Chloë Hynes, teacher, ESOL practitioner and digital teacher trainer at ccConsultancy and Rachel Öner, Öner Training & Consultancy, reflect on their Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) journeys and the importance of their mentors throughout the process.
Hi Rachel, thanks for joining me to think about our ATS mentors, and how important they were to us; getting us through the Advanced Teacher Status programme and helping us stay sane!
They certainly did help us stay sane. But then again, so did our peer group. Our mentors’ role in giving us general encouragement and support was fantastic. I felt they truly empowered us, gave us the confidence to stretch ourselves, and move out of our comfort zones when we needed that push.
I wanted to do the ATS process for personal and professional development reasons. I didn’t see it as just another professional development programme. But at the start of the ATS process you have so many ideas running through your head – some of them are quite firm ideas, but some quite woolly – and you spend a lot of time thinking ‘I’d like to do something like this, but I’m not quite sure how it fits in’. My mentor helped me really get clear direction. He helped me pave the way, to progress through the process and develop my career development, always thinking about the long term. We are teaching professionals and we shouldn't ever want to stop learning. Many of us are advanced practitioners, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go further and learn even more from the ATS process.
At the beginning, we have to create our Professional Development Plan (PDP) and choose which professional standards that we would like to focus on. I sort of looked at what I had chosen and felt that maybe I hadn’t selected enough points. My mentor helped me reflect and see how I could develop each one of those action points to the full.
Right. They can see things with fresh eyes and give us a new objective perspective. This is all the more invaluable when you’ve been working on something for a while, you're stuck and can’t see the wood for the trees!
Earlier you mentioned the importance of our peer group as well, and I think they're interwoven, though the roles they play are different. You spoke about how your mentor empowered you, but I think empowerment from our peers is a little bit different. Like how you encouraged me to apply in the first place when I hadn’t even considered that it would be for me and was riddled with imposter syndrome.
I think we all have imposter syndrome and at any point in our careers. Self-doubt is normal and, in a way, healthy as we can’t sit back and think we have mastered everything already. This is just not the case. You were certainly an excellent candidate for ATS from the get-go!
Well, thank you.
When we were meeting in our little staff room (online community platform) of peers it was a different kind of empowerment, because we were all going through it at the same time, so it was a supportive and vulnerable space. None of us had to have an answer, but our experiences helped one another, and we figured things out together. My mentor had gone through the process a few years ago, not that that's a prerequisite, but I do think it’s really helpful to find a mentor that's been through the process or has some understanding of it. So they know how all the pieces fit together; the finer points of the process (the ‘stuff to do’) and your development throughout the year but with the long game in mind. So it’s three prongs our mentors helped us with and it’s all the more valuable because they've got the experience of having done it before.
I think you can have a mentor that hasn't done it before, but I feel like it would be more helpful if they had, because they really understand the intricacies of the process which can cause quite a bit of stress. The to-do list can be overwhelming so our mentors help to minimise it by going “I've been there before, I know what's what. You don't need to worry about X, so focus on your development. We can sort out the paperwork and stuff together.” Whereas if a mentor hadn't done it before, they'd be learning about the ATS process at the same time as you. Saying all that: I know it's hard to get a mentor at all. A good mentor is like gold dust!
Agreed. There are two things that come to mind when I'm listening to what you're saying. One of them is about having a mentor who has been through the process before, the second is a mentor who is familiar with your subject area. Because I know that for some colleagues their mentor was someone within their organisation who was prepared to do the mentor role, but they might not have been a practitioner in the mentee’s subject area. I know some of our peers struggled getting mentors and that’s hard. Having a mentor who is familiar with your subject area is really beneficial, especially when it comes to being able to comment fully on your observations and stretch you in your particular field of practice. I was very thankful of my mentor for suggesting mentoring techniques I needed as I in turn mentored someone myself.
A mentor is a coach and a soundboard for your ideas. The biggest benefit for me was having that mentor experienced in my subject, someone who could recommend further reading to improve my practice and further my research. I was very lucky to have a very well read mentor with an amazing memory, a bit like an elephant, they have a great memory!
Yes! Circling back to that imposter syndrome we mentioned before: I didn’t fully appreciate how vulnerable the process would make me and how much I would appreciate my mentors' support on an emotional level. As well as having that knowledge, because there's so many moving parts with ATS and we’ve also got your day job too, remember! It can all be very overwhelming, and I think it's helpful to just have that space, whether it's in a meeting or via email to reflect. It's also about having that time to think a little minute and being introduced to ideas or reminded of them.
Baked into the programme, we had professional discussions with our mentors as well. In these, my mentor made me realise that the professional reading I was doing for my ATS projects were things that I could be suggesting for my learners (trainee teachers by the way) to read. Sometimes we get wrapped up in our own studies, we can forget the obvious! I think the process of doing the ATS didn't just make me more confident, it had a direct impact on the way that my courses were shaped and therefore had an even greater impact on my learners, who suddenly had this bank of target reading to delve into!
Indeed, the last time I remember really having that level of targeted support was during my PGCE with my subject-specific mentor. I know that some organisations have structure to utilise their Advanced Practitioners (APs) in this way, but it is rare to get this level of in-depth support over a whole academic year. It was incredibly valuable, regardless of whether I was doing ATS or not, I think.
We also have to do some mentoring throughout the process too, as developing our colleagues is one of the three main focuses of ATS. I think this highlights the importance of mentors, whether it's our mentors or whether it's us as mentors, and how important it is to have someone who can give that kind of support and give you a bit of their head space when you might not have any head space yourself.
Absolutely! There is also the fact that for many of us, it could be quite a while since we've done any kind of qualification or structured professional development programme. The mentor was so useful, even down to the smaller details of reminding us about academic writing when we're putting together our assignments! But with any qualification, especially ones you are doing while working full-time, your energy levels and confidence can waver. Your mentor is there to put you back on track, meet those deadlines and help you set a clear structure to the process. I wouldn't have been able to do the process without them (or my peer group of course!).
Maybe we should finish up with – and you briefly mentioned this before – people who may not have particularly positive experiences with their mentors: I feel like we really lucked out when we know that some people really struggled with their mentors. Some didn’t find one till quite far into the process and some went through three mentors throughout the whole process. I wondered whether it's because others sought the wrong person to be their mentor. Some people choose their managers or people that may not know anything about their subject specialism. Personally, I think a peer may be more appropriate to be a mentor than a manager.
However, being a mentor is a big time commitment and that's something that needs to be discussed with your mentor realistically and honestly, before you confirm with them. It’s not simply doing a few observations. For you to get the best out of the process, they do need to be there for you if they can be. So if you find a piece of gold dust; keep hold of it! And remember to show your appreciation of them throughout (and beyond).
With thanks to our mentors: Bob Read and Lynne Taylerson for their unending patience and support through an incredibly rigorous programme. In addition to our never ending love and appreciation for our peers who formed the ATS Staffroom.