Mentoring and Coaching for Teachers.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the value of mentoring and coaching as professional development for teachers in K-12. That is, having experienced senior teachers assisting new or inexperienced teachers. The two latest to weigh in are the Victorian government and the Grattan Institute who released their report, Top Teachers Sharing Expertise to Improve Teaching earlier this month. Earlier this week Adam Carey announced in The Age that the Andrews’ government will launch a mentoring scheme for 700 early-career teachers next year.
Let’s be clear. Mentoring teachers used to be a central factor in education, we just didn’t call it that. It was called:
- The staff room
- The teacher down the hall
- Friday night drinks
- Morning tea
However, over the last couple of decades the demands on individual teachers have become so time consuming that those avenues for learning and professional development are mostly gone.
We know this. Schools know this.
Experienced teachers are leaving the profession in vast numbers, many much earlier than planned. And new teachers, who no longer have those supports in place in their schools, are leaving the profession in droves. A recent study by Monash University uncovered clear evidence that teachers are feeling under-appreciated and overworked. When asked, 58% of respondents said they were intending to leave the profession.
This is not good news for anyone. Training teachers is expensive and it has long been known that a major factor in student engagement and success is teacher continuity and consistency.
Before you are tempted to think this is not really a major issue, according to the Monash study, ‘there are approximately 270,000 teachers working with close to four million students in 9500 schools across Australia.’ These are big numbers with a significant influence on our public life.
Dr Amanda Heffernan, lecturer in Leadership in Monash University’s Faculty of Education, said that participating teachers were feeling a loss of professional trust, judgement and autonomy. She went on to say that the research clearly showed that ‘the administrative burden on teachers needs to decrease significantly so they can spend more time in the classroom with students, and less time feeling stressed and overwhelmed.’
The reason for this is not complicated. Education budgets are being constantly reduced by both State and Federal governments, and the demand for assessing and reporting has increased. When you take time away from teaching and learning in order to complete mountains of paperwork and administriva, the reason and motivation for becoming a teacher dissolves.
The OECD’s latest Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) in June 2019, concluded that despite having higher workloads, fewer resources and more administration duties than global averages, Australian public school teachers are amongst the ‘most innovative and enthusiastic adopters of new ideas and approaches to education.’ Responding to these figures, Correna Haythorpe, federal president of the Australian Education Union, said:
“Australia’s teachers are constantly asked to do more with less, leading to excessive workloads and workplace stress. The Federal Coalition Government has denied public schools $14 billion over the next decade which entrenches funding inequality in our schools for years to come.”
Diminishing budgets are probably the only constant in the Australian education landscape. Things that are not constant, but are essential in any discussion are, how Federal money is distributed, the role of State governments, who has authority to hire teachers, teacher hours, teacher pay, teacher accreditation and school governance, just to mention a few.
The fractured nature of K-12 education has become much clearer to me over the past few months. Near the end of last year it was suggested to us that we put together some mentoring and coaching programs for teachers as some schools were having trouble meeting the requirements of the Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework. It became clear very early that this was going to be complicated. It also became clear that there needed to be a number of different programs. But more of that later.
The Grattan Institute’s report is a substantial document with excellent recommendations and a heap of really sound research. They offer details about the potential difficulties and the time it will take to implement. It is definitely worth reading. It highlights the benefits of mentoring and coaching for teachers but it fails to highlight the intricacies of the teaching profession in Australia.
The Federal Government vs State Government.
When the Federal Government announces some huge influx of funding to education it does not mean that the local school is going to get extra funds. All it means is that they have chosen a figure they will divide up between the States according to processes that are rarely transparent. The Australian Federal Government is responsible for universities and tertiary education, they are not responsible for K-12.
When the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) was established in January 2010 there were hopeful signs of a way toward a national education model that would make it easier for students and teachers to move from state to state without complication. The release of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and the Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework seemed to be an equally positive sign. However, much like the Australian Curriculum, it has not significantly changed the system. Sometimes it feels like each state is maintaining their autonomy by seeing these national programs as mere suggestions. Don’t get me wrong, AITSL has fantastic resources and information, it really does, but it does not yet register all teachers. The HALT registration is great, but not compulsory. Teacher registration and the annual requirements for re-registering are still the responsibility of the states and they vary.
We need to keep this in mind when referencing the Singapore system, as the Institute does on p.11 of the report.
Is it true? Yes. The Singapore Government does employ a system where experienced teachers support and help develop other teachers. But, and this is a huge but, education is Singapore’s second (2nd) largest budget allocation of GDP after Defence. Not only that, apart from International ones, schools in Singapore are all run by, and are answerable to the Government. As is the Singapore Teachers Union. Teachers are highly regarded in Singapore and are each entitled to 100 professional development hours per year. Paid for. They work very long hours, but appreciation is shown in a variety of ways. It is this centralisation that allowed the MOE (Ministry of Education) last year to announce, in March that they were going to abandon the streaming model which has been applied in every school for decades. They plan to have the new system operating nationally by 2024. This is a huge change and you can only do it with a centralised national system. When you are small in size and have only one level of government, (which hasn’t changed in a long time) things can move much faster. We do not have anything close to that.
Hours Expected v Hours Paid.
Funding and registration requirements are not the only differences between the states. I was looking at one of my payslips from Education Queensland. I was working a 0.6 load, equivalent to 3 days, and that was calculated at 15 hours, making a full-time load 25 hours. Very few teachers would be at school only 5 hours a day. For most that would only take them to lunch time. A Victorian Government site showed that in Victoria a teacher must be in attendance for a minimum of 7 hours daily and ‘may be required to undertake other duties for up to three hours.’
From what I can see, Tasmanian teachers appear to be required at school for 35 hours a week, while in NSW it appears to be 30 hours per week. I do not know whether those numbers are reflected on payslips. When teacher salaries are being discussed, the differences in time commitments need to be taken into consideration. Like everything, there is no national pay scale for teachers.
This begs the question, who is going to pay for the Instructional Specialists at $140,000 per annum, or the Master Teachers at $180,000 per annum, that the Grattan Institute suggests? It is a good suggestion. An education model like this could be a great help, but how will it work when they have no authority to dictate teacher pay to the states? Everything they say about the value and the cost benefit may be absolutely true, but how can they make it work?
And what do we do in the meantime? How do we provide quality professional development now, in order to keep teachers in the classroom long enough for the new system to take effect? The Grattan Institute says it will take 12 years. If there is one thing I believe to be true, it is that we invariably underestimate the time required for educational change in Australia. Many of the best teachers who would be suited to those roles may have given up by then.
The Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework.
According to the AITSL website, one of the functions of the Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework is to provide ‘a structure for appraising, developing and improving teaching practice as well as recognising the entitlement of teachers to meaningful feedback and support.’
Within the Framework lies the Performance and Development Cycle, which incorporates the three areas of:
- Reflection and goal setting
- Professional practice and learning
- Feedback and review.
It is designed to recognise the entitlement of all teachers to know what is expected of them. It requires that they have:
- A set of documented goals which are regularly reviewed and reflected upon.
- Support in achieving these goals with the help of high quality professional learning.
- Guidance on recognising the diverse forms of evidence that can be used in reflection.
- Both formal and informal, useful feedback.
All states have established individual programs for implementing the framework in a way that aligns with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, but implementation is sketchy.
Education Queensland has adopted a form of the AITSL Framework in their Annual Teacher Performance Review process, however an audit by the Queensland Audit Office found that while most schools commence the process, few actually complete the cycle. When administrations, under time constraints, prioritise other areas of teaching and learning, teachers can perceive that the cycle is more about compliance and not about their development. And they have more than enough to comply with already.
Victoria introduced the Mentoring Capability Framework (MCF) as a component of the Effective Mentoring program (EMP), designed to ‘support the effective and ongoing mentoring of new teachers in Victorian schools and other educational settings.’ The EMP was developed by the Department of Education and Training and the Victorian Institute of Teaching, specifically to support the learning and development of teachers with provisional registration. That is to say, new teachers. It is to be hoped that the new program, which the Andrews’ government has announced, is going to add more mentors to those already doing that job.
Now, what was that about national programs?
The Evolution of Mentoring.
In 2016, ACER and the Northern Territory Principals Association presented a report A Guide to Support Coaching and Mentoring for School Improvement. They found that while traditional forms of professional development do not necessarily impact classroom practice, coaching made a huge difference. They referenced the work of Bruce Joyce and Beverley Showers (2002) which claimed that coaching not only increased the application of professional learning substantially, but also led to significantly higher achievements for students.
Much earlier, in 2000, Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan published Mentoring in the New Millennium in which they outline four broad historical phases of the changing nature of teachers’ professionalism: (a) the pre-professional age, (b) the age of the autonomous professional, (c) the age of the collegial professional, and (d) the fourth professional age. It is a really interesting article and worth reading.
This fourth age is very different from the previous ones and it brings with it a whole range of challenges that we can not yet fully absorb. Our world is undergoing profound social, economic, political, and cultural transformations and the demands of teaching are changing also. Boundaries are blurring in both the physical and the psychological sphere and the possibilities for ‘communities of practice’ (CofP) and professional learning networks (PLNs) are expanding.
Despite what many think, teachers have been early adopters of new technologies. They have been quick to see the possibilities for expanding their PLNs. However, we live in a very big country and it is often difficult for teachers to get access to professional development that meets their needs at any particular point in time. Online PD is already widely accessed and offering mentoring and coaching programs online is a logical next step.
Hargreaves and Fullan point out the need for a different kind of mentoring for teachers. This mentoring needs to embrace all aspects of a teacher’s life, including the emotional and social and has the potential to recreate the profession.
As I read Hargreaves and Fullan’s article and attempted to tease out the meaning of ‘profession’ and ‘professional’ I realised that maybe we need to think about and re-frame what it means to be a ‘professional’ teacher.
How many other professions take their work home at the end of the day? (professions, not jobs) Do nurses take charts home at the end of their shift? Do they call their patient’s families in the evenings or lunch times to discuss progress? The hospital might, the doctor might, but it is not an expectation that nurses take on all these ‘extra’ duties. Moreover, do nurses, or other professionals, routinely give control of their family and home life over to their job?
As I designed our programs, it seemed obvious to me that the goal setting and reflection phase of the cycle could only work if it included and incorporated a teacher’s life outside school. How many times do teachers say ‘yes’ to things and then scramble to fit their real life around them.
I have a friend who could not say ‘no.’ (Yes, that song is playing in my head now) She would undertake the debating team and Toastmasters and almost anything she was asked to do, and then try and manage around a large number of children and other personal and family situations. The inevitable result was ‘burn out,’ or ‘demoralisation’ or whatever you want to call the state that teachers reach where they implode.
Teachers need to have a filter to pass requests through. A filter that allows them to see what is possible and what isn’t. And they need some system that helps them to remember the filter.
So many things in teaching seem out of our control. You hit the ground running at the beginning of the year and it doesn’t let up till the end. Schools are dynamic spaces and formal goal setting and planning seem counterintuitive. But you plan your lessons and units. They may not always go to plan, but you have a framework to work with, goals that guide the choices you make.
Teachers would benefit hugely from applying these same processes to both their personal and professional life. With a clearly defined set of goals and accompanying tasks it is much easier to say ‘no’ and give a valid reason if required. It will still be hard and will take time to get comfortable with saying ‘no’, but a coach or mentor who will listen, support and guide can really help.
Not Just for New Teachers.
While they are often called ‘induction’ programs, mentoring and coaching is fairly common for first year teachers. But after that they are pretty much on their own. Primary school teacher Katerina Duckstein was interviewed for The Age article and said, “For me personally, I would’ve liked it up until my third year.” That was not to be and unfortunately, another gifted young teacher has moved from full time teaching to casual relief teaching. At least this way most of her time is actually spent in the part of the job most teachers love, being face-to-face with students.
As I mentioned earlier, the need for a variety of programs was obvious to me from the start. Two of the three full-year programs we have designed are for established teachers. One is for experienced teachers who are teaching out of field, specifically for teachers who have English classes but have never trained in the subject, which is much more common than we would wish. (The Grattan Institute Report specifically refers to this in Box 12, p.43) The other was for experienced English and Literature teachers.
Teachers are by nature, learners and no teacher can keep up with everything. Why shouldn’t teachers have access to mentoring and coaching at different times in their career? We have a couple of targeted mentoring programs in development at the moment. One being specifically for teachers considering applying for positions of added responsibility.
It was encouraging to read the article Next generation mentoring: Supporting teachers beyond induction by Sherri Bressman, Jeffrey S. Winter and Sara Efrat Efron
Apart from providing ample evidence of the different forms that mentoring and coaching can take, they make one very important point. While all the mentoring programs we have discussed are aimed at supporting and keeping beginning teachers, perhaps we could stop the attrition of experienced teachers if there were mentoring and coaching programs available to them.
I know that many of my colleagues and I, in our mid to late career stages often found that the available professional development really did not satisfy our needs or interests. Bressman et al claim that the lack of useful and engaging professional development for mid to late career teachers can result in ‘frustration, cynicism, early attrition, and ‘burnout’.’ Mentoring and coaching programs can offer professional development that is more tailored and supportive for experienced educators.
Yes, the programs would need to be more flexible. Yes, they would need to be more personalised. But why not? If you can keep an experienced teacher who wants to explore teaching and learning further, why wouldn’t you?
I would like to briefly touch on this issue of specialisation. The report claims that both Master Teachers and Instructional Specialists would focus on ‘specific subjects such as maths, science, and English.’ Wouldn’t that be amazing. I think we could probably improve our rankings in a very short time if every English, maths and science teacher was a specialist in their subject. Unfortunately, these are the subjects that are most often categorised as generalist, and where you will find the largest number of teachers who were not trained in the subject they are teaching. I can’t count the number of times I have heard the ‘if you can speak it, you can teach it’ lie. Yet we wonder why our literacy and numeracy scores are not good. End of detour.
Applying for Promotion
An excellent inclusion in the Institute report says, ‘ We estimate that supporting one teacher to apply for an Instructional Specialist role would require a 0.1 FTE time allocation over the course of a year – roughly half a day per week’ (p.64). This is important in two ways. Firstly, it points to how much time is required to successfully apply for promotional opportunities in education. Many great teachers don’t apply for promotions or positions of added responsibility because they just don’t have time. I always thought this was particularly true for English teachers as the requirement of learning all the latest ‘eduspeak’ was enough to put you off the process. Secondly, this statement is about how much time is needed to help an applicant. Teachers need help to complete applications; help from people who understand exactly what is being asked at any specific point in the process.
Mentoring is Not Evaluating.
All the sources we have read, highlight the fact that positive mentoring and coaching must not contain any element of evaluation or judging. They must be focussed on development, not appraisal. The Queensland Independent Teachers Union, in providing advice to members, draws attention to the way AITSL endeavours to ensure the Framework promotes genuine professional conversations. The purpose of the Framework is to improve teaching and minimise the risk that administrative and bureaucratic requirements become the focus.
Coaching and mentoring relationships have to be built on trust. They must be confidential and not be tied in any way to performance evaluations. One of the difficulties intrinsic to in-school mentoring is that teachers may see the process as one of evaluation and correction. This type of mentoring relationship will not be productive. Apparently there is a name for it, ‘judgementoring.’ (I thought that the word had a certain onomatopoetic ring to it, Judy disagreed, this bracket is the compromise.)
According to the Bressman et al researchers, many teachers felt ‘disheartened,’ ‘demoralized,’ ‘isolated,’ or ‘lonely’ after sessions with ‘judgementors.’
For the Grattan Institute plan to work, the Instructional Leaders and Master Teachers are going to need some distance between themselves and the school administration. Teachers must see the mentor as a support person, not an evaluator; unless by some alchemy all schools become places of safety and trust for staff and students. Dare to dream.
Teachers for Teachers.
The writers of the Institute correctly point out that teachers want to learn from other teachers. The major and extremely valid reason for this is, that if you haven’t had to manage a class of 20-30 children or teenagers, you can’t possibly understand how fluid and complicated it can be.
As the co-founder of an education start-up I have been surprised by the number of businesses that are creating products for schools, without having a teacher on their team. As a retired teacher I have been very aware of the need to keep contact with working teachers in order to know how to best serve them. For the Master Teachers and Instructional Specialists to work well they will need to build and maintain a relationship of trust with the teachers. It will not work if there is an us/them divide between teachers and admin.
One of the strengths of the Grattan Institute proposal, but also a tricky bit, is that the appointments for the positions of Instructional Specialists and Master Teachers will be part of a rigorous external process. That is to say, they will not be appointed by a particular principal or board. This should lead to more trust in the positions. However, it is not that simple. In Victoria, individual principals can advertise for and hire teachers. There is no central department. In Queensland, the department can, and does, move teachers around at its discretion. So who makes the hiring decisions for these positions? It is not only a question of who pays them, but also who has the authority to employ them? And how do they function with the Day 8 protocol? If they have 3-5 year contracts, what happens if student numbers in a region are variable?
A Good Move Forward.
As in all things, there is much to negotiate in the Grattan Institute report, and the writers freely admit that. But it shows a deep understanding of the way teaching has changed. The profession seems to be asking more and more of teachers and it is no longer possible to simply ‘go with the flow.’
We are all aware of the idea of ‘imposter syndrome,’ many millions of words have been written about it. Of all the people I have ever known, teachers are the most likely to underestimate their knowledge, wisdom and value. Because they are so focussed on the needs of their students, and those needs are relentless and diverse, teachers are usually too exhausted or time poor to stop and re-frame their thinking around their job.
Maybe teachers can have both a certain autonomy to respond in real time, and rigorous professional protocols. I wonder whether the lack of professional recognition that is accorded teachers is partly because we have never demanded it. Perhaps if teachers start to fully recognise and embrace their professional identity they will be more inclined to demand that recognition from others.
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