Over the last two or three years I have noticed an increasing discussion in the early childhood education community regarding mentoring, and I believe this is a dialogue of growing importance.
Since the mid 1990s I have been interested in, influenced by, and an active participant in coming to grips with the characteristics of leadership in an early childhood arena. My experiences in professional learning and development and in teacher education have highlighted for me the significance of leadership and the ways in which the values, actions and behaviours of centre-based leaders influence and set the scene for the culture of an early childhood centre or organisation.
Over recent years, with the developments to expectations around appraisal, performance management, and the teacher registration process, the role of centre leaders has become more refined and clearly anticipates leaders taking an active role in mentoring their teaching teams and beginning teachers. I have, over the years, worked closely with many centre-based leaders (teachers, managers, and those in governance roles) and have regularly seen the complexity and isolation of the positions in which many of them work. I have been a long-time advocate of providing regular, formal supervision and/or mentoring for centre leaders, and formal mentorship is increasingly becoming part of teachers’ professional experience.
Those who work in early years education negotiate a physically, mentally, and often emotionally demanding context in their daily practice. Much of their professional learning takes place within the relationships they have with their teaching colleagues, professional leaders, families/whanau, and children. They are generally engaged in working in close collaboration with other teachers, and this can be complex and fraught with opportunities for miscommunication, differences in philosophy and pedagogy coupled with few opportunities to really discuss deeply what they are doing together.
The role of mentor provides a confidential and professional opportunity to discuss, reflect, and investigate the challenges of teaching and leadership within a community of practice. But I believe it is crucial to consider:
- What is the purpose of a mentor?
- What role does a mentor play?
- What are the expectations and outcomes sought by working with a mentor?
My involvement, experience, and professional learning has led me to consider, refine, and develop an increasingly consolidated personal philosophy, or a set of views, which positions my approaches. Being clear about my own purpose, aspiration, and intention as a mentor allows me to align more clearly with the client/mentoree, and to develop a shared concept of the outcomes of the mentoring sessions together.
I believe a mentor’s aims are to:
- prompt thinking rather than attempt to create a model of their own thinking
- be a critical friend who encourages and respectfully questions or challenges the mentoree
- help the mentee work their way through complexity.
Wherever the mentee is in their practice, career, or journey is perfect. There is no such thing as not ready, or too far down the track. Mentor meetings are a think tank of opportunities and possibilities, a safe haven to manage your own emotions and reactions, consider many paths and strategise to reach worthwhile outcomes.
Professional supervision and/or mentoring is a requirement within many early years comparable fields. Those working in the health sector, social services, and other family/whanau-focussed services are often required to ensure regular meetings with either peers or professional leaders to discuss and consult on their actions, practice, and performance. In my view this is a support mechanism that would be valuable and warranted for many in the early childhood education field.
In a modern learning context mentor relationships are becoming increasingly accessible, especially for those who, in the past, could have been viewed as isolated by distance (rural and semi-rural services). Advancing approaches in technology, enhanced broadband, and high speed internet becoming more reliably available, coupled with a simple ICT capability such as Skype means mentoring can be available directly, one-to-one, and in almost any context across Aotearoa.
CORE Education is constantly investigating and developing new ways to push the boundaries of education and connect more widely and in more accessible ways. CORE Early Years Team has two programmes currently available to support early years services to engage in professional learning, development, and mentoring. Check out the links below to learn more about our SELO 3 South Island online Leadership Programme, which includes one-to-one mentoring and/or the newly developed UChoose Programme aimed at supporting digital learning, leadership, and literacies, and much more, in contemporary education.
- UChoose — Customised professional mentoring
- Empower programme — Early Childhood Literacies and Digital Technologies
- ECE Online — Online Leadership Workshops and Mentoring PL Opportunities