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.

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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

The cycle of self-assessment and continuous improvement: What do you need to consider? Part 2

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

In the first instalment of this series, I explored the role of critical reflection in supporting and strengthening self-assessment and quality improvement planning processes. In this next part, I want to focus on the way professional collaboration can strengthen and inform both of these processes.

Part 2: Professional collaboration – Together we can achieve so much  

The importance of promoting a positive organisational culture and professional learning community built on a spirit of collegiality and trusting, respectful relationships is well recognised in the National Quality Standard (NQS). Likewise, professional collaboration, building shared professional knowledge and active participation in a ‘lively culture of professional inquiry’ are acknowledged in the NQS, the approved learning frameworks and the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics, as fundamental to supporting continuous quality improvement.

While the National Regulations (Regulations 55 and 56) require the approved provider of an education and care service to prepare, review and revise a Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), it is not expected that the provider be solely responsible for all the work, decisions or outcomes. Rather, self-assessment and quality improvement processes should be a shared and collaborative process engaging everyone: the approved provider, nominated supervisor, services’ leaders and management, co-ordinators, educational leaders, educators and other service staff. Your service’s journey of self-assessment and quality improvement should also provide an opportunity for collaboration with and input from children, families and the community (which I will explore further in my next instalment).

Implementing the 2018 NQS provides an opportunity to consider how your self-assessment and quality improvement processes:

  • support the development of shared visions and goals
  • foster and sustain a culture of collaborative professional inquiry
  • empower educators by instilling a sense of ownership and shared accountability.

You might also consider how your service’s self-assessment and quality improvement processes support your team to articulate professional values, knowledge and practice, and assist in building confidence regarding the changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF) and what these mean for service practice and continuous quality improvement.

Questions for consideration:

  • How are the views and suggestions of all members of your service team used to support self-assessment and the development and review of quality improvement plans? What are some of the challenges to involvement that you have faced?
  • How does your service create and sustain a ‘lively culture of professional inquiry’ that contributes to continuous improvement? Are there regular opportunities for self-assessment and quality improvement discussions?
  • How do you develop a strengths-based approach to self-assessment and quality improvement planning that recognises the diverse skills, capabilities and experiences of all team members and supports a sense of shared responsibility? Are there opportunities for various team members to be ‘QIP champions’ responsible for aspects of quality improvement goals?
  • Are all team members aware of the strengths and quality improvement goals and strategies identified in your service QIP? Is the intent and vision of your quality improvement goals clear and able to be communicated by all team members? Are these discussed at team and/or planning meetings?

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Following on from these professional conversations, the next instalment in the series will explore the meaningful collaborations and engagement with families and the community, and the way they can shape your quality improvement processes.

 

Read the complete series:

The cycle of self-assessment and continuous improvement: What do you need to consider? Part 1

The cycle of self-assessment and continuous improvement: What do you need to consider? Part 2

The cycle of self-assessment and continuous improvement: What do you need to consider? Part 3

The cycle of self-assessment and continuous improvement: What do you need to consider? Part 4

The cycle of self-assessment and continuous improvement: What do you need to consider? Part 5

Shared learning across the globe: An international sister school exchange program

Female educator and young children from Kensington Community Children’s Co-operative on a nature walk

In 2015, Kensington Community Children’s Co-operative (KCCC) in Victoria launched its sister school and staff hosting program with Frederiksberg in Copenhagen, Denmark. The program, which has provided opportunities for educators and support staff to work overseas to exchange ideas, programs and practices, has also had positive and lasting effects on children’s learning and relationships with families. 

This month on We Hear You, KCCC General Manager, Sigi Hyett, takes us through the development of the program and its influence on the service three years on.

It isn’t every day you connect and collaborate with peers across the globe. Since 2015 Kensington Community Children’s Co-operative (KCCC) has had the opportunity to connect with a number of early childhood education and care services in Denmark as part of a multidisciplinary approach to collaboration and shared learning. Our international sister school exchange and staff hosting program reflects two ideas central to our service philosophy – continuous improvement and collaboration. As a community co-operative we place a high value on quality outcomes for children, which are linked to family and community engagement and relationships, and endeavour to create a professional learning community that is informed by shared knowledge. These values have helped us strengthen programs and practices, and resulted in improved outcomes for children and educators.

Thoughts and ideas

During 2014, one of our KCCC board members and a parent at our school, Malene Platt, shared her story of the challenges her family faced as they transitioned from a Danish early childhood education and care setting to an Australian one. She spoke to me about the differences between the approaches to programs and practice, and the challenge this posed for her two young children. As a young Danish migrant to this country, Malene’s experience resonated with me, as did the experience of her young children. It took me back to my first day of kindergarten as a three-year-old girl settling into a new country and its language and customs, while continuing to speak and practice those of my birth country. Having the opportunity to go to school in two countries and learn two languages and differences in customs and traditions enriched my learning and development as a child – and continues to do so now as an early childhood professional.

It also started us thinking about the possibility of creating an exchange or host program similar to those in other sectors and professions as a way of bridging cultures and learning from one another through exploring different early learning settings and approaches. We began to consider the opportunities for educators to learn from each other and how this could benefit all staff and children, their families, the community, and the broader early childhood sector. As our conversations progressed, we realised a sister school that included an exchange program or host placement that enabled educators and support staff to live and teach in another country would provide benefits to KCCC.  This idea was reignited from my thoughts back in 2012 about building connections and sharing learning between educators across the kindergarten and long day care sector. These ideas seemed particularly relevant at a time of change in the sector; kindergarten teachers were about to be included in the National Quality Framework and the assessment and rating process, as well as moving to 15 contact hours per week.

Research and development

Over the course of the year, our informal discussions quickly became more structured; we moved to professional conversations that reflected on the programs, curriculum, practice and procedures across the two countries. This fuelled our enthusiasm and research about Scandinavian early learning and standards and helped us consider what could be adapted to benefit our own program. When an opportunity to visit Denmark in early 2015 came about, I visited four early learning services with the aim of linking with services that demonstrated cultural diversity and lead best practice in Early Years Curriculum. This visit facilitated relationship building, collaboration, learning and teaching, where practice, ideas and initiatives were shared.

International sister school exchange and staff host program

In early 2015, KCCC launched the sister school program, partnering with Frederiksberg in Copenhagen. Our services were aligned in many ways, including service structure, setting, programs, goals, culture and policy. Both of our services also have a community board with high parent involvement, which are central to the collaborative partnerships that underpin our respective service philosophies. We also considered Frederiksberg an exciting and inspiring service for our sister school due to their development of forest kindergarten programs, as well as their innovation in the city centre.

The children enjoying the dialogic reading room

Each of our services has hosted educators for between three to eight weeks, with families from our services providing accommodation to host staff. These staff host placements have enabled the educators to not only learn about programs and practices, but also to immerse themselves in everyday life and culture, which fosters intercultural understanding.

The aims and objectives of this partnership included:

  • sharing pedagogy, program and curriculum ideas and resources
  • increasing intercultural understanding and supporting a whole service improvement
  • communication through ICT
  • the establishment of a staff exchange/host program to support building educator capacity.

Benefits and results

Now that we are at the beginning of the fourth year of the exchange program, we can see and track the benefits for both the children and educators at KCCC and Frederiksberg. Some of the specific programs and learnings that we have included at our service as a result of the sister school and staff exchange/host include:

  • the investigation of different models for staffing and grouping of children
  • introduction of multi-age groups and shared yard
  • sharing information about the integrated shared yard space and educators’ areas of engagement with children
  • the purchase of a Danish pram (where seats are at a high level and children are seated facing each other) to support interactions on excursions between children and educators
  • investigation and implementation of project-based dialogic reading program to support early literacy
  • implementation of regular small group excursions in the local community across all age groups
  • professional learning opportunities and critical discussions that support reflective practice
  • roster review to enable the implementation of an excursion/outdoor educator to lead the project excursion groups
  • establishment of small, project-based regular excursions that support the same group of children with the same educators and at the same location for a period of time that supports strong relationships, persistence, conflict resolution and strong community connections.

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Along with the many benefits that KCCC continues to see every day, the sister school and staff exchange program has created a greater global awareness and understanding of communities for the staff, children and families. Through the sharing of ideas, cultural knowledge, pedagogy, curriculum, language and experience, each service has been enriched and its capability improved. Both of our services are celebrating the benefits and valuing the diversity, critical thinking and shared learning that continue to exceed our expectations.

The KCCC team hosting educators from Frederiksberg

Professional development planning

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

As part of a service’s commitment to quality improvement and the delivery of quality education and care programs, service providers have the responsibility to build and maintain a skilled and engaged workforce. To meet NQS Element 7.2.2, the performance of educators, coordinators and staff members need to be evaluated, with individual development plans in place to support performance improvement.

What is professional development?

Professional development is the processes used to develop knowledge and skills in identified areas and assists in keeping up to date with emerging research and best practice. Service staff can engage in professional development through informal methods such as networking with other professionals, staff meetings and personal reading or through formal methods such as attending training, workshops, conferences or through mentoring.

Identifying areas for professional development

Services must develop Individual Professional Plans for educators, coordinators and staff. There are many ways services can identify areas for professional development and for whole service improvement:

  • through use of the Quality Improvement Plan
  • undertaking an open and honest self-assessment
  • using the assessment and rating instrument
  • and using the service philosophy to decide on focus areas for professional
    development

Performance evaluation

There is flexibility in the structure used to evaluate staff performance, however processes should be in place to ensure that quality feedback on performance is provided and areas of development can be identified. The process might include agreeing on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for achievement within designated time frames. The evaluation may include
competencies (skills and knowledge) and behaviours (professional standards). Engaging in self-assessment allows education and care professionals, together with their managers, to identify areas they would like to develop. The performance evaluation is also a chance for service providers to acknowledge the achievements and contributions of staff.

What is an individual development plan?

The most effective individual development plans are:

  • developed collaboratively by the employee and the manager
  • identified through self and service evaluation processes, which outline career objectives and areas of development
  • documented with appropriate resources allocated
  • reviewed at least annually.

 

 

 

 

 


Further reading and resources

Professional learning plan- self assessment tool
Child Care Staff: Learning and growing through professional development