How mentoring has helped me develop as a teacher.
Regular Nexus blogger, Hannah Frances looks at how being a mentor has made her a better teacher too.
The blogging itch has hit me, so when, I asked @NexusEdUK and @UoNSoEHistory what I should blog about the conversation got interesting. I have been a mentor with the University of Nottingham for two years, and prior to that helped mentor ITE students in South West London through various partnerships. The conversation below led to me reflecting on what I have learnt from this experience and how actually, it helped me become a better teacher.
If you haven’t seen the blog by the fantastic @UoNSoEHistory, please do take a look! There are some excellent tips for mentors about moving your trainee’s forwards, https://uonhistoryteachertraining.school.blog/2019/04/09/a-tale-of-two-mentors-mentoring-with-perspective/ has influenced this blog today, and I how by helping my trainees, I am moving my own teaching forwards.
This blog, should allow you to reflect on what you do as a mentor, and how actually, it has influenced you in the classroom. It might not, either way some discussion would be great!
Question – What you do as a teacher is often subconscious, you are not aware you are doing it. So is your trainee? Can being more conscious of it yourself help your own teaching?
This is something that I have had to focus on a lot as an ITT mentor. One of my mentees went from strength to strength this year and yet, he also had moments of ‘plateauing’ as we all did. I found myself giving him the same feedback. ‘Use your tone to engage students’, ‘Have you moved around the room?’, ‘How can you use questioning to challenge students?’
My experience has taught me that, whilst this is all valid feedback that would push a student teacher to, ‘outstanding’. I can’t expect them to do something that they do not necessarily understand. They need to be supported to identify teachers enacting these things in the classroom.
With this in mind, I tried two things.
When you are teaching 5 lessons a day, 3 out of 5 days you forget how powerful consciously enacting the, ‘teacher persona’ can be, it made me reflect:
Was a class a lot better behaved, when I use these things? Of course. Does my behaviour management suffer when I get tired and take a seat? When I am (shocker) a human being and not a robot? Sometimes. Have I, since this series of observations made more of an effort to be active in the classroom? I have, and my lessons improved because of it. Has it also made me reflect on how I should manage a class when I am tired? It has.
My student benefited from this observation, and so have I. By doing these observations, I learnt this year that giving the mentee a sharp focus also improves my focus; I am a lot more aware of what I do in the classroom and therefore, the impact that this has on the students in the classroom. I ended the academic year actively working on my practice in these areas as well.
Next time you say to a trainee, ‘You should think about…’ Have you done it? Consider if they see you do it too? Do you make an effort to practise what you preach?
Question – Are you honest with yourself about your weaknesses? Do you show them?
We are our own worst enemies as teachers. We are taught to be self-critical, reflective and to strive for improvement. If you are honest, as a mentor, do you hide your trainee from your challenging classes? In the first placement, I too can be guilty.
However, this year, I picked classes for the mentee to observe, that I would lovingly describe as a challenge, the Everest to my Hillary, the Great Depression to my Weimar Government (I’m still in exam mode) one of my Key Stage 4 classes was, challenging, chatty, sometimes unmotivated and middle to low attaining. We were was also cursed with being timetabled Friday period 5. To improve myself and, in some ways challenge myself with them, I put this group down as an observation for both my mentees this year. This is what I learnt;
KS4 is so daunting to an ITT student or NQT; it is still daunting as someone, five years in but teaching three topics. Through mentoring. I, like my trainees attacked it head on with an increased awareness of what I was doing to support my students, fingers crossed – there will be some smiles on the 22nd August.
Question – How engaged with the latest academic research are you?
The University of Nottingham provides a brilliant programme for their mentors. It is an opportunity to catch up, compare mentoring styles and to engage in the latest readings around the subject. I do engage with these readings, I talk them through with my trainee; we try them out in the classroom. How much, can you say you still engage with research? If you do, have you found it has added something to the classroom?
Recently, I was at a conference that was run by the School of Education, where we discussed diversity within the History curriculum, this included LGBTQ+, women and BAME. I went away from this and designed a lesson, ‘Is Alan Turing Forgotten?’ This included; LGBTQ+, women and STEM. I was challenged to produce something outside of the box. I loved it; the students were so engaged as well, as they walked out with the realisation that Turing may have inspired the Apple logo. It was amazing.
Being a mentor makes me engage with academic research and forces me to engage with scholarship. I am gaining so much from this, and so do my classes.
Conclusion – So what can I take away from mentoring experiences? How can I use this experience to help my trainees and develop my own teaching?
The power of ‘live’ feedback. What is noise level? What is too loud? I learnt this year that I can very easily read what a working noise level is and a, ‘Game of Thrones’ gossip is. However, trainees can’t without support. I kept checking in with mine, when they were teaching and when I was teaching, providing live observation commentary. In doing so, I rediscovered the importance, of reading the room, something trainees often, don’t get. You do. Use your knowledge to check in – your teaching will be sharper, and your trainee will finally get what you mean.