Effective Mentoring Strategies For Induction Tutors and ECT Mentors
By Tracey Leese
An Early Career Framework without effective mentoring to support it is a waste of time. Tracey Leese explains what she sees as key priorities for mentors inducting Early Career Teachers.
When I qualified as teacher well over a decade and a half ago, NQT mentoring was inconsistent. Yes there were statutory entitlements such as a reduced timetable – but the actual mentoring part can’t really be deemed as mentoring in the way we would consider today. With no real need for teachers joining the profession to be meaningfully mentored (ostensibly because there were more teachers than jobs in these halcyon days) the induction period was reduced to completing a termly form and a couple of observations.
In my own experience at least, I remember feeling like a massive inconvenience and I was also hyper-aware of taking up the precious time of my colleagues. Truly, I don’t think any amount of training can prepare you for how little time teachers actually have, until you’re qualified and are in post.
I look back on my first few weeks as a qualified teacher as akin to treading water – in the sense that I felt that I was one unguarded moment away from drowning. All my focus went onto staying afloat… and the reality was that had I been actively mentored, I would likely have preferred to spend the time planning and marking. With that said, I remember also being hungry for feedback and watching colleagues intently in order to try to do the best job possible.
Had I been offered access to an expert colleague in the way that the Early Career Framework enables, I wonder what difference it would have made to my career… 17 years later I am still here, still striving to be the most effective practitioner possible and still negotiating a demanding workload.
It’s entirely possible that the general lack of coaching and mentoring at the time created an entire generation of resilient, proactive and empowered teachers. Though, of course it’s impossible to know for certain what impact a bespoke CPD programme such as the Early Career Framework could have had on our ability to do our jobs in the best way possible.
Fast forward to 2023 and the teacher recruitment crisis has brought the need for early career mentoring into sharper focus. We have come to recognise at a profession-wide level that we cannot afford to be remiss about mentoring, nor the teachers who have recently qualified.
Enter the Early Career Framework – a DfE-led initiative designed to induct teachers more effectively in the hope that they will stay in the profession for longer. The ECF is not an assessment framework – it cannot be “passed” or “failed”, but its ambitious aim is to provide support and development for teachers in the early years of their careers and, ultimately, induct them better (so we can keep them longer).
As lead for Early Career Teachers in my school, it’s fair to say that the demands of the ECF are significant and not to be underestimated. My concern since its introduction is that the very thing implemented in response to the teacher recruitment crisis, could actually put early career teachers off the profession. Despite the intentions behind the ECF, it’s still a big commitment at the aforementioned ‘treading water’ phase.
The following tips have been compiled to support Early Career Teachers and mentors to navigate the ECF whilst avoiding figuratively drowning in the process:
Respond to emerging needs
The ECF modules can feel didactic – obviously a consistent and nation-wide mandatory CPD offer isn’t going to feel terribly bespoke (on paper at least). Therefore, in addition to the specified module content, still consider the emerging needs of ECTs. When looking at behaviour management for example, many of the strategies will be specific to your own school or trust, so it’s natural that you may need to provide additional content and strategies depending on the emerging needs (and experience) of your ECTs. In the same way you wouldn’t ignore a clear development area for any given teacher, just because there isn’t an ECF module specifically based on it.
It’s not optional
For all parties involved, it’s important to point out that mentoring is a key entitlement of the ECF – and the requisite funding and allocation implications. Many Early Career Teachers feel like a burden and are all-too-accommodating if their mentors are taken for cover/ busy during their mentor meeting. However, without mentors the ECF is little more than a two year long tick-box-project. Therefore mentor time needs to be protected and given credence accordingly.
Depending on how many ECTs are in your school or trust, it’s a great idea for them to work collaboratively as much as possible. This could take the form of reciprocal learning walks, jointly organising a trip or extra-curricular sessions or developing resources together. The benefits of meaningful ECT collaboration can be enormous. Similarly, ECTs should also be encouraged to participate in Professional Learning Communities beyond their own schools.
See them teach
I know it sounds obvious, but an old-fashioned lesson visit (without the old school judgemental grading of course) is still an incredibly useful aspect of induction ECTs, and a good use of a mentor’s time. In addition to dutifully engaging with the modules, mentor time should also be flexible enough to allow for lesson visits, drop ins and subsequent reflection.
Operational matters matter
It may not be listed on the course objectives, but do not underestimate the core role that mentors play in equipping ECTs with operational information as well. Understanding the idiosyncrasies of your school’s MIS or how to un-jam the photocopier and (crucially) which day the cafeteria serves chips are all examples of helpful and worthwhile information for mentors to share and impart and (in the case of chips) digest!
Prioritise face-to-face sessions
There is a consensus among all ECTs I have worked with that the face-to-face sessions are their favourite aspects of the ECF. Generally speaking teachers return from these sessions energised, inspired and fired up! The impact of providing staff with the opportunity to share ideas and network should never be underestimated.
Above and beyond
The ECF is not intended to limit teachers or cap their potential. Certainly it isn’t the only CPD ECTs will need over the two year induction period – remember that in addition to your school’s main CPD programme, there is a wealth of other CPD (formal or otherwise) which mentors may also wish to facilitate.
Keep it simple
Perhaps the key to managing the Early Career Framework (as with so many other things) is not to overcomplicate it. Straight forward mentoring in which mentors take the course content and use this to facilitate discussion – agree actions and reflect can still be incredibly impactful.
In my experience it’s easy to let the online tasks and webinars build up – as the intention behind the ECF gives way to the demands of the profession. It is the role of mentors and Induction Tutors to ensure that the online tasks don’t build up and are contextualised in practice so they feel less like a box to tick.
Mentors and Induction Tutors need professional expectations to be made clear to them, this can be achieved through observing expert colleagues, jointly planning learning activities or moderating assessment. In order to become the best teacher possible, it’s vital that ECTs know what success looks like.
Mentoring in Schools: How to Become and Expert Colleague, Haili Hughes, Crown House Publishing
You got This: Thriving as an Early Career Teacher with Mr T, Andrew Taylor, Bloomsbury Education
You can read more article by Tracey Leese here.