Mentoring Networks

We are hearing more than ever about how teachers are burning out and most particularly, how young teachers are adversely impacted by the stressors of this demanding profession.

I was wondering how graduates could be better supported and came across this 2022 article which describes a year long, online mentoring program between a network of advanced and novice music teachers. Rather than depending on a one-on-one relationship, the network sought to spread the load and provide a breadth of experienced support to these junior colleagues. So let’s hear how it went?

First thing to note was apparently group mentoring has been growing in the last 20 years and holds some differences to the more traditional 1 on 1 approach.

  • It’s rooted in co-learning, encouraging dialogue and sharing of experiences.
  • It’s non-hierarchical
  • The focus is on relationships instead of mentoring methods
  • It aims to create an open, intentional, trusting and reflective environment
  • All participants are valued and valuable to the mentoring experience
  • Each member can develop multiple reciprocal  and mutual developmental relationships (Kroll, 2016)

Their program was developed using volunteers and ultimately resulted in 4 experienced teachers and 3 teachers with less than 4 years classroom experience. The program began with a questionnaire asking participants to identify their goals as a mentor or mentee, their self-report on strengths and challenges in various teaching, administration and organisational areas. The results of this questionnaire set the goals for the program.

After an initial “dialogue” document which facilitated a guided introduction to one another, and was followed by an encouragement for people to reach out to one another based on their interests expressed in the introduction. 

Then there became a weekly check in where members would reflect and comment on their teaching high and low points each week using a shared spreadsheet. Here there was space for others to comment and support one another in their challenges and triumphs. 

Every 3-4 weeks the moderators would introduce a Discussion Topic to provide additional interaction on topics particularly related to their experiences. 

The researchers met all participants after 6 months individually and brought the group together online at 6 months and again after 12 months.

So what did they find out?

Reflection

All participants found the regular reflection of their teaching practice helpful. Novices said

It was a nice reflection tool, like, how did this week go and what’s next week gonna look like”

I wasn’t really thinking about it when I wrote it but later on, it was kind of nice to think about my weeks…made it seem more manageable”

Whilst a more experienced participant noted

I did this in the hopes that it would force me to sit down and do the self-reflection that I’ve waited to do for some time, to sit down and notice patterns throughout the year, because that does make you a better teacher. I don’t feel like it’s an extra thing on my plate. I feel like it’s the kick in the pants to do what I’m supposed to do”

Benefits of Sharing Experiences

The novice teachers expressed relief when the experienced teachers empathised and shared stories of their current struggles and challenges, they found this meaningful, reassuring and validating. 

However, all teachers felt the program would have been more highly prioritised by them had it been face to face rather than online. It was too easy to neglect it when the profession is typically time poor. The experienced teachers noted the importance of building the community and investing in the relationships early on to create a greater sense of investment and motivation. They went on to suggest that future programs should involve video conferencing platforms for greater engagement with one another and scheduling a regular time to meet.

So my take on this process was that novice teachers can feel supported by experienced teachers through sharing their highs and lows and reflecting on their practice with one another. But for the mentoring program to work really well, it needs to involve video conferencing for real time interactions with one another and a regularly scheduled meet time so that it is prioritised. With such a program in play, I have my suspicions that the experienced teachers would benefit from the collegiate support and perspective provided through reflection in a way that is similarly meaningful to those of the novice educators. 

Thanks for listening today, my name is Sarah Marshall. I hope you have a fantastic week Bringing out their best!

Finally, I’d like to share some exciting news with you. Our course Managing Performance Anxiety for Student Wellbeing has become accredited PD by NESA so, if you’re a performing arts teacher in NSW looking for some accredited PD hours that are relevant to your performance space, take a look!

Weimer, K. R., & Albert, D. J. (2022). A Mentoring Network for Novice and Experienced Music Teachers: Concept, Design, Outcomes, and Recommendations. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 31(2), 92-106. doi:10.1177/10570837211054096

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