One of the key challenges of educational Institutes of modern day is to ensure a strong faculty capable to uphold the quality of teaching and learning. This looms as a challenge considering that the quality of teaching can only be the result of a strong teaching faculty embedded with the knowledge of the school culture, curriculum, policies and an ever evolving learning environment where teachers are enabled to grow professionally. Considering the changes in the licensing policies and expectations of the educational ministries in the current scenario, retention and enrichment of teachers is a matter of utmost concern in majority schools in the UAE.
In my paper I was keen to look into the challenges faced by the school leaders when creating a mentoring program that is not looked in isolation but as a continuous process that further enriches the learning environment. Being a part of the SLT I have always come back to the key questions as to why in spite of having a team to induct new teachers the process still failed in the recent times to retain good teachers for a longer duration. I wanted to further explore those practices of mentoring process that is directly related to the decisions exercised by key policy makers. I wanted to be more critically aware of the process of mentoring to ensure providing support to a mentee that would result in long-term professional growth for both Mentor and Mentee.
The literature I reviewed showed a common string of factors that needed to be considered as it had a direct link to the issues faced in mentoring process. Before diving into my research I also like to establish a fact from my review on the concept of mentoring. Although mentoring is an age-old practice, Mentoring is defined in multiple contexts depending on the extent of the role it has to contributing a strong work force that is both effective and efficient. Literature shows right from beginning the diversity in the definition of mentoring- Mentoring is complex social learning process provided in both formal and informal context, usually provided by a well experienced senior to a novice or less experienced for the purpose of developing the skills based on a mutual partnership with an agreement of shared targets to be achieved by the end of a set period – Blackwell, J (1989); Moore and Amey (1988); Wegner (1998); Jacobi, M (1991).
Institutions must be able to establish a mentoring process where both the Mentor and the Mentee feel stimulated, valued, challenged and engage in more authentic dialogues that enable learning and over all professional development. Be it a formal or an informal setting one needs to understand that learning is a very complex process as it is closely related to the social relations, past experiences, sharing knowledge and expertise through interaction. Hobson, A. J., Ashby, et al (2009).
Wenger`s Model of 3 inter related concepts ie: Mutual engagement, Joint enterprise and Shared repertoire I feel are key elements that also lay the foundation to creating a compatible mentor and ensuring the mentoring process incorporates a good Communication channels that enables professional feed backing. Wenger, (1999). Before I am able to expand and relate the commonalities in the area highlighted from the literature I like to outline the challenges identified in absence of a good Mentoring process and how it relates to my area of focus. Challenges in Absence of Mentoring Process for new teachers in Schools:
- Lack of proper staff – Shortage in qualified candidates
- Cost increase due to quality being affected
- Basic safety protocols affected due lack of staff of less qualified not trained well
- Overwhelmed staff
- Dissatisfied Mentors who lack knowledge on reflective practice or critical reflection
- More Directive than guiding
- Imbalance between work – life for new and mentors
- Mentors feeling isolated
- Mentors reporting heavy work load
- Lack of Reflective feedback and failure to understand the key role critical questioning and reflection plays.
- Lack of system to recognize eligible leaders or mentors to improve the system
As mentioned earlier it is evident that learning takes both when people are put in groups in a practical environment to observe and learn together or to be guided .it is not mandate the mentor has to be matched to the mentees but there must be opportunity for the new staff to choose a mentor they find will expand their knowledge in the area of interest and help them progress professionally. The new staff can only be usually probed to this thirst to engage in professional context and push to excel only if they feel they are placed in an environment with high knowledgeable and experienced staff whose not only just familiar but has in depth knowledge on how the process works and knows how to show the process constructively.
New teachers who starts to work in schools commences work with almost the same responsibilities and expectation as any experienced staff in school. A vast majority is said to exit the profession quiet early in to profession ie: within the first 4 years into the profession as they are put into “Sink or Float “ approach by most schools. This is mainly because the induction programs mostly focus on the infrastructure and school culture rather than the actual focus on know and how of providing quality teaching and curriculum delivery. Ultimately the growth prospective of the teachers lie within the opportunity provided to them to improve the quality of teaching and directly leads to improving the over all quality of teaching and learning process in the school. Schools must be able to engage quality mentors who can guide the new teacher’s right from initial stages in the skill to find solutions, engage in critical thinking, and problem solving strategies to deal with actual situation in relation to school practices. The school must identify a whole school approach where in existing staff willingly understands the need to guide and engage the new teachers in authentic professional dialogue essential to grow.
The characteristics of a Good Mentoring process:
- Must have a clearly defined goal or approach or purpose
- Must have an a procedure to identify the selection of mentors
- Must have a procedure to compliment the mentors
- Must have apt cognitive training for the mentors on how they can view the procedure as 2 way growth process for both Mentor and the Mentees
- Should be able to inform the Mentors right start the importance of working in in groups and sharing experiences and suggestion and reflecting the same approach on the mentees.
- Must be able to inform the mentors the importance of keeping a reflective feedback log of their training and guiding.
- Must be able to make the space, time and resources available for the process
- Must be able to allow and promote professional communication create a mutual agreement (Willing to teach and willing to learn) between Mentor and Mentee
- Must have be headed by a capable head who is able to evaluate and monitor the progress of the program in the school as live data to mentors and leaders.
From the literature it is clearly evident that when it comes to schools effective mentoring programs are those that focus on key pedagogical knowledge development and behavioral management. The leaders must be able to select mentors who are capable but also willing to model right practices , acknowledge development on how to do better , enabling mentees with information on the aims of teaching practice and curriculum expectation as it plays pivotal role in ensuring mentees don’t feel lost , isolated or stagnant in their profession.
Looking back at my personal experience as both being a mentee and mentor I am bale to the relate on how Wenger`s 3 interrelated concept is able to create an umbrella and channel out the through the concepts on the functionality aspect of mentoring, the expectations of mentors and key role of communication for the success of the program. I found this article very helpful to outline and relate to the drawback of existing program at our school. In the readings the importance of mutual engagement couldn’t be more elaborate. Mutual agreement between mentor and mentee lays the foundation to be able to meet complex situations of poor quality teaching, lack of effort, teachers leaving very early into training, and mentors lack of willingness to share their experience. The need of mutual agreement should be initiated right from the time the leaders, teachers and principle draw up the program. Leaders must be create a mutual ground with prospective Teacher mentors on the need , and positive benefit to school, themselves and the new teachers . Mentors must feel valued and leaders must ensure that program must make them proactive in taking that extra mile to guide apart from their normal teaching.
In school every teacher must be made aware on the importance of sharing best practices than working in isolation, this lays the basis to be able to take that willingness to guide those having trouble in the same area. The environment must be an open learning environment that engages and triggers teachers to authentic academic dialogues right from the beginning. In such a scenario leaders have a greater pool to select perspective candidates to be mentors who values the importance of sharing knowledge, enabling professional growth for themselves and who they are responsible to mentor. In this concept I was also able to explore the expected qualities of a good mentor. Considering the fact that mentoring is more labor intensive (involves the individual to be present to enable mentee for a fixed period) and time consuming process (A 4 tier model of meeting, understanding common grounds, learning and incorporating change, providing feedback on development) its only expected that they have these qualities- patience, humor, being an advocate, knowledgeable, respectful, enthusiastic of the system, and positive attitude.
The key aspect that differentiate the process of mentoring form training or induction is the are where mentors are expected guide and provide timely reflective feedback on the actual teaching practice . This is the part where creating Joint enterprise and Shared repertoire comes in to role. Mentors must be able to reasons to making pro active decisions for day to day practices and aid new teacher jointly to develop their own practice by sharing past experiences. Mentors need to receive and be enabled with focused training on the importance guiding and informing than simply instruct and complaint on the lack of performance of the Mentee. In an instructional approach the mentee feel inhabited and less confident to try and feel they are not valued of their knowledge. When forced positively to practice their understanding and critically think to develop methods to reach solutions jointly they learn to adapt to work to the key expectations of the curriculum and provide quality learning environment for students to be engaged. This kind of an approach help Mentees to build a professional identity for themselves and understand social construct around which they will be practically working in. what Mentors need to be clear on is that the reflective feedback should not be like interview log but a process of developing joint solutions and enabling the mentees to know how to conduct the process by developing strategies confidently. One has to understand that reflection is along term process where new teachers are helped and guided to develop a professional framework for themselves, understand the language, culture and policies of the school as part of the whole community.
Finally the most common ingredient across all my readings to ensure the success of a mentoring process/program is of the key role “Communication”. Communication underpins the success meter for optimizing success of the mentor –mentee relationship and ultimately aiding the mentee to swim with ease in the highly social world of education. As mentioned in the beginning when the mentees are submerged into an environment where they able to make or exchange professional dialogue that was closely related to their interest in progress their career they more keen and felt making the right decision form a professional point of view. When mentors are trained to communicate and discuss freely with mentees by making it less restrictive, Mentees dint feel overwhelmed or exhausted.
Having Mentors to develop a feedback that more reflective for the purpose to developing professional growth and not deviating it to excessive documentation motivates them see how they exchange their views and practices with the mentee. When establishing a joint partnership the Mentors style to allow mentee to feel free to communicate of where they are from in their career and where they want to go help to build a strong Mentoring bond that allow mentees have a sense of belonging by the end of the guidance period. Having looked in to academic point of view the question that still remains in spite of taking these factors in to account how does the school overcome or face the challenge of being cost effective while establishing a successful mentoring program? Will this guarantee a smooth transitioning of existing teachers who come from very strong culturally based curriculums? Although there is data suggesting nationwide progress in mentoring programs that enable new staff to settle in and help schools to retain good staff the data is still very qualitative and not quantitative. Which again makes it a little unclear on how to handle the cost factor of running a mentoring program on continuous ground in a school that not only enables new teacher to blend in, staff retention, and enrichment for existing staff.