Creating the conditions for great mentoring

Chris Peacock, our ECF Lead, explains how Early Career Teachers and Mentors can work together to create the conditions necessary for great mentoring.


For many years, teachers in their early careers, previously known as NQTs, have often cited their Mentors as being the single most important person who gave them invaluable support in those tricky initial terms of employment. It is little surprise to see that this not changed since the introduction of the Early Career Framework (ECF).


Mentoring an Early Career Teacher (ECT) has been given a significantly high profile since the launch of the ECF programmes. By working with Mentors across the north east alongside Teach First, twinned with our role as an Appropriate Body, we have learnt some early lessons.


Creating the right climate for great weekly interactions is critical.

Quite often, Mentors are some of the busiest teachers, meaning that the dedicated hour of meeting with their ECT is precious. Getting this approach right isn’t always easy. Through speaking with countless Mentors since September, there are some simple things that provide a firm foundation for effective mentoring.


1. Find a suitable place and time to meet


By this, we mean meet during the timetabled week and protect this. Choose a venue with no distractions, where staff will not walk through and disturb the conversations or any later parts of the Instructional Coaching model. An empty classroom is often the best place.


2. Encourage a mentoring mindset


ECTs need to enter the relationship with the mentor with the right frame of mind. Previous experience of being mentored as ITT trainees and, of course covid-related issues, need to be explored with honesty before embarking on weekly meetings, as there may be barriers to negotiate. The 'mentoring mindset' table which was shared during the induction provides some useful prompts for ECTs and mentors alike.


This is a useful self-audit tool, best completed by the ECT alone, but then discussed in early meetings or perhaps at the start of a new term. What is essential here is to consider if those four dimensions (‘takes initiative’, ‘learning orientation’, ‘skilful and organised’ and ‘relational’) are broadly present week-to-week.


It is worth noting that the final dimension (relational) is what, through self-determination theory, we know to be one of the three domains underpinning intrinsic motivation of ECTs. Their ability to relate effectively to colleagues, pupils and parents can be a factor that enables better well-being in ECTs. This emphasises a wider importance of having the right mindset for being mentored.

Presence of mentoring mindset

Absence of mentoring mindset

Takes initiative

Lacks initiative

  • Initiates contact with mentor

  • self-starter; confident

  • Takes mentoring seriously

  • Intentional, action-oriented

  • Only responds when mentor initiates or when in crisis

  • Lacks drive and motivation

  • Just goes through the motions of mentoring

  • Wants mentor to tell them what to do

Learning orientation

Lacks a learning orientation

  • Exhibits curiosity

  • Asks good questions

  • Adequately knowledgeable about concepts and content of one's field

  • Admits to not knowing everything

  • Seeks and accepts feedback from mentor

  • Accepts advice graciously

  • No real curiosity

  • Wants 'quick fix answers'

  • 'Know it all'

  • Does not take advantage of opportunities for further learning

  • Rejects feedback or takes it personally

  • Cannot admit weaknesses; stubborn

Skillful and organised

Lacks skill and organisation

  • In goal setting, has a vision

  • In organisational matters

  • In time management; prioritising

  • In seeing the big picture

  • In goal setting, lacks vision

  • In organisation matters

  • In time management

  • In seeing big picture

Relational

Lacks relational skills

  • Can build relationships

  • Knows how to network

  • Picks up on social cues

  • Approachable, positive

  • Keeps lines of communication open with mentor

  • Active listener

  • Can keep confidences; trusts and can be trusted; honest

  • No attention to building relationships

  • Avoids opportunities to network

  • Does not pick up on social cues

  • Withdrawn

  • Satisfied with one-way communication from the mentor

  • Talks too much, does not listen well

  • Struggles to build and maintain trust

3. Get to know what your ECT has done in their self-directed study


The ECF programme works best when all three elements work together. Self-directed study sessions on Brightspace should be explored by the ECT prior to their meeting. Mentors can gain a better insight into by watching the brief summary videos. Coupled with the Mentor Programme Guide (‘Thrive Guide’), this short preparatory work will yield a richer ECF-based discussion.


There are lots of things that lead to great mentoring, but focusing on these three simple areas will provide a strong foundation for a partnership. In turn, this will support ECTs to have a fulfilling and rewarding year.