Transforming Teacher Education – Mentoring

A few weeks ago now, I completed the ‘Transforming Teacher Education’ course with Sheffield Hallam University and the Education and Training Foundation.

Week 1- From Teacher to Teacher Educator and Observation Skills

Week 2- A Teacher Education Curriculum, Teacher Identity and Developing English and maths skills

Online session- Use of Technology

One of our online weeks covered the topics of effective mentoring and these are my notes.

Trainees’ areas for development may consist of any or all of the following-

  • Acquiring teacher expertise
  • Understanding different situations
  • Understanding how an institution works
  • Acquiring a new approach to learning
  • Overcome setbacks and obstacles
  • Adjust to change
  • Understand appropriate behaviour
  • Develop personally

Trainees have a wide spectrum of development areas as they have the dual role of being both a student and a teacher.

Tutors on teacher education courses have a more coaching than mentoring role; they’re concerned with the tasks trainees need to complete and there’s an emphasis on feedback to enable them to perform better. Tutors will typically address their short-term needs.

Mentors of trainee teachers are focussed on capability and future progression of the trainee. It’s a relationship for life, or at least has real potential to be.

Tutors and mentors should ideally be working in tandem to help a trainee to adjust personally and professionally, as well as adjust to the context and culture they find themselves in.

Developing an effective relationship

Being mindful of ego states will be helpful for all parties in a mentoring relationship.

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Whilst we will strive for an adult-adult relationship, there are moments we where we fall into being more of a parent, or even a child.

Communication levels

  • Common niceties
  • Sharing of information
  • Sharing of opinions and ideas
  • Sharing of beliefs and values
  • Peak rapport

The levels have to be taken one at a time- we can’t skip to peak rapport; the relationship is built over time.

In order to bring a trainee along, we need to take the step first before other trainees feel it’s do-able for themselves. Once we share opinions and ideas for instance, then other people will feel it’s safe to do so.

Clear boundaries need to be maintained. As a teacher-educator, we don’t have to share everything so we should set boundaries in advance about what we’ll choose to share.

What might the consequences be for providing too little support to a trainee? How about too much? We need to work to get the balance right

Trainees will require different levels of support at different times. We won’t always get it right but it’s important to continue reflecting to get it right

Mentor-teacher educator relationship

When discussing the progress of a trainee, it should be discussed within an evidence-based model so that it doesn’t become about their personality.

It’s vital for each party to share honest and open feedback and thoughts about the trainees so that the trainee can be supported in the best way possible by both parties.

Forming a directive and stretching environment is important and can be achieved through coaching- we know what they need to do and help them achieve it. The relationship could be more nurturing at times as we’re moving them towards a future goal. At a point of high emotion (good or bad), it’s important to provide a nurturing and empathetic, non-directive manner. Our decision about what approach to use (coaching, guiding, empathy, networking – whether directive, non-directive, stretching or nurturing), should be based on the specific context at the time.

We watch a couple of observations from a secondary school to learn about different mentoring approaches. When observing trainees, making a minute by minute account of a lesson gives you things to speak about and demonstrates a thorough approach.

Some comments are more directive (where there’s something REQUIRED). Other comments are just much more coaching and stretching to help him think.

For me, the mentoring conversations I saw could have focussed far more on a teacher’s fixed mindset but also a range of areas were discussed with no single area of development prioritised- likely to lead to trainees being unclear about what action will have the greatest impact on trainees (see my learning from Match Education here).

Feedback

Adjusting to change is as important for trainee teachers as skills and knowledge development.

Feedback is avoided- we’re often in denial. It can feel confrontational. It can also be difficult to hear- we respond emotionally but can be reluctant to share how we feel. BUT- if feedback doesn’t take pace then there is no change; no longer-term development takes place and teaching & students suffer.

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Balanced
Observed
Objective
Specific
Timely

  • Pick your moment
  • Make an accurate and short statement
  • State the general (evidenced) case
  • Say how it makes you feel
  • What you want to happen
  • Ask the trainee to respond

‘John, today, I noticed…’

‘I noticed’ can introduce evidence but also demonstrates to a trainee that we’ve been paying attention.

‘It makes me feel…’ demonstrates empathy

Share what point you want them to get to- through a coaching conversation
Do they feel like they can respond/act in the way agreed or not – if not, then what else might help?

Self-evaluation questions can help trainees to evaluate their progress

  • What do you like about what you did?
  • If you had the opportunity to teach this again, what might you do differently?
  • What help do you need from me? (Take care not to fall into a parent-child relationship)

My concern with these questions was how far they focus on impact upon students (not very). I see it as vital that student teachers, early on in their career, are able to identify the impact they have on students. This way, their continued development and actions taken to improve their practice are more closely connected to impact on students.
A model that can be used for coaching rather than mentoring within the relationship is ‘GROW’, but it may also be helpful for trainees to use as self-assessment too.

Goal – what will success look like?
Reality– What have you already tried?
Options– What haven’t you tried yet?
Wrap up– ‘So what are you going to do?’

We were then give a trainee to respond to who had emailed us about workload and how far behind he felt he was on everything.

Hi Sam, 
 
Thanks for contacting me.  
This email is an important first step in getting back on track and so I appreciate your honesty.  
 
This is not a unique situation to be in and whilst it is far from ideal, there are positive steps you can take almost straight away to feel more ‘on top’ of your workload. 

 
1- Visioning for success 

I’d like you to first of all take a step back and consider what ‘success’ looks and feels like with your workload. What point would you like to get to, by when and why? (It’s important to be realistic as well as hopeful for this activity). This exercise should get you into a state where you can see light at the end of the tunnel. It may also be helpful for you to think about times when you have felt this way before- what has lead to success in these situations? What approaches did you try that worked or didn’t?

2- Prioritise 
It will then be helpful for you to write down all the things that are causing concern for you currently and prioritise them according to the level of urgency and importance (the Covey time management matrix shared on our VLE at the start of term might be of use here). 
 
3- Reflect 
What have you tried already?- Make a list of everything you’ve tried so far (whether it’s worked or not)  

4- Problem-solve 

What else could you try?- Now make a list of anything you’ve yet to try- consider where you’re trying to get work done, how you’re prioritising it, what time of day you’re working, distraction factors, how to de-stress so that you’re in the right frame of mind to work. 

Support from me 

Hopefully you should arrive at some short-term steps you can take. If not then let me know as I have some availability tomorrow afternoon and we could work through some approaches together. 
 
Thanks, 
Hannah.

Transforming Teacher Education – Week 1

Last week saw me start a new learning journey- because the journeys of-

  • Teaching new spec GCSE English
  • Doing my job
  • Photography

…weren’t quite enough for me!

The course is a collaboration between the Education and Training Foundation and a number of universities around the country, one of them being Sheffield Hallam.

This is one of four regional projects, funded by the Education and Training Foundation. The ETF commissioned the projects to inform a set of professional standards and a qualification for FE teacher educators. By being involved in this project you are helping shape the future of teacher education in the post-compulsory education and training sector (also known as the FE sector).

It appealed to me because I work with new teachers often through my role and working to develop their practice is something I’ve never had training for. The conversation went more along the lines of- you’re a great teacher, you’re keen and willing, you have a positive demeanour- off you go! As is the way with all things ‘FE’, in at the deep end was the way so having the opportunity to reflect and learn was welcome- even if it did mean some Saturdays and some online activity for the coming few weeks.

This is the first of my blogs in this series and summarises my learning from week 1. There’ll be subsequent blogs for the rest of the programme:

  1. Day 1: Session 1 – From teacher to teacher educator
  2. Day 1: Session 2 – Developing observation skills 
  3. Online: Session 3 – Working with mentors
  4. Day 2: Session 4 – Designing and ITE curriculum
  5. Day 2: Session 5 -Developing English and maths skills within the ITE curriculum
  6. Online: Session 6 – Using technology to enhance learning
  7. Day 3: Session 7 – Making feedback and feed forward effective
  8. Day 3: Session 8 – Safeguarding within ITE
  9. Day 4: Session 9 – Reflection for action
  10. Day 4: Session 10 – Becoming a practitioner researcher

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Qualities and skills of teacher educators

To develop our understanding of the qualities of teacher educators, we were first invited to reflect on the images of ‘teachers’ around the room; what skills and qualities did they possess?

Dalai Lama / Brian Cox / Dumbledore / David Attenborough / Salman Khan / Albert Einstein…

Whilst there were a multitude of differences between them, we identified some commonalities most of them shared (bar them all being men):

  • Their reach is wide
  • They have the ability to make the complex simple, but not so simple that we feel like fools
  • They have tremendous passion and presence
  • They have strong subject knowledge; experts in their field
  • They connect with their audience and build rapport
  • They generate curiosity

So if these are the qualities of the world’s (arguably) best teachers then what of teacher educators?

Our pre-reading was entitled, ‘Train the Trainer: A study of the professional skill competencies and psychological qualities of teacher trainer’

We spent some time discussing this article at the start of the session; exploring its content but also our opinion of it. We spoke about the findings of the study, that:

  • Facilitation skills
  • Pedagogical knowledge
  • Rich experience
  • Good understanding of the participants’ expectations
  • Confidence
  • Self-regulation of emotion

‘are the most essential skill competencies and the psychological needs of the teacher trainers’. 

In addition, ‘a range of ‘critical abilities’ and ‘reflective attitudes’ would also ease he anxieties raised from the trainers’ changing roles during their transitions from subject teachers to teacher trainers because teacher training is a much more complex and demanding job.’ (Yuk-Kwan Ng, R and Yee-Shun Lam, R, 2015)

Although we felt that a lot of the study pointed out the obvious, at least to educators working in the UK, I felt comforted by its incorporation of the psychological demands of the job. I’ve read little related to this whether teachers OR teacher educators and I think those aspects are as important, if not more so, than the skill competencies required. It made me question my own ‘psychological readiness’ when I first entered the realms of teacher education. I’ve certainly developed this ‘readiness’ over the years but having mentored a new teacher educator a few years ago, I realised the level of ‘readiness’ the job demanded. So much of what we spoke about were her approaches to difficult student-teachers and how to lead these individuals towards success in their studies and career.

We were then able to draw some similarities between the two via a venn diagram (what qualities and aspects do they share?)

We then spent some time speaking about aspects of perception and reflection and how they might be important as teacher educators:

Self-efficacy – the accuracy with which you are able to gauge how successfully you can do something

Self-esteem– the attitude and feelings you have towards yourself and your worth

Stepping through a mirror – we need to move past the immediate things we notice and towards the rest; the things we see when stepping through the mirror to see how others see it and interact with it.

A warning about reflection– it can be a monster of our own creation: you will never be ‘good enough’.

As a result of speaking about these aspects, we reflected that often, teacher education is separated from vocational practice – this is how we alienate our trainee teachers. It becomes our duty to know the theory well enough that we are then able to distill that theory into something relevant and accessible. For instance, when we provide trainees with reading, how can we make this palatable? Use of video, diagrams, images, questions, a jigsaw activity to engage with content…

A question cropped up during the morning – how much of teacher training is (and should be) compliance? For any good curriculum design, it’s always the case that the ‘compliance’ aspects and essentials can be incorporated as a part of a much broader or deeper exploration of a subject and my own vision for and experience of teacher education is that it should be just that; resulting in teachers who are prepared as best they can be, not just for the necessary parts of the job, but to make the most of the joys and feel prepared for the varying demands it entails.

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Towards impact

The job of a teacher educator is to help the trainees along their journey towards understanding their impact, which Lidstone and Hollingworth (1992) says takes 2 years. At the beginning of their journey, they focus on their classroom skills; behaviour management, planning, questioning, assessment, feedback and so on. They then begin to move towards subject knowledge; still maintaining a focus on classroom skills but tying this to their subject and considering modelling, explanations, learning objectives and appropriate assessment methods. The end point is to get the trainee to ‘impact’- the final stage of their initial teacher journey and the point at which they begin to focus on how their students are affected by their actions. Teacher educators are to help these trainees towards this ‘impact’ stage where their focus is not on themselves but their students and their learning. This is not the end point of a teacher’s journey though; it is just the start (just as passing your driving test is seen to be the start of you really learning to drive!)

How do trainee teachers learn (Maxwell, B, 2010) – Through a mix between the various components of their experience: their placement / engagement levels in general / their ITE course. Whilst these three components can often be in competition with one another, there are many ways in which they can complement one another (and any future design of teacher education, should allow for this even more). The influences of each can affect another; what they are exposed to on their placement for instance having a huge impact on how they respond to and interact with their ITE course, thus affecting engagement too.

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Observing trainee teachers

This began with us discussing the purpose of these observations and there were certainly conflicting views; although compliance would be one element and assessment of this; there was also development, and yet there was judgement too. There is a tension that exists for the teacher educator; that between measuring and developing.

Our role, although not our purpose, as teacher educators observing trainees is to reveal their tacit knowledge in order to build confidence and increase efficacy; the aspects of the trainees practice that they’re unable to articulate themselves easily as they don’t notice they’re doing it.

So what is it that we’d be looking for during an observation? Well these things are wide-ranging but the trick is – How do we know when we’ve seen it? What evidence can we draw on to avoid our own perception taking over?

After exploring these aspects, we watched a video of a lesson and prepared to give and receive the ‘feedback’. Having moved to a coaching approach for all teaching observations at work, I was able to share that our opening question is not ‘How do you think it went?’ anymore. This is never a good place to start as a trainee teacher is either over-critical of their practice and uses it as an opportunity to beat themselves up OR they do not possess the critical faculties yet to appraise their performance effectively and over-estimate how successful the learning was. Better to begin with a question along the lines of, ‘How did the students develop during that lesson? How were they different by the end of the lesson?’ These kinds of questions place the emphasis on learning and the students; taking the focus away from the trainee and moving them more quickly along their journey towards understanding their impact.

We all concluded that there was no optimum form for taking notes on during an observation; most of us opting to jot down notes and take time to reflect and prioritise themes later.

As a result of the session, we were all asked to contribute our reflections on what makes observation feedback effective on a Padlet wall. I shared the following;

I’d agree that timing is important. This should be mutually agreed so that the trainee is happy with the time, rather than it just being squeezed into an available gap (not always to achieve). I feel it should be between 2-4 days after an observation to allow time for reflection for the observee and for the teacher educator to formulate the key themes to be talked about and the questions to trigger dialogue.

Location is absolutely vital. Ideally a small and private space away from the corridor the trainee would normally work in so that they don’t feel nervous about being interrupted by staff and/or students (or using this as an excuse to escape).

The feedback needs to engage the trainee. ‘How did your students develop in the lesson?’ ‘What was your thinking behind x activity?’ ‘Explain your phrasing of x question…’ This allows the trainee to frame their practice in context and their responses can guide the teacher educator’s approach in response- either more coaching or more mentoring depending on the trainee’s level of self-efficacy. Asking the teacher educator to rephrase what they’ve heard during each part of the feedback is a useful way to check they’ve understood accurately.

The feedback needs to result in some clear actions- share your practice in this way… Observe a peer and look for this… Record yourself teaching and explore the following questions… Try x and record the students’ responses… These actions should be connected to some kinds of measures the trainee could use to check effectiveness but should also lead into a future observation so that there is some continuity with their development.

It is important that the relationship is maintained during feedback; responding to the individual, their context and rate of development is vital so that they are not discouraged from developing and nor do they feel so buoyed that they interpret they have little else to develop in their practice.I was emailed this article the other day and it includes some pointers- I especially liked that as an observer, we have the ability to hold up a mirror to another person’s practice through describing what we’ve seen:

http://blog.irisconnect.com/uk/6-simple-ways-to-make-your-feedback-more-empowering-for-others

As always, I found the opportunity to discuss my practice and ideas as well as reflect on it of great value (a community has been created). I’m being introduced to a number of concepts I’d like to explore more along the way  (my curiosity has been sparked) and I’m looking forward to the remaining weeks (including online learning weeks via OneNote and other technologies).

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Recommended Reading

Bathmaker, A. & Avis, J. (2005) Becoming a lecturer in further education in England: the construction of professional identity and the role of communities of practice. Journal of Education for Teaching 31 (1) pp. 47-62

Dixon, L., Jennings, A., Orr, K. & Tummons, J. (2010) Dominant discourses of pre‐service teacher education and the exigencies of the workplace: an ethnographic study from English further education, Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 62 (4) pp.381-393

Hattie, J (2015) Know Thy Impact, Available from: https://goo.gl/qvBf3f

Maxwell, B.(2010) Teacher knowledge and initial teacher education in the English learning and skills sector, Teaching Education, 21:4, 335-348,

Orr, K. (2012) Coping, confidence and alienation: the early experience of trainee teachers in English further education. Journal of Education for Teaching: International research and pedagogy, 38 (1) pp. 51-65