High quality school-based mentoring was singled out for needing ‘much greater status and recognition’ in the Carter Review of initial teacher education in England, and development of national standards for mentors was recommended (DFE, 2015), and are now published (DFE, 2016).
Have we missed something?
If we use the definition of teacher educators as ‘all those who actively facilitate the (formal) learning of student-teachers and teachers’ (European Commission, 2013 p9), mentors are part of a wider profession of teacher educators. In England there is generally a lack of recognition by teachers, schools and policy makers of the term ‘teacher educator’ and of teacher educators as a professional group with a different identity and practice than teachers, drawing on a different professional knowledge and skills base (White et al., 2015; Smith, 2015). The challenge is for mentors to develop their identity as teacher educators and to benefit from being part of the wider community of teacher educators, both nationally and internationally, school-based and university-based, including researchers in the field (Lunenberg, 2015).
The experienced teacher who is mentoring a student-teacher in school is carrying out a complex dual role acting both as a teacher of pupils and a teacher of student-teachers. They may be carrying out a range of roles including an advocate for the student-teacher in school where involvement in teacher training can be seen as a diversion from the priority of immediate pupil attainment. They may also be a gatekeeper to the learning opportunities that the school can afford the student-teacher. Being recognised as part of the professional community of teacher educators can help mentors to have the confidence to articulate what effective practice is, and to explain the rationale behind it, drawing on educational research. Awareness of the multiple professional identities that mentors have as teachers and teacher educators is important ‘for the development of a coherent and sustainable system of professional learning for teacher educators‘ (European Commission, 2013 p29).
Owning the standards
Standards have been developed for teacher educators by the Association of Teacher Education in the United States and by the Association of Dutch Teacher Educators (VELON) in the Netherlands. These standards are owned by the teacher educator profession and are evolving with the changing landscape in which they work (Swennen, 2014). The national standards in England have been developed by teachers and teacher educators and are available for university and school-centred providers of initial teacher education to adopt. So the question now is how can they be used to give mentoring status and recognition?
Mentors will need to reflect on whether they can adopt the standards as their own. If engagement is within the context of supportive and challenging professional development, then these standards will provide a useful framework with which to examine their practice. The expectation is that the national standards should be used by providers to strengthen the quality of support that student-teachers receive.
This could be through:
- Guiding schools in selecting suitable mentors
- Supporting mentors to self-evaluate their work and identify their professional development needs
- Informing the professional learning opportunities provided for mentors
- Raising the profile of mentors through certification
This could enable mentoring to become part of a broader dialogue about teacher development. Our research, listening to the voices of school-based teacher educators provides evidence into the benefits and challenges of this role (White et al., 2015). Widespread adoption of the national standards is likely to lead to the more consistent quality of mentoring. Going forward it would be even better if we recognised teacher educators as a distinctive professional group from teachers, and mentors as school-based teacher educators who belong to this professional group, and that recognition included appreciation, certification, financial reward, job title and sufficient time being allocated for the role.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION 2013. Supporting Teacher Educators for better learning outcomes.
LUNENBERG, M. 2015. Teacher educators’ identity
SWENNEN, A. 2014. What can we learn from the shift towards a more school-centred
model in the Netherlands? In K. Jones & E. White (Eds.), Developing outstanding school-based
teacher education (pp. 56-63). Critical Publishing.
WHITE, E., DICKERSON, C. & WESTON, K. 2015. Developing an appreciation of what it means to be a school-based teacher educator. European Journal of Teacher Education, 38, 445-459.