This is a two-part blog-post about ‘mentoring’. This initial post arises from me attending the session at the March 14 2017 HEA Beyond Fellowship Conference for programme managers of accredited programmes. The second will be about how those experiences have been further informed by my completion of an online mentoring course aimed at mentors of trainee teachers and newly qualified ones against the Mentor standards (downloadable from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/initial-teacher-training-government-response-to-carter-review).
How mentoring was established at Swansea
SALT launched its internal accredited HEA Fellowship route for experienced staff in July 2015 and had a small, yet committed number of individuals applying for the first deadline in October 2015. We were advised to established mentors for these individuals which we quickly did for those that wanted them, allocating mentors on an individual basis. We’d looked at different models across the sector in the short period between scheme launch in July 2015 and application deadline in October 2015. Institutional approaches vary from “no mentor”, to “drop-in surgery type approach” (Imperial College – Huw Rees) to a structured programme of support (e.g. Alison Stewart at Nottingham Trent University).
We concluded with implementing a somewhat structured series of guidance for mentors to refer to based on NTU, and an allocation of mentors on an individual basis but as warned, with an increasing number applying to each of our 4 deadlines, this approach was not sustainable! While it does give consistency for the staff member developing their application to have a mentor, if they take a long time to put their application together, it effectively ties up that mentor to that individual leaving them unable to mentor anyone else and possible burnout. We commit to being flexible to the time available from our mentors and assessors, giving breaks each year. We also wanted to ensure more consistent support across mentors.
What are other institutions offering in terms of mentoring?
So, in September 2016, a more structured programme of writing support sessions and mentoring was introduced for HEA Fellowship applicants. At the HEA Beyond Fellowship conference I was therefore keen to find out how colleagues in other institutions were faring. How were they addressing mentoring?
Jackie Potter at Keele University presented the ways in which they support staff through their experienced and certificated routes to gain HEA Fellowship. Within the workshop, we identified that many institutions have some form of mentoring scheme to support colleagues in their application for Fellowship.
Apart from the requirement that all mentors must understand the UKPSF and are Fellows/Senior Fellows themselves, there’s a lot of variability between institutions about the things that mentors always did and never did including NOT assessing a mentee’s application and NOT promising that the Fellowship application will be successful for example.
For Jackie at Keele, they are reviewing the different approaches to mentoring, noting the variability, drawing on the strengths, ironing out variations and trying to align their policies for HEA Fellowship recognition, regardless of ‘route’. She also reported their aim of differentiating coaching and mentoring and is keen to further research the impact that mentoring has.
What did appear to be an important feature, reflected in Swansea’s approach, is that its vital to ensure that mentors are adequately knowledgeable about both the UKPSF and the institution’s specific application processes. Allowing staff to select their own mentors could lead to inaccurate guidance and variability in volume and quality of support.
Does mentoring have a demonstrable impact on success rates of recognition? This is not clear since there’s little research been conducted.
What was agreed is that effective mentors:
- Establish effective relationships but aren’t pushovers (‘Fair but Firm’ is how I’d describe it)
- Are good listeners and questioners
- Provide constructive criticisms/challenge
- And are non-judgmental and know their own limitations with regard to knowledge of the processes/UKPSF.
(These are similar to the personal qualities of Mentor Standard 1 in the Mentor standards in Teaching).
As part of the HEA Fellowship programme at Swansea, mentors are asked for their input into the mentoring arrangements at application deadlines. This, along with anecdotal evidence is used to keep a watching evaluative brief on striving to provide the best encouragement and support to our staff in gaining recognition of their teaching.
After submitting an application, staff too are asked for their input about the mentoring support they’ve received. We have rich data from applicants on things that have worked well for them. For many, its invaluable.
“My mentor was exceptional….wouldn’t have done it without her”
“Very positive and useful experience. It helped to have someone to support you in the process”
“I found my mentors advice to be excellent. I was fortunate to have a very experienced mentor – this was evidence in the advice that I received – and her comments and encouragement were really appreciated”
Are the revised arrangements at Swansea effective?
The ‘new’ arrangements at Swansea and still in their infancy with only 2 application deadlines passed since their introduction. So, its hard to judge if the group mentoring and more structured programme is effective. Anecdotally, it can be difficult to organise mentoring meetings, especially when group mentoring a number of individuals, and some staff do not always want to have a mentor, but just want some input into a draft of their application just before they are ready to submit. Would offering drop-ins be just as effective?
At Swansea, our approach to supporting mentors is I believe very good! The mentors themselves are all fabulous giving up their time to support their colleagues. College-based mentors provide a vital support mechanism for the many applications that the staff in SALT aren’t able to provide due to the volume of applications. So, its vital that we ensure that mentors are up to date and trained – all mentors have to be – and mentors can view the same information that applicants have as they are enrolled on the same Bb module for applicants.
But mentors can often work in ‘isolation’, not even knowing mentors who are supporting staff at the same time in the same College. And this is partly why this blog post has been written several weeks after the HEA Conference in March. Drawing on my recent participation in the online Sheffield Hallam MOOC on mentoring, where we covered assuring consistency and supporting the CPD of mentors as part of Mentor Standard 4: Self-development and working in partnership, I’m hoping to foster a more informal network of cross-College mentors which can support one another and also ensuring consistency, by possibly a Coffee and Cakes session, perhaps using a World Café Style event. Just have to fit it in with everyone’s busy schedule and hope they seem it as a beneficial rather than onerous activity. Better get good cakes then!
Can we link up with Keele to undertake further research on mentor impacts?
Mentoring or Coaching?
So, are our HEA Fellowship ‘mentors’ actually mentoring? Well, not really in my opinion. During my studies for the Mentor SHOOC course, the first thing we were exposed to were the definitions of mentors and coaches and Keele also note the importance of establishing the difference. Having also completed courses on coaching, I’ve concluded that really the ‘mentors’ for HEA Fellowship are in fact ‘coaching’ their colleagues for the specific task of understanding their practice of teaching and supporting learning, considering how this would be best evidenced in relation to the relevant Fellow category requirements and expressing this within the constraints of the relevant HEA Fellowship application form.
For more information:
About the HEA Beyond Fellowship Conference:
Check out the Twitter hashtag #HEABF2017.
Mentoring course at SHU: https://blogs.shu.ac.uk/mentorshooc/?doing_wp_cron=1493587434.6601769924163818359375 or Twitter: @mentorshooc hashtag #mentorshooc
Mentor Standards in Initial Teacher Training https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/536891/Mentor_standards_report_Final.pdf
Coaching or mentoring in HE
(In particular if you are interest in gaining experience for eligibility for Senior Fellowship of the HEA)
Staff Development Forum https://sdf.ac.uk/ and its monthly Tweetchats on Coaching @SDFACUK
Mentoring Standards Course for ITT and Relationship to the UKPSF – watch out for the next SALT blog post