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An Evaluation of the Mentoring/Coaching Experience and the Skills Developed Together with Impact on Own Professional Development and Action Plan for Development of Knowledge and Skills.

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The aim of this essay is to evaluate my mentoring experiences. It will also discuss skills that I have developed and how that has impacted on my professional development. I intend to provide an action plan for my development of knowledge and skills as a mentor.
I have worked within a large primary school for ten years and probably for about the last five years have been mentoring more inexperienced teachers in an informal capacity. Murray (2001) in www.ttrb.ac.uk website defines this kind of mentoring as: “The deliberate pairing of a more skilled or experienced person with someone with less skill or experience with a mutually agreed goal of having the less skilled person grow and develop specific competences.” (pg Xiii)

I have enjoyed this kind of informal mentoring and have gained much from working with different colleagues, as each NQT brings something different as part of their personality and experiences. More recently and more formally I have mentored a final placement PGCE student and this academic school year, who I am basing this portfolio on, an NQT student and a first year PGCE student. Both of which have been totally different mentoring and coaching experiences especially with mentees being at different stages of their career.
A number of writers/researchers hold the debate over the definition of coaching and mentoring. With the NQT student I feel I have taken on more of a coaching role for example Whitmore (1995) as cited in Rhodes (2004) suggests that coaching is: “Unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” (pg 25)

Similarly Downey (2001) in Rhodes (2004) discusses the idea that the role of coach is one of facilitator. I believe that these definitions represent more closely the role I have been fulfilling with the NQT student. I do feel that as a teacher already (albeit an inexperienced one) the NQT student has a clear idea of what is expected of her as a teacher through her training and I merely facilitate her development by setting targets, observations and acting as a sounding board for any advice or problems. An extract from Rhodes (2004) supports this idea: “NQT induction tutors in schools need to be fully aware of Induction arrangements, possess the skill and knowledge to be able to make judgments against prescribed standards and to be capable of providing effective support for the NQT.” (pg 1)

Overall this has been a good mentoring experience and has allowed me to develop my confidence as a new mentor. We have built up a good relationship and I feel fully supported in this role. I have been able to seek advice from more experienced colleagues and I know that there are people I can turn to for help and advice if needed.
When the PGCE student started her placement it was clear about what my role would be. Shea (1992) in Colley (2003) focuses on the specialness of the mentor, going above and beyond the already existing work role. Whilst Clutterbank (1991) in Rhodes (2004) believes that: “A mixture of parent and peer, the mentor’s primary function is to be a transitional figure in an individual’s development. Mentoring includes coaching, facilitating, counselling and Networking” (pg 26)

This has been the most difficult mentoring experience I have encountered yet. I knew that this was the PGCE student’s first placement and that she would be inexperienced, however I wasn’t expecting or had the time to give the level of support needed and this was a real challenge for me.
With mentoring 2 different students at differing stages of their career I have built up a range of skills. With regards to the NQT student I feel that I have built up good facilitating skills. I have helped my student to set realistic targets for development and I have encouraged her to take responsibility for her own development. Knowles (1980) in Rhodes (2004) supports this idea: “Adults learn best when they are involved in diagnosing, planning, implementing and evaluating their own learning.” (pg.51)

I feel it has also benefited me professionally as I have become more familiar with the core standards and so I have gained greater knowledge. It also made me think more reflectively of my own practises as a teacher.

I believe that part of my skills is that I am open and approachable and that enabled me to build up a good relationship with the NQT student. According to Flaherty (2005) the elements of the relationship are mutual trust, mutual respect and mutual freedom of expression. This relationship has built up in these areas over a period of time as we have got to know each other as individuals. We have our more formal meetings where targets are set and reviewed, NQT time accounted for but also we have more informal meetings whereby she has the chance to speak freely, knowing I will listen and give advice where necessary. Sometimes no advice is needed just to get a few things out in the open and off her chest is all that is needed. Flaherty (2005) emphasises the fact that:
“the coach invites the client to speak openly, and simultaneously opens himself to receiving what the client has to say without argument or defence, responding instead with clarifying questions and assurances that the client has been heard.” (pg53)

Brockbank and McGill (2006) discuss the idea that at this stage you do not form responses but listen. My listening skills are developing all the time and I am becoming more adept at listening to the whole story. Brockbank and McGill (2006) believe that:
“the key is for you to put aside your own responses to her situation, suspend judgment and listen from your client’s standpoint – where she is coming from.” (pg210)

As I am relatively new to the role of the mentor I am learning new skills all the time, especially from reading around the subject but also from learning by “doing” and of course learning from my mistakes. I am finding that it is impacting into other areas of my professional development for example I have recently taken charge of conducting teaching assistant’s (TA’s) meetings, where I meet regularly with the TA’s, discuss any problems and then I feedback to the head teacher. My questioning skills are developing also too, for example I have noticed with the TA’s I have been using a lot more reflective questions which as Parsloe and Leedham (2009) believe that they are a useful means of eliciting clarification. They suggest that by “replaying” the words, you can test your understanding and encourage the other person to talk more.

When considering a SWOT analysis with regard to my mentoring abilities I think I have discussed many of my strengths in the text above. My weaknesses I have taken from the mentor’s needs analysis that I completed (see appendix 1) and I found that it is issues surrounding confrontation or in challenging assumptions skilfully, that I find difficult. This was my biggest problem with the PGCE student therefore this is an area I must work upon with future students. Brockbank and McGill (2006) discuss the issues of conflict, challenge and confrontation. They argue that:
“Conflict is inevitable in human interaction. We experience conflict as causing pain and loss of trust. We usually receive no training in dealing with conflict in our lives so we are left with whatever we learn at home. Many people tolerate conflict and can use it productively, but there are those of us who dread it and avoid it all costs because our early experiences of conflict were frightening and painful” (pg225)

As I am still mentoring the NQT student and then a new NQT in the new school year, this is something I will work on and strive to improve.

In terms of opportunities, I intend to further develop my skills by attending any training available, continue to speak to more experienced colleagues when problems arise and when/if problems arise, to approach them head on rather than avoiding it or putting it off. As I am having a new NQT student in September this does give me the opportunity to tackle some of these issues.

Finally thinking about threats, the main problem I seem to find in terms of mentoring is the time aspect, more so with the PGCE student than the NQT. There simply were not enough hours in the day to teach her all she needed to know, no matter how organised I was. HMIe (2008) supports this and argues that:
“In some instances planning of formal mentoring meetings was less regular due to time constraints and competing priorities on the time of promoted staff. Schools needed to ensure that time allocated for mentoring NQT’s was protected and changes to planned activities minimised” (pg23)

I still have many skills to learn and improve on and this will be explored further in the second part of the essay when looking at critical issues surrounding my mentoring experiences.

References
Brockbank, A and McGill, I (2006) Facilitating reflective learning through mentoring and coachin. London. Kogan Page.
Clutterbank (1991) in Rhodes,C. et al (2004) A Practical Guide to Mentoring, Coaching and Peer Networking: Teacher Professional Development in Schools and Colleges, London: Routledge
Colley, H. (2003) Mentoring for Social Inclusion, London: Routledge Falmer
Flaherty, J (2005) Coaching: evoking excellence in others (2nd. Ed) Oxford, Butterworth-Heinemann
HMIe(2008) Mentoring in teacher education http://www.hmie.gov.uk/documents/publication/mite.pdf– Accessed 16/02/2012
Knowles (1980) in Rhodes,C. et al (2004) A Practical Guide to Mentoring, Coaching and Peer Networking: Teacher Professional Development in Schools and Colleges, London: Routledge
Murray (2001) in http://www.ttrb.ac.uk/ViewArticle2.aspx?anchorId=17746&selectedId=17748&menu=17833&expanded=False&ContentId=16378 – Accessed 16/02/2012
Parsloe, E and Leedham, M (2009) Coaching and mentoring: practical methods to improve learning 2nd ed, London, Kogan Page.
Rhodes,C. et al (2004) A Practical Guide to Mentoring, Coaching and Peer Networking: Teacher Professional Development in Schools and Colleges, London: Routledge
Whitmore (1995) in Rhodes,C. et al (2004) A Practical Guide to Mentoring, Coaching and Peer Networking: Teacher Professional Development in Schools and Colleges, London: Routledge

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