Mentoring matters

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

Mentoring strengthens educators’ professional development and growth and builds capacity.  Through support of quality practice in the National Quality Standard (NQS) Quality Areas 1, 4 and 7, mentoring also promotes positive outcomes for children and families. Commonplace within most professions and organisations, mentoring can take many different forms and suggest a variety of responsibilities and expectations. Our understanding of mentoring can be influenced by personal experience, perspective and context.

To provide insight into this highly effective education and care professional development strategy, this month’s blog explores 10 key mentoring understandings.

1. Mentoring supports all educators

Mentoring is beneficial to all educators throughout their career. Educational practice, knowledge and skills develop and grow over time; mentoring can occur at any time along this learning and professional development continuum. Mentoring provides opportunity for inspiration, growth and professional renewal for both mentee and mentor. Mentoring, therefore, has positive outcomes for services, providers and the profession as a whole.

2. Mentoring is a relationship

Mentoring is a two-way, nurturing, learning relationship and, like all relationships, requires commitment and effort. Mentees are encouraged to be open to the possibility of the learning journey and mentors are, likewise, encouraged to be open to share the contents of their ‘professional toolbox’ and champion the mentee’s professional growth. Mentees and mentors must be interested and willingly commit to the mentoring process and the building of a learning relationship. Positive intent, relational trust, honesty, respect and responsibilities are inherent. If a successful relationship is not formed, alternative mentee-mentor pairing may be appropriate.

3. Mentoring is reciprocal

Mentoring is not a one-directional, ‘top-down’ imparting of practice, knowledge and skills. Reciprocity acknowledges both the mentee and mentor’s mutual contributions, experiences, agency, and competence. Mentee and mentor are partners in the learning process, and knowledge gained by both is new and co-constructed. Mentoring is not hierarchical supervision but rather an open, responsive and reciprocal relationship. In a service context, mentoring does not necessarily need to be linked to supervisory roles. Selecting a mentor should be based on who is best suited, and has the capacity, to support the mentee.

4. Mentoring requires quality time and resources

Mentoring is undertaken over a sustained period; it is not a one-off meeting. Mentoring requires planning, time and resources for regular conversations and for a learning relationship to flourish. As education and care settings can be time-challenged, quality mentoring time usually needs to be scheduled. Scheduling requires leadership and a positive organisational culture to facilitate resource management such as staff coverage. One of the most powerful enablers for mentoring best-practice is a supportive workplace that values professional development.

5. Mentoring involves critical reflection

Reflecting on practice (by closely examining ethics, philosophy and decision-making processes) is central to the mentoring process for both mentees and mentors.  A culture of mentoring promotes a culture of reflective practice. A positive organisational culture and environment provide a safe and supportive space for a mentee to self-assess and be self-reflective.

6. Great mentors are made, not born

To be effective, mentors need suitable skills, dispositions and resources. Mentoring can be a demanding role and not selecting the right mentor can have a negative impact on the mentee. Mentors should have:

  • a suitable disposition
  • knowledge, skills and experience in the specific field
  • strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • training and practice in facilitating adult learning
  • ongoing support.

7. Communication skills are essential

Mentoring will be most successful when mentoring goals and processes are transparent and understood by all. Effective communication underpins successful mentoring and includes:

  • active listening
  • open, reflective questioning
  • probing and paraphrasing
  • reflective conversation
  • evidence-informed conversation
  • goal setting
  • clear and shared understanding of roles, responsibilities and expectations
  • explicit, constructive exchange and feedback
  • negotiation and debate
  • understanding of non-verbal communication
  • cultural awareness.

Mentors will ideally have training in communication to help support and guide mentees in professional conversations.

8. Mentoring is an organic, dynamic process

Professional growth and development involve change. Mentoring can transform knowledge, skills, behaviours, attitudes and perspectives of mentees and mentors.  Change is not usually linear, being uniquely shaped by the purpose and context. Mentoring generally involves distinct phases:

I. Getting to know each other and building trust

II. Goal setting and action planning

III. Developing professional skills and tracking progress

IV. Evaluating progress and outcomes

V. Moving forward – either completing the process or returning to Step II to repeat the cycle.

9. One size does not fit all

Mentoring is intrinsically a relationship and is most effective when the relationship is complementary and tailored to both mentee and mentor’s needs. No two relationships are identical. In its most effective form, mentoring is undertaken in a structured manner with very clear goals, roles, scope and scheduling. However, less structured mentoring can also be beneficial. Mentoring relationships may also be provided in a collective approach, such as when an external mentor supports a group of educators in one service or in a number of remote services.  This group context can provide different but equivalent professional development as a one-to-one engagement.

10. Mentoring is not always face-to-face

Mentoring can be undertaken face to face, on- or off-site and via phone, email, web or social media. The context and purpose affect the process. For example, on-site engagement and real-time feedback from observations may be essential for pre-service educator mentoring, whereas online engagement may be practical for peer-mentoring in remote locations. The role of social media in mentoring is an evolving phenomenon.

~o~

Considering and reflecting on these 10 key understandings can help you frame your thinking about the valuable role mentoring can play in supporting educators. The additional NEL and We Hear You blogs listed below  may support you in exploring mentoring options further.

Further reading and resources

Australian Institute of School Teaching and Leadership – Professional conversations

Early Childhood Development Agency – Mentoring Matters: A practical guide to learning focused relationships

Education Council New Zealand – Triangulated mentoring conversations

KidsMatter – Mentoring: relationships that sustain and inspire

MindTools – The GROW Model: A simple process for coaching and mentoring

Murphy, C. and Thornton, K. (2015) Mentoring in Early Childhood Education, NZCER Press, Wellington, New Zealand.

We Hear You – National Education Leader – Leader as mentor

We Hear You – New Educator Survival Guide

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