To celebrate National Mentoring Day, and to help develop my own practice as a mentor, I’m offering a free mentoring session for up to 5 Heads of Science before Christmas.  To take up this offer, please contact me and tell me a bit about yourself and your role.

Who needs a mentor?

We ALL need a mentor!  From trainee teacher to established headteacher, it is important to have someone with experience and expertise whom you can call on for confidential advice.

Heads of Science, being rare beasts, are often appointed with little experience of management and sometimes even of teaching.  It can be a relief to be able to turn to an experienced mentor outside the school who is not your line manager and will be totally non-judgmental.  You can bounce ideas around, ask “what would you do” and get a fresh perspective on problems.  In the long term, a good mentor relationship can help identify new skills and accelerate your career, giving you access to resources and contacts. Mentoring can inspire, motivate and increase your confidence or self-esteem, for experienced as well as new practitioners.

What is mentoring?

Mentoring comes somewhere in between training and coaching.  The gorgeous little Teachers’ Pocketbooks series includes a book on “Coaching In Schools”, which makes this distinction clear:

a trainer is an expert filling a knowledge gap

a coach uses questions to challenge thinking and promote reflection – but is not necessarily an expert

a mentor should have relevant and similar experiences to the person being mentored.  Mentors act as models, offer suggestions and provide reflective challenge.

The National Mentoring Day website also has some great FAQs which explain the benefits of mentoring.

I have a couple of respected mentors whose wisdom I seek from time to time, depending on which aspect of my work is involved.  I like to avoid re-inventing the wheel so if I know someone has tried and tested a project I’m considering, their experience is something I like to learn from.  And if I have a knotty problem, I find that simply talking about it out loud can often help untie the knot!

As well as being a mentee, my role as a mentor is something I really enjoy, so at the risk of sounding like a marketing mailshot, here’s my own take on the two biggest barriers to any CPD: time and money.

A mentor would be useful but I haven’t got time!

Teachers have little time to do anything other than the job in front of them, so mentoring sessions need to be focused and flexible.

Focused: Is there an aspect of your job which is particularly challenging, or a barrier which is constantly getting in the way of success?  Would you like to develop some strategies for extra-curricular science, engaging parents or improving teamwork in the department?  I have a questionnaire that can help focus things if you’re just not sure where to start.

Flexible: Skype means that we can ‘meet’ wherever you are in the world!  Timing-wise, you probably need to fit in mentoring sessions in the evening, at weekends or during the holidays.  Equally, if you have some time during the day we can meet then.  It can take a few sessions to build up the professional trust needed for the most effective mentoring, but they can fit around your other commitments.

How is mentoring funded?

Since there need be no travel or cover costs, mentoring can be an extremely cost-effective way of improving practice, especially for someone new to the role. In many schools, mentoring can be funded as part of the CPD budget; indeed many headteachers are well aware of the specialist support that the head of a large and busy science department can need and will be happy to agree to this form of targeted CPD.

With the shrinkage of LEA advisory services it’s not easy to find a science teaching mentor, though some MATs have appointed advisers to fill the gap.  I’m well aware of school budget constraints and am happy to work within those.  Some organisations are willing to fund mentoring sessions as part of an overall package of science support, so if that applies to your school we can explore that too.

What next?

If you’re interested in setting up some mentoring sessions with me (other providers are also available!), you’ll probably want to read more about my background here; a couple of happy mentees have kindly said the following:

Your insightful inputs and questions provided me not only with an excellent chance for reflection about the position of second in department and its responsibilities, but also gave me a structured, ambitious and realistic outlook to what the department and our students’ science learning can aim to become in short, medium and long-term. [João, 2nd i/c, SW London]

and

…and because she has so much experience teaching science, she had very good and simple tips that she has developed across her career. She was engaging, dynamic and very approachable. [Dalila, physics teacher trainee, London]

I think it’s always important to start with a trial session to see if we’re a good fit and plan subsequent sessions from there.  Contact me for a chat or to book a session.

Good luck and happy half term!