As part of the Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) programme, participants are required to undertake a quality improvement project.
SET’s Professional Status team reviewed all 60+ Quality Improvement Projects submitted as part of the October 2020 ATS cohort shortlisting the 12 using a scoring matrix, including the below from Lesley Kellett, Quality Improvement Coordinator at Weymouth College.
This editorial provides an overview of Lesley’s improvement project which examined if mentoring is beneficial to those who are new to teaching in Further Education (FE) and what the impact is on those who have received mentoring.
Teaching in FE is a very demanding role and those that start often have a vast amount of valuable experience to offer but can lack being appropriately supported when they first start. The result of this can be that talented and highly skilled individuals who could be a huge asset to the teaching profession leave at the start of their career. One of the new measures identified in the recently released white paper is ‘Launching a nationwide recruitment campaign to get more talented individuals to teach in further education’ (Department for Education 2021). The campaign will aim to:
reach millions of prospective teaching staff, targeting those with experience and skills in industry, who can train the next generation of technical experts (Cambden 2021).
This campaign will be of great benefit to FE, as it will hopefully attract high-calibre teaching staff which will play a pivotal role in ensuring that students develop the required skills and knowledge for the area that they wish to pursue a career in.
Once individuals are attracted to the profession, the problem is retaining them, as the retention of high-quality teachers is a critical issue across the FE sector (Department for Education 2018). Mentoring is one way of helping to retain those who are new to teaching, as research suggests it is the most effective form of supporting the professional development of beginning teachers (Education and Training Foundation 2020). Mentoring can be defined as a:
formal, one-to-one relationship, usually between a relatively inexperienced teacher (the mentee) and a relatively experienced one (the mentor), which is intended to support the mentee’s (though may also support the mentor’s) learning, development and well-being (Hobson and Maxwell p.185 2020).
It is anticipated that this research will show that mentoring has many benefits for those who are new to teaching in FE. Weymouth College (WC) has just completed their strategy plan for 2021-2024 and one of the newly developed strategic priorities is to ‘attract, recruit, develop and retain exceptional staff’ (Weymouth College 2021). It is hoped that the research collected from carrying out this project will support the proposal and demonstrate the need for a mentoring programme to be introduced at the start of the new academic year.
The research was collected using a combination of primary and secondary sources. The primary data was collected by producing two surveys created using Microsoft Forms. Two different surveys were created, survey one was given to academic staff who were new to teaching in FE and had received mentoring, and survey two to those who were new to teaching in FE but had not received any form of mentoring.
The surveys were completed by staff from three different colleges, including WC. In addition to the surveys, it was originally planned for an interview to be done with WC head of initial teacher training. The planned interview did not take place, due to time constraints.
There were 11 respondents for the non-mentoring survey and 14 respondents for the mentoring one. The surveys were sent to a known contact at each College and then they sent it to the relevant staff to complete. Unfortunately, the surveys were sent at a busy time in the academic year, which resulted in there being fewer respondents than originally hoped. A range of open and closed questions were used for both of the surveys. The use of both types of questions enabled the survey to obtain the information needed. The open questions provided the opportunity for the respondents to give their true feelings and closed questions were quick and easy to answer and allowed easy analysis.
A question that was included in both surveys was ‘What were your main challenges when you first began teaching?’. A range of answers were provided, but a number of respondents felt that lack of confidence and classroom management were their main challenges. It could be argued that these two challenges are connected, as a teacher who lacks confidence may struggle with classroom management. Cowley (2010) expressed that experienced teachers are more able to effectively manage behavior in a class. She stated:
The ability to ‘read and respond’ to a class or an individual, by adapting what you do instantly, is a subtle skill to learn. It comes more easily with experience (Cowley, 2010 as cited in Gregson et al. 2015 p.101).
If a new teacher is given a mentor who is experienced in teaching, they can support them to develop effective behaviour management strategies. Those who answered survey one viewed classroom management as one of the forms of support that had benefitted them.
Another beneficial form of support provided by mentors identified in the survey was that they were readily available to speak to. Similarly, research conducted by Brighton and Sheffield Hallam University found that mentoring enabled teachers to talk about a range of difficulties that they may experience (Hobson et al. 2015).
Participants of survey two identified that having someone that specifically focused on them would have been beneficial. One participant stated that “sometimes I try and ask for help and everyone is so busy it takes a while to get a response”. It could therefore be argued that a mentor provides the opportunity for those who are new to teaching to have easily accessible, swift and consistent support.
A teacher who receives predictable support would be able to easily access someone to discuss any difficulties or challenges that they were facing. In survey two, almost half of those asked felt that they were not provided with the opportunity to regularly discuss all of their difficulties, challenges and experiences.
Participants of survey one were asked if they felt that mentoring had benefitted them. All of the respondents agreed and 10 of those strongly agreed.
Research carried out by Brighton and Sheffield Hallam Universities also viewed mentoring as beneficial, as they felt it supported the mentees emotional wellbeing; helped them develop general pedagogical techniques; and helped develop their subject pedagogy (Hobson et al. 2015).
One form of support usually offered during mentoring is the agreement of targets. In survey one, the majority of respondents said that targets were agreed with their mentor. One of the respondents commented “Yes every meeting we have new goals and by going back over them it benefited me as I could see I was improving”. A number of those who responded also perceived the setting of targets as beneficial, as they felt it helped them to see how far they had come and enabled them to identify what they needed to do to develop.
In comparison, in survey two, 64% responded that they had not had targets agreed with their line manager.
It is apparent therefore that the setting and agreement of targets is a valuable aspect of mentoring. If those who are new to teaching do not have a mentor, then there is no assurance that targets will be set and the individual may therefore not be clear about what they are working towards, as targets give structure (Gregson et al. 2015). Locke and Lantham (2013) support this idea, as they see goal setting as an effective form of motivating individuals. Their research found that ‘specific difficult goals lead to higher performance than no goals as well as vague, abstract goals’ (Locke and Lantham p.5 2013). In consideration of this, the targets agreed between the mentor and mentee must challenge and be appropriate for the individual in order to be effective.
Through careful examination of secondary data and the results of the two surveys produced, it is apparent that mentoring has many benefits for those who are new to teaching in FE. Mentoring involves meeting regularly, which provides the opportunity for the Mentee to discuss all of their difficulties, challenges and experiences. The introduction of mentoring will have a positive impact on WC, as it will ensure the early identification of any issues, so that these can be quickly resolved. It will also enable the organisation to identify if there are any reoccurring issues for those who are new to teaching in FE, so that these can be addressed and suitable plans put in place.
Unquestionably the research for this project supports the need for the introduction of a mentoring programme for WC. The programme will be led, managed and overseen by myself as the Mentoring Coordinator, which will positively impact my own practice. This role will provide me with a valuable opportunity to develop my leadership skills and will widen my current job role, so that I can gain valuable experience in the ongoing development and improvement of a new programme. It will positively impact my colleagues, as it will mean those who are new to teaching will be appropriately supported and will give suitable staff the opportunity to become a Mentor. In the future it is hoped that the programme can be developed to include all staff rather than only academic and that mentoring will also be available to support those that wish to progress in their career.
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