Davidson

NASBTT’s Subject Specialist – Secondary Languages

Mentoring is one of the most rewarding activities you can get involved in in school and is hugely beneficial for your own continuing professional development.

There is a huge emphasis on ‘High Quality Teaching’ in schools at the moment and this phrase features in a large number of DfE publications, especially in the context of professional development and adaptive teaching. This is because there has been a large amount of research conducted into how to improve outcomes for children and there is a growing evidence base that high quality teaching is key. In order to improve outcomes for children, we need to invest in the quality of teaching and one of the best, and perhaps even simplest, ways to do this is to invest time and energy into high quality mentoring.

So, what does it mean to be a mentor? The word mentor, which is believed to possibly have originated from the Greek myth of Odysseus when he left to fight in the Trojan war and left his son Telemachus with his trusted friend ‘Mentor’, is now part of our every day language within schools. We might mentor an ECT or a trainee teacher, a new member of staff or even a more experienced colleague in one particular skill. We can find pupil mentors in our schools too. The term ‘mentor’ can mean different things to different people though, sometimes based on their own experiences when they were mentored (either brilliantly or badly!).

I was lucky enough to have a fabulous mentor when I trained as an MFL teacher. She committed herself to the role – listened, gave useful feedback, gave me the freedom to experiment and supported and cajoled when the going got tough. She never told me what I must do, but rather let me discover the languages teacher I wanted to be and treated me as a colleague who had ideas to share. That is not to say that she did not point out in and honest but kind way the areas that required improvement, but I was able to take the best bits from both the grammatical and communicative methods I observed others using in the department. She did not try to create a ‘mini-me’, although I did find her an inspirational teacher. I was never forced into one approach, and that is something that poses a problem in modern languages teaching: the question of which teaching method is best. As with most things in life it is probably the middle ground, a mixture of the best bits of different techniques, and if we choose the way of teaching that suits us and our pupils, that is where that high quality teaching will spring from.

There are many reasons why being a mentor is one of the best forms of professional development you can do. Here are just a few:

  • It improves your own teacher effectiveness and keeps you on your toes. You might make sure you use more target language in class or have reviewed the grammar or vocab of a particular topic more thoroughly than usual! Mentoring reminds you of things you used to do or should do when you’ve slipped into a rut.
  • It leads you towards challenging discussions and fresh perspectives, for example communicative versus grammatical approaches, forcing to you engage with different teaching approaches.
  • It means sharing experience and knowledge and that fosters collaboration and collegiality. It therefore also improves your listening skills.
  • It provides you with brilliant training in people management, coaching and leadership which can be useful if you are an aspiring middle or senior leader.
  • It is a wonderful way to pass on one’s legacy before changing positions or retiring.

I’m sure you can make the connection between these benefits and that High Quality Teaching I mentioned at the start.

It keeps you fresh, up-to-date, open to self-improvement and enables you to view your own teaching from different and new angles. It makes you reflect on your own practice and brings out the pedagogical theorist in us!

If you would like to become a mentor but do not have a trainee, there will be other opportunities within your school. Start by looking within the languages department, your pastoral work or the areas of extra-curricular you work in. There are likely to be opportunities for you to mentor others in areas you have more expertise in. Speak to your line manager about it. If you have access to NASBTT’s new, wonderful Mentor Development Modules, you will find a great deal of thought-provoking material to support you.

If you are looking for career progression, then either mentoring (to get practise of people management) or being mentored by someone who is at that next stage can be really valuable. Having a mentor either within school in a position you aspire to work towards, or outside school you have links with can be really effective.

Enjoy your mentoring journey!

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