Why mentors are the real stars of the leadership ball
Once upon a time there was a group of poor, unrecognised people called mentors. They used to work diligently underground away from any public praise or recognition. How they dreamed of losing their ragged clothes, donning sparkling new attire and being invited to the leadership ball.
As Professor Rachel Lofthouse points out (TES Editorial, 2019), mentoring is somewhat of a ‘Cinderella’ activity in schools; it often goes unrecognised and unrewarded. Moreover, as Dr Mark Hardman (IOE Blog 2020) acknowledges, structures and systems need to be considered carefully if mentoring is to fulfil its promise.
So, how can we resolve some of these tensions? How can we free mentoring from its ‘Cinderella’ status; give it the ticket to the leadership ball it deserves?
Too often, we can be guilty of thinking about mentoring as a worthy but costly investment, fuelled by the goodwill of a gallant few who go above and beyond to help new teachers. However, as ECF Programme Leaders at UCL, we are rapidly learning that the reverse is true: mentoring is an investment that ultimately pays out far more in dividends than it costs.
The rich rewards of investing in a mentoring culture were emphasised never more clearly than at our UCL Year 2 Mentor Conference when we asked mentors: how did the experience of mentoring Early Career Teachers in Year One of the programme help to widen or deepen your professional impact?
We were delighted to see a plethora of responses such as the ones above fly into our mentimeter poll, all emphasising the impact of mentoring on the development of their own expertise, reflective practice, leadership skills and the culture of the departments they worked in. Not only could we see a ripple effect in terms of the development of a research informed culture, but also staff capacity for leadership.
We were equally pleased to see that the role of mentoring went way beyond working on pedagogical content knowledge, but also included all of the below
In Year 2 of our programme, mentors will be taking this one step further by adopting an educative mentoring approach. They will be working alongside their mentees to solve a problem of practice in their classroom and improve the learning of their students. We have high hopes that this experience of practitioner inquiry will be as rich for our mentors as it will our mentees, that it will bridge that often overlooked gap between research and practice, and ultimately develop autonomous confident teachers who have the efficacy to be agents of their own growth.
Therefore, as we look forward to Year 2 of our Early Roll out Programme, we are incredibly grateful for the commitment of all our mentors. Mentors, we hope that you are now walking slightly taller in the staff room and that others are beginning to recognise your true power. You are after all the pioneers of system change for early career teachers, and if anyone deserves to be the star of the leadership ball, it’s you.