#educoachOC Chat 24: Supporting Early Career Teachers

One of the first #educoachOC chats back in 2015 explored the similarities and differences between coaching and mentoring. Whilst our focus has been on coaching in education contexts, there is clearly an overlap with mentoring in terms of the intent, skills and attitudes common to both forms of “helping by talking”. In this month’s chat, we’d like to focus on the support offered to Early Career Teachers (ECTs) through one-to-one relationships that might be called mentoring and/or coaching, or a variety of other names, as part of new teacher induction schemes. We all began teaching at some stage and enjoyed or endured the existence, or absence, of a wide range of supports as we entered the profession. These may have been part of a formal registration or certification scheme in the jurisdiction or a less formal induction scheme in a particular school.

When Andrea began her teaching career in California, she was provided with a government-funded mentor to support her through the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program. Back in 2007, research indicated that many ECTs leave the classroom in the first five years and the Californian government responded to this situation by designing a two-year program to support early career teachers through their accreditation process. This appears to be similar and yet quite different to the current system in New South Wales. The expectation is for ECTs to become accredited at proficient level in their first two years of teaching, yet the level of support in New South Wales may not reflect the same level Andrea experienced in California. In addition, the level of support within New South Wales may not be the same for all ECTs. While the supervisor is required to tick the boxes, early career teachers at Andrea’s school are fortunate to have a coach and others to support this process. The defining of roles allows for the coach/mentor and supervisor to work with one teacher.

The Victorian Institute of Teaching expect provisionally registered teachers to be assigned a mentor by their school and they provide a mentor training program as a joint cross-sector initiative across the state. Mentors, who may be assigned arbitrarily by schools, are expected to support new teachers through the process of achieving full registration status within two years.

Upon reflection and with her increased knowledge and experience, Andrea views her ‘mentor’ as more of a coach. The reason for this was that she was valued as a professional and her qualifications were respected. Andrea feels that they were professional partners in the accreditation and professional growth process. The questions her mentor asked aligned more with coaching than mentoring. Yet when necessary, the mentor’s approach was more in the directive zone because sometimes… ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’.

If we view the diagram below, a mentor sits in the middle of the continuum between directive and non-directive but there is overlap.

Conversational spectrum

During a developmental conversation with an ECT, we may move between mentoring and coaching depending on their needs at any given time. The key lies in the awareness and skill of the coach or mentor in knowing when it is appropriate to ‘slide’ along the continuum from less to more directive or vice versa. It helps if this is made very explicit to the coachee (or mentee).

For example:

  • I can provide you with some advice as a mentor in this situation.
  • You’ve brought to mind something (a resource, strategy, reference, etc.) that might be helpful here, would you like to hear about it?
  • I have seen this strategy be effective and this other strategy be effective also…which one would you like to choose? How would that look in your classroom? (back to coaching)

This blog post by Chris, on advice giving within the coaching conversation, might be helpful here.

When we speak to early career teachers, it appears that most enter the profession with the belief that they will continue learning. Most are grateful for any support in those first few years as they gradually move from survival to ongoing growth and development. Supporting the development of this next generation of educators and helping them to flourish requires relationships built on respect, humility and unconditional positive regard.

Chat questions:

  1. In what ways can one-on-one support help ECTs in their first two years of life in the profession?
  2. What are the necessary contextual conditions for effective one-on-one support of ECTs?
  3. How might we best identify and assign mentors or coaches to ECTs?
  4. What are the essential skills and qualities of an effective coach or mentor of an ECT?
  5. What will we be noticing in the ECT in their first and second years if the support is working as well as it could?

The chat will take place on Monday 4th December at 8.30pm Australian EDT. That’s 4.30am in New York, 9.30am in London, 1.30pm in Dubai, 5.30pm in Hong Kong, 7.30pm in Brisbane, and 10.30pm in Auckland.

We hope to see you there!

Andrea, Chris, Deb & Jon

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