The use of mentoring and coaching for teachers and trainers in the Further Education (FE) sector is widespread. Mentors and coaches may offer support to new teachers as part of an induction process or existing teachers to enhance the quality of teaching and learning.
When conducted well, mentoring and coaching can be a particularly powerful method of professional development for practitioners. However, when it is not done well it has the potential to cause harm to the mentee and can provoke feelings of frustration, demotivation and isolation (Hobson, and Malderez, 2013). To avoid these potentially harmful impacts, FE providers should strive to ensure that mentors and coaches are sufficiently trained to undertake the role. There is a growing pool of research which indicates that when mentors and coaches have undertaken a course or training, they are more likely to adopt an approach which is developmental and empowering for the mentee, which in turn can lead to far better outcomes.
In 2019-2020 the Department for Education funded the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) to roll out free national professional development programmes for mentors in FE in order to raise the quality of mentoring taking place across the sector. To help ensure these professional development programmes are of a high standard, the ETF commissioned two leading researchers, Professor Andrew Hobson and Dr Bronwen Maxwell, to undertake a short-term review of the nature and impact of effective mentor training programmes.
Hobson and Maxwell identified three key design features of effective mentoring training programmes. Firstly, they give mentors opportunities to practise mentoring skills and techniques with peers in a safe space as part of the training. Mentors, then are also encouraged to refine their mentoring practice further by working with “real-life” mentees. Secondly, effective mentoring training programmes give mentors the chance to network with other mentors during and after the course. This enables them to continue supporting each other and reflecting on their practice so they can make further improvements. Thirdly, effective mentoring training is sustained over a period of time and is not a one-off event or session.
With regards to the content of effective mentoring training programmes, Hobson and Maxwell found they covered a wide range of topics including for example: principles of adult learning; communication skills for mentors including listening and questioning techniques; aligning mentors and mentees expectations for the mentoring process; building and nurturing mentoring relationships; how to structure mentoring conversations; balancing support and challenge; and tailoring mentoring to the individual mentees’ needs. There were further topics too – do look at pages 24-28 of the original report for a full list and the relevant citations.
In addition, Hobson and Maxwell identified that a range of pedagogical methods were used including workshops, action learning sets and reflective journals. They also identified that some mentors found some forms of observation particularly helpful for developing their expertise, especially watching and critically reflecting on examples of teaching and watching, practising and receiving feedback on mentoring approaches and skills.
At the ETF we have aimed to ensure that our national professional development programmes for mentors have been informed by the findings from this study. As the programmes are in their first year of being rolled out, we are gathering plenty of feedback from participants, which will further shape the design of the courses going forwards.
In Spring 2020, the ETF will be publishing a national mentoring framework and three accompanying guides: one for mentors, one for mentees, and one for leaders. The aim of these publications is to raise the profile and standard of effective mentoring and coaching for practitioners in the FE sector even further. More information about the ETF’s professional development programmes, the national mentoring framework and guides, can be gained through completing a short expression of interest form .
Hobson, Andrew & Malderez, Angi. (2013). Judgementoring and other threats to realizing the potential of school‐based mentoring in teacher education. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education. 2. 89-108. 10.1108/IJMCE-03-2013-0019.
Dr Catherine Manning, National Head of Practitioner Research and Development at the Education and Training Foundation