TTEdSIG Mentoring conference notes

This weekend, the TTEdSIG held another amazing online event, Mentoring for Teacher Educators. What follows here are my notes from the sessions 🙂

Christine Coombe – Mentoring: An essential skill for leadership development

There are many definitions of mentoring, although they are evolving. Christine’s definition is that both the mentor and the mentee gain from mentoring, and that it is a process that is built on collaboration and is about raising others to higher levels.

She mentioned some qualities that mentors should have:

  • Good at active listening, coaching and conflict resolution 
  • Leads by example 
  • Knowledgeable 
  • Concerned with mutual growth of the mentee and themselves 
  • Provides access to activities, people, resources, etc. that might be outside the mentees routine environment

To find out if you mentoring is for you, think about:

  • Life experiences (What can your life experiences bring to a mentor-mentee relationship?)
  • Passions (What are your passions? Would you like to share these with others?)
  • Qualifications and experiences (What qualification and experiences are likely to help you raise others to higher levels?)
  • Likes and dislikes (Everyone has likes and dislikes – identify your own and then check to see that working with others is a like – also, identify what you like/dislike so you can decide how you would mentor)

Christine also spoke about some myths about mentoring:

Christine mentioned that mentees have thoughts regarding what mentors should have (see pics). One thing that I don’t know if I do enough is inviting mentees to come and see the ‘behind the scenes’ or taking a look at my world. 

Christine gave us a list of qualities to look for in mentors. As someone who is in charge of assigning roles, this list might provide some insight into those teachers who might be good ‘choices’ with regard to becoming effective mentors. I also think the list could be turn into quite a nice self-assessment (although it would be good to get feedback from others as well).

In terms of advice, Christine shared the following article, 10 ways to be a good mentor, and also gave her list of things to think about for getting started. One thing that I think is really important is the evaluative perspective, but I’ll touch on that soon.

Christine recommends setting expectations with mentees (both the mentee and the mentor should do this). This relates to setting the agenda and making it clear to teachers that the sessions are collaborative, and the responsibility of development is shared. This part about responsibility being shared I feel is vital!

Mentoring is not without its challenges, however. Here are a few that Christine raised:

  • Communication issues and losing touch 
  • Ticky boxy approach – taking such an approach might save time but it is less personal
  • Mentor envy – an interesting one! Mentees may ‘wish’ they had been paired with another mentor 
  • Breakdown of relationship 
  • Dependency – linking back to the shared responsibility here

As I feel that evaluation is important, I asked how mentoring could be evaluated. Christine mentioned that discussions with mentees are vital. However, we can also look at the goal that we set and see how many we managed to meet as a team. She also mentioned that more traditional questionnaires could be used.

Daniel Xerri – Mentoring teacher educators to facilitate teacher research engagement 

Daniel’s talk focused on mentoring teacher educators, with the area of interest being ‘research engagement’. Daniel began by defining research engagement: engagement with research or engagement in research. Research engagement encompasses both activities. 

There were three main aspects of to consider when mentoring teacher educators with research engagement in mind.

  • Broaden mentee’s conception of research.
  • Democratise research engaement as a form of professional development.
  • Develop mentees’ attitudes, beliefs and skills in relation to research.

Let’s take a look at these in a little more detail:

Broaden mentees’ conception of research: Daniel went through a number of situations and asked us to identify these as ‘research’ or not. His point of this activity was that many teachers, teacher educators, etc. may have quite narrow views of what research is. He wants all of us to broaden our conceptions of research – we need them to be broader. He presents two definitions:  

We should help teachers become research-engaged practitioners. As mentors, our role is to help teachers and teacher educators to be able to do this. 

Democratize research engagement as a form of professional development for all mentees (and teachers): In essence, research is something that needs to be seen as something that everyone, not only academics, can and should engage in and with. This should be voluntary – teachers need to want to engage in/with research. We looked at a number of statements and then were asked to say if we agree with these or not. These were quite interesting statements – here are two of them. What are your thoughts?

Develop mentees’ attitudes, beliefs and skills in relation to research: We need to make teachers aware that we ‘trust’ them to do research – they are able to, qualified to (in some cases), etc. However, certain skills do need to be developed in teachers and teacher educators. Daniel’s talk then focused on defining a research question as an area that could be developed. This is because it is a skill that would need to be developed in many teachers and teacher educators as it is quite a difficult thing to do. Mentors, however, can help guide mentees through the process.

Thom Jones – Mentoring not model: Useful help not expert intimidation

Thom started by playing a Taylor Swift song, using this to highlight what mentoring is. We often brush off the young, inexperienced teachers, when really they can be exciting, full of new, valid ideas, etc.  He mentioned that we often think of a mentor as the old toga-wearing wise person (and most often a man). This in effect is wrong – the mentor does not have all the answers (and most likely doesn’t!).

Thom mentioned that it’s important to be experienced and knowledgeable – but we mustn’t come across in such a way that mentees are intimidated by the level of ability we have. We need to be approachable and not “blind with our brilliance”.

Something interesting Thom touched on regard balance: what is the balance between making teachers aware that you are a worthwhile mentor and actually being a useful mentor? This is something worthwhile considering as it connect to numerous things, especially the concepts of mentor envy and expert power.

Thom spoke about times when he would teach and make mistakes, and then use these experiences with mentees. By showing our own flaws, errors, mentees can be encouraged to engage with the mentor in a way that says “you have something to contribute”. 

In the mentor-mentee relationship, we should aim to make the mentee feel like they are an expert also, that they have a lot of knowledge to bring to the session. In effect, we should find something that our mentees know more about than us, and we should use this to help them feel confident. This is a useful piece of advice, and links quite nicely to the idea of making the relationship ‘more equal’. Thom recommends structuring the conversation around finding out what teachers are good at, both teaching and personal-wise. 

This being said, we need to establish parameters with mentees. Choose how you will communicate with mentees, and stick to this (e.g., if you say that you won’t respond on weekends, don’t). This way the lines don’t get blurred, and it remains a mentor-mentee relationship. We should be very clear about what we are willing to talk about in sessions, how we are going to do it, and when. 

One of the most interesting point raised in Thom’s sometimes hilarious talk relates the the realities of life and the classroom. We need to be ready to confront mentees with the realities of the classroom. One of the most important things to remember is that many learners don’t want to be there, teachers as well. Thom mentioned something that was quite interesting- if mentees don’t ‘do their work’, at the end of the day the mentor gets paid. Mentees need to be aware of this. Here we need to show them that what they get out of the mentoring experience is dependent on them – again, the responsibility is shared, although perhaps looking at it like this, we are putting the ‘ball in their court’. 

He also spoke about the need to make teachers aware that it’s ok to have rage, anger, and many other negative feelings in this industry. As mentors, we need to be there for these cathartic moments! He also spoke about the benefits of raising awareness of the good things about our profession (when viewed comparatively).

Thom finished by saying that we need to be real with mentees, and not be intimidating with our ‘brilliance’, qualifications, etc. We need to make it clear to all teachers that not all learners will like you, and that’s ok. Deal with reality, have clear boundaries, and remember to make the mentee feel like an expert also.

Simon Phipps Mentoring as a Way to Help New Teacher Trainers: Issues and challenges

Simon’s talk focused on mentoring for teacher trainers. Simon talked about the move into teacher training, and raised the question: “How do people move into training?”. He then stated what I found also through Sponge Chats – everyone’s journey into teacher training is a little different. Some other issues that were raised include developing our own training style, dealing with others’ expectation of our new trainer self, and continuing our own professional development (things that were also raised by Barkhuizen in his Element). 

He spoke about his own journey into teacher training, and mentioned that one of the most important support networks he had was other trainers. 

He looked at core training skills, highlighting that when we first start out as a trainer, we might not be good at all of these points. He mentioned that we can ‘self-assess’ by taking a look at the Cambridge Trainer Framework

In terms of mentoring trainers, it is a two-way street (as mentioned by all the other speakers). Simon also gave us an overview of what is to occur (and what is not):

He also presented a number of ways in which new trainers can be mentored:

  • Joint planning or a workshop
  • Observation of a delivered workshop 
  • Joint observations of teachers (and of the feedback afterwards) 

Other ways in which trainers can get support (not necessarily mentoring)

  • Peer observation 
  • Peer training 
  • Self-observation 

Regarding reflection, Simon told us that it is important for everyone, not only for teachers. With this in mind, we need to continue to reflect on our practice critically so that we can continually improve. Some ways we can do this include:

Simon then went on to say that we should seek ways to sustain/enhance our training skills. We should also be aware of burn out and the importance of staying fresh and enjoying what we do.

Key takeaways

These four sessions were quite insightful, and I really enjoyed going deeper into mentoring, something that I feel is one of the most impactful development tools we have at our disposal. Here are my key takeaways from the sessions:

  • Mentoring is very much a two-way street and we need to approach it in this manner. This means that we should actively be seeking to learn from our mentees, and not come across as the all-knowing being with all the answers.
  • Ground rules and parameters need to be set so that the relationship has the best chance of being successful. These include points regarding how, when, where, etc. And as the mentor, be sure to stick to these.
  • Mentoring is about raising others to higher levels, and this may include giving mentees insights into the ‘behind the scenes’ of your own role. It might also include introducing them to others, or bringing them into certain communities of practice.
  • One of the more interesting ‘focuses’ of mentoring can be on developing more research-engaged teachers/trainers. This is something that I feel is necessary if we expecting teachers to teach in a more informed manner (and take on their own research!).

A great ‘mini-conference’. Thanks for putting it on TTEdSIG. I look forward to future events like this!


  1. Rachel Tsateri says:

    Brilliant. 100 takeaways. Thanks for sharing, Jim!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you got some value out of it, Rachel!


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.