Why every teacher needs a mentor

Jane Wood-Chambers

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Everyone, regardless of their profession or their job role, needs a listening ear and someone that they can go to for advice and support.

The working week is so full of tasks, projects, meetings, lessons, assessments, meetings, schedules, timetables and the unplanned for events that finding time to take stock, reflect, evaluate and reassess is almost impossible.

What then can happen is that your default when things are going well is not to factor in or plan for reflection time, so when things go not so well there are no strategies to cope and it can feel a little like the ‘house of cards’ with the tipping point being only an event away.

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There is, however, a solution and that solution for each and every teacher needs their own mentor.

So why then can a mentor help and what is their role?

As the old saying goes; ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. During my teaching career, I have found this to be so very true and can recollect numerous occasions when a colleague has listened, asked specific questions and supported me through the minefield that is not only teaching but leadership and management as well.

From NQT’s to Executive Heads, there will always be a need for a personal ‘go to’ person. Someone who knows you and the nature of the role you are in. 

Having walked your roles previously helps and ‘buddying up’ with a mentor who has recently been through the teaching stage that you are currently in is a great place to start. The start of the experience journey allows the teacher to best support the NQT and the now-retired executive head to guide the newly appointed headteacher. They know the role because they have done it!

Knowing your role and the pleasures and pains of your daily workload are key. The role of the mentor is not supervisory but rather one of support and challenge. Looking at your administrative systems, explaining the assessment process and the best way to manage your time during the assessment period and helping you to plan for your first Governors meeting is the type of offer and support a personal mentor can give.

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It is also important for your mentor to observe you in your role and for you to observe them in theirs. I spent my first couple of years as a head teacher visiting with and being visited by an established head. Seeing your mentor in their natural environment; their school, enabled me to evaluate their leadership and management style and to pick up innumerable hints and tips through my observation of them in situ. 

It also allowed me to speak, away from my own school, about concerns and issues. The visits were reciprocated, and my mentor often spoke about how the process enabled her practice to change and grow as well as impacting on my own.

So, why is a mentor important?

Teachers are far, far more likely to ask a colleague for direct assistance rather than a member of the senior leadership team.

No matter how open and supportive this team may be, the newly qualified teacher will, of course, be concerned that requesting help may be interpreted as a deficit on their part and cause undue worry.

A more obvious reason though is that a good mentor is also a good teacher, or a good mentor is equally a good senior leader, and therefore in the perfect position to work with someone at the start of their journey.

What makes a good mentor?

The best mentors show, rather than tell, their colleagues what good practice looks like.

This includes inviting the teacher/leader into the classroom/school and sharing tests/assessments, projects/school development plans and Ofsted actions, parent communications and techniques to structure the classroom/school for learning and sustained strategic improvement.

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The second trait of good mentors is that they work on developing a broad and authentic relationship with their colleagues.

These bonds of friendship help to break down many formal walls between colleagues and are important in case the new teacher needs to ask for help.

This is equally true for the mentor of a senior leader who needs to feel part of the network of head teachers in the cluster of schools they belong to or the borough heads group that they have joined.

Having someone who is already ‘part of the group’ or has been in your shoes is invaluable and essential for developing into the new role and for the mental well-being of anyone newly appointed.

A good mentor will also be able to suggest effective practices and help lead the teacher/senior leader to solutions, decisions and classroom/school choices that will develop long-lasting habits and patterns for leadership and management.

Does mentoring have to be formal?

Mentoring has to be part of the whole school approach. This is to ensure that it is valued and given the time and credibility it deserves. For anything to work in a setting it has to be a whole school intuitive and embedded into the school’s values and systems.

The practice of mentoring also needs to follow a school model with the codes and structures understood by all. Specifically, the issue of ethics and confidentiality. It needs to be given the same importance-performance management or capability has for it to take place, have the time dedicated to it and for it then to have maximum impact.

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Pass it on

As a new teacher, eventually your requirement for working with an official mentor will come to an end. Yet your need for a mentor will still be there as they are an invaluable resource and necessity in the busy profession of teaching. has also ended. A good mentor will turn into a trusted colleague and will eventually work with you to develop you as a mentor for new members of the profession.

The passing on of our collective guidance, expertise and caring is an essential part of our profession as we all need to work to keep teachers and senior leaders in teaching, leadership and management. We also need to ensure that we look after our own and our colleague’s mental health and well-being.

Adopting a mentoring programme in your setting has shown that there is a positive impact on teacher retention and their well-being.

There is also the added advantage of having some personalised CPD of a 1:1 nature with an experienced member of the profession.

The baton on mentoring needs to be passed onto the next cohort of entries into the profession, regardless of and to cut down on the too-high turnover that too many schools experience. using what they have learnt through years of trial and error and experience.

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This knowledge is then summarised and applied when addressing the mentees worries, concerns or questions that are prevalent amongst staff. There is no point in ‘reinventing the wheel’ and systems that have previously worked can still work, with maybe the odd tweak and change and acknowledgement of the new technical age.

Think about your own personal areas for development and what you would like a mentor to support you on. Now do the same for the areas that you feel you could mentor someone in! The task now is to initiative mentoring in your school and embed it into the vales of your setting. Believe you me it will make a difference to you all.

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About our Community Expert

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Jane Wood-Chambers
Editorial Advisory Board Lead

Over 27 years of educational experiences in a number of settings. Developed a clear vision and ethos for inclusion which puts the child at the centre and a clear understanding of how to support, engage and nurture the individual.

Ability to train all staff through effective and reflective continual professional development in behavioural management techniques that begin, establish and maintain change in all.

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