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Mentoring during the pandemic: the challenges and successes
  • Teacher Training

This blog is from one of COBIS' Supporting Associates.

For teachers completing initial teacher training during this pandemic, mentoring and support from within their school is critical. Jo Coles, programme director for Tes Institute’s iPGCE explains how mentoring is helping learners navigate the shifting landscape of school closures, blended learning, and increasingly, personal isolation during lockdown.

School-based mentors are a fundamental part of growth and development of our learners on the iPGCE programme. Teaching practice remains a central aspect of the course and every learner has a school-nominated mentor to support them, observing lessons and performing regular meetings. Schools agree at the outset to provide the mentor with the time and resources they need to undertake the role. Though many learners are self-funded, this is the school’s investment in them: providing a mentor with the experience and capability to ensure the learner can grow their professional practice.

The students on the iPGCE are diverse. Many learners come to the programme with significant teaching experience, seeking to hone their expertise in aspects of practice that they’re interested in, often as a gateway to further postgraduate study. The relationship with the mentor is more of a peer-to-peer partnership, providing the opportunity for professional reflective conversations on practice. This means weathering the challenges during the pandemic has been more manageable.

Yet, we also have many trainee teachers who use the iPGCE programme to take their first steps into the classroom from a teaching support or administrative background. These new teachers are the ones who rely more on their mentors during changes, and they are likely to struggle if this is limited.

As course providers, we’re pragmatic: there can be many challenges to overcome for mentors in regular academic years and as teachers ourselves, we understand this. Mentoring during a pandemic, however, is in a different league. The blended approach to learning that has been implemented in most schools is time-consuming, meaning there is less availability for meetings; timetable changes to cover staff absence result in plans being adapted or mentors having to switch roles completely; school closures have dispersed the workforce, placing a challenge on supervising trainee teachers remotely. 

Therefore, in Covid times, the mentor becomes even more valuable as a point of contact, helping their trainee to navigate not only the shifting landscape of blended learning, but, frequently, personal isolation and the difficulties that many have faced being locked down alone, often away from family overseas. 

As course providers, we’re evaluating what has worked well during the pandemic because we want to ensure we’re asking mentors for the right things, as well as providing a source of support for them too. We encouraged learners to keep having meetings, even remotely, and to be observed teaching online if learners were still being asked to teach. From both learner and mentor feedback, we identified a few approaches that were effective:

  • Picking a clear focus for lesson observations: aspects such as behaviour management, learner engagement (if cameras are off) and creating an impactful learning environment can be a challenge when new to teaching online. By creating some space around these while the learner-teacher adapts, the mentor reduces some of the pressure of this new kind of observation.
     
  • Recording online teaching: if mentors are not able to observe live, they can watch the lesson at a later time and still complete a formal observation so the learner receives pertinent feedback for their continued development.
     
  • Switching observers: having another experienced member of staff perform an observation - if the mentor is occupied teaching - enables new teachers to still be seen and receive regular feedback.
     
  • Being accessible: during remote teaching, learners appreciate mentors still being available to them and scheduling regular meetings.
     
  • Flexibility with target setting: by being adaptable with the content of mentor meetings, learners can spend time talking through any issues they were having with the new way of working.

In spite of the challenges faced, many of our mentors will graduate with a Certificate in Mentoring which is assessed against the Mentor Standards (DfE, 2016). This is a testament to the outstanding work that has gone on during this period. Jamie-Lee, Hong Kong, writes, “My mentor was excellent in supporting me throughout this trying time. She’s without a doubt part of my success in the programme.” Sean, India, adds, “I found being mentored through the programme to be extremely valuable and has accelerated my development as an educator.” Again, the value of good mentoring is clear.

Whether mentoring on our iPGCE programme, or for another provider, anyone who has managed to balance this essential role alongside the turbulent times of teaching in Covid-19 should feel rightly very proud of this achievement. We remain incredibly grateful for all the work that has been undertaken by mentors, and the school leaders supporting them, to ensure another group of learners can graduate from their programme successfully.