Want happy students? Let’s start with happy teachers.

Okay, so the word happy is a bit of understatement but it’s a simple start. What I was faced with at the start of 2018 was the challenge to ensure teachers new to teaching were given mentoring, guidance and support that would ensure that they would become confident, proficient and reflective in the classroom. With wellbeing being an Achievement Challenge of the Pupuke Kahui Ako, teacher wellbeing was paramount to my inquiry; after all we want teachers who model wellbeing in the classroom to their students.

Relationships in mentoring are key to its success and essentially, I decided that by modelling effective relational trust with my Provisionally Certified Teachers (PCTs) I hoped that this would become something they could transfer to their own relationships with their students.

Traditionally the mentoring model in High Schools works in the following manner; an experienced teacher, often the Head of Department or Faculty, is matched with the new teacher. There is no fixed structure but generally they meet once a week to discuss any issues, to reflect on best practice and to discuss pedagogy and other teaching matters. The mentor is also responsible for observing the PCT regularly and helping the teacher meet the Teaching Standards.

With an increasing number of new teachers, the traditional model was not going to work at Westlake Boys High School in 2018. In an English Faculty of 26, nine of these were PCTs. Impact on timetabling and limited numbers of experienced teachers posed a challenge for the faculty and required a different approach.

My inquiry was founded from my very strong belief that staff wellbeing is essential for student wellbeing and that mentoring can positively influence teacher self-perception, self-esteem, and confidence (Confidence became a key word this year, but more on that later).  From my own experience as a mentee and mentor, I have learnt that a robust, supportive, collaborative mentoring system will encourage teachers to stay at the school and in the profession. Essentially, that is what every school wants: good teachers staying put.

With all of this in mind, my inquiry set out to look at how mentors can help PCTs most effectively and I decided to trial group mentoring throughout the year. With nine PCTs I began weekly mentoring sessions in groups of two and three and continued to mentor some Year Two teachers on a one-on-one basis. This allowed me to compare the outcomes to a certain extent. My mentoring sessions had a three-strand approach which dealt with curriculum, classroom management and wellbeing.

Overwhelmingly, the response has been positive in the group mentoring sessions. I have surveyed the PCTs anonymously throughout the year in order to get their feedback, so I can adapt and prepare for their needs. Feedback has been very positive and affirming:

“I have been incredibly well-supported and already feel part of the team at Westlake English department. A big part of the reason for this is because of the wonderful mentoring I have received. I haven’t felt like a burden or that I am annoying my mentor (or my peers) with my questions. Rather, I have been given time and consideration which made me feel that my questions were valid. Furthermore, I know I am a better teacher now than when I started the term thanks to the support and professional development I’ve received.”

There were commonalities in their responses to the programme; the most important being that the approach has fostered confidence, collegiality and collaboration.

The relationships that have been developed through group mentoring have without a doubt improved staff wellbeing. It is clear from my interactions with the PCTs that anxiety levels are lowered when they can discuss their teaching and experiences in the classroom with their peers, but with the presence of a mentor who is there to encourage self-reflection and offer guidance the progress of their professional journey is enhanced. It has been wonderful for me to take a step back and see the PCTs work together to face challenges and solve problems, and the mentoring system that I have put in place in a sense allows for a much more scaffolded and supportive start to the profession.

I have been supported on this journey by Joe Cachopa, Deputy Headmaster and Kelly Easton, Specialist Classroom Teacher. It is through my involvement with them that I have been able to broaden the scope of my inquiry. Throughout the year I have been able to meet with existing mentors in different faculties and after carrying out a survey with them I have been able to identify the need for more support of the mentors. The survey showed that there are inconsistent levels of support being given to PCTs throughout the school and some departments are more robust than others. To this end, I am currently working on a Mentoring the Mentors programme for 2019 so that as a school we can improve this vital support. Using my experience from this year, I will be putting together resources for mentors to use with their mentees which will include professional reading and suggested practical activities for the sessions, and running practical sessions for the mentors.

Another area for consideration has been the possibility of mentoring across curriculum areas. Following the success of group mentoring in English this year I will be continuing this, but I will also be mentoring three Year One PCTs from the Social Studies faculty. In close collaboration with the head of faculty who is also setting up a buddy system with specialist teachers, I will follow a similar structure to 2018 with these new teachers.

It’s been a busy year and 2019 is not looking likely to slow down; busy but incredibly productive and positive. I have been making the most of the senior students being on leave and have visited three other schools in the COL to discuss how mentoring works in their schools. By fostering these relationships and opening the dialogue, the collaboration and co-operation can only help to improve the mentoring systems we have in the Pupuke Kahui Ako.

So back to these happy teachers; the best evidence I have is that going into 2019 all nine of the PCTs involved in the English Faculty programme are staying at Westlake Boys. Confidence is growing, progress is being made and the teaching and learning in the classroom is excellent, and at the end of the day that is the most important thing for our students.

-Jude Arbuthnot

If you would like to know more about mentoring at Westlake Boys please feel free to contact me at jarbuthnot@westlake.school.nz

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