Over the years I have stressed time and again the importance of hiring procedures in order to create a functional teaching team which can ensure the longevity of the school and the efficacy of the work produced. The role of the school owner in this endevour cannot be stressed enough as s/he is usually the person on whose vision the school is based and the one who actually makes the executive decision to implement procedures. Therefore, three basic elements are needed to build a dynamic school: an owner who thinks both as a teacher and a manager, a functional and well-balanced team and individuals who comprise this team and are true professionals.
As teams are not self-sustaining systems, they need strong leadership. The FLS school owner, as the coordinator of this team, needs to take on the part of the mentor to ensure that the members of the teaching staff progress as professionals, otherwise the school itself is not going to progress. Therefore mentoring, daunting as it may seem, is beneficial for all the three elements mentioned above.
Mentoring teachers is interwoven with the way the school views hiring and induction. It is mostly needed when novice teachers are employed but we should bear in mind the need for guidance and mentoring does not grow weaker as teachers become more experienced or reach visible pinnacles in their career. As teachers spend more and more years teaching, it becomes easier for them to find a niche and never move from there, which might lead to boredom, emotional de-investment and burn out.
In this article we will focus on the three basic functions of mentoring, though this list is not exhaustive. In the following article we will discuss why teams tend to malfunction, while in May we will examine the induction of novice teachers.
Three functions of mentoring the teaching team
1) Helping teachers to understand the potential they have and inspire them to realise it.
Many teachers feel that once they graduate from university and get a job, they have reached the culmination of their career. The upshot of this is that they do not take their own Continuous Professional Development seriously enough and stop considering the ever-changing variables of employability of a market that is becoming more and more diversified. Teachers who think in this way tend to take their position in the school for granted, do not realise what they can really accomplish if they try and seem to lack enthusiasm and curiosity to try out new approaches and ideas. For example, there are teachers who are afraid to adopt truly learner-centred teaching. The reason for that is that it is time-consuming and unless carefully planned, chaotic. To avoid this, they tend to emulate what they already know and have experienced themselves. In order for teachers to manage to make the transition from the known and safe, they need some ‘’group-work’’ of their own and a very strong leader who will inspire them to work in teams to learn from each other, encourage them to present their own ideas and then observe how they apply them in order to take feedback notes.
2) Highlighting what needs improvement
Giving feedback to teachers is never easy; much like it is never easy to tell a hard-working learner that his latest essay was below par. It is amazing, though, how skillful we become over the years in doing the latter while most of us never quite master the former skill. Perhaps, we feel that giving feedback to learners is part of our job whereas giving feedback to teachers is not. I beg to differ. In a strong and well-bonded teaching team there should be room for unbiased and amicable feedback both between the owner and the teachers as well as between the teachers themselves. If there is no room for such communication, then there is no teaching team, just individual ships sailing disconnected in the ocean.
Giving teachers feedback can take a variety of forms. From listening to their own self-appraisal and discussing its most interesting aspects to discussing the teachers’ work portfolio and how it has progressed over the current academic year to personal interviews on topics which the owner and the teacher can decide together based on their needs, personal communication with individual teachers can never fail to work for the benefit of the school. These personal interviews are an eye-opener for the owner in terms of the real training needs of the staff and also a true indicator of the exact contribution of each teacher to the success of the school. These interviews also allow teachers to show what they have accomplished, seek advice and set goals. The bottom line is that the more often school owners have such meetings with teachers, the better they can identify the strengths and weaknesses of each teacher in order to help them either realise that potential or support them to overcome what holds them back from progressing in their career.
3) Getting teachers out of their comfort zone.
A usual ‘’trend’’ in FLS is to label teachers like actors used to be labeled depending on the roles they played in the old Greek movies. The problem with labeling is that it leads to lack of development and stagnation. Teachers should try out teaching different levels, different skills and different age groups. Admittedly, age groups might be related to the teacher’s character or personality but the rest are not. The reason why some teachers get used to teaching only junior classes is because they do not trust themselves to go further up the ladder and the reason they do not trust themselves is that there is no mentoring system in place. The same can happen to teachers who teach exam classes and think that it is ‘’beneath’’ them to teach ‘’the little ones’’ or ‘’those easy classes’’ which are actually the hotbed of healthy learning attitudes. We should at some point do away with this fallacy and encourage teachers to explore teaching in its entirety. Then, after many years of exploring they can decide what they want to teach and what does not suit their teaching style.
Characteristics of a successful mentor
Despite its many positive aspects, mentoring can backfire. It is only too easy for an enthusiastic school owner to devise such a strict mentoring system that it almost borders on micro-management or bullying. First of all mentoring should be offered, not imposed. Secondly, it does not mean checking teachers’ every single lesson plan or overseeing every contribution teachers make. Finally, successful mentoring, much like successful teaching, should be geared towards maintaining teacher motivation, not killing it. When mentoring, school owners need to be patient, fair, unbiased, accepting, well-meaning and practical.
At the end of the day, teachers do not follow what the owner preaches but what s/he practises. School owners who care about their own CPD, like to get out of their comfort zone and try out new things, admit to their shortcomings and invite teachers to their classes not knowing if the lesson will be a success or not, are more likely to be inspiring mentors and role models than those who talk big but act small.
Maria Sachpazian BA education / RSA dip/tefl (hons) is the Academic and Managing Director of Input on Education a company which provides academic, business support and consultancy to Foreign Language Schools. She is also an educational management specialist who has worked as a teacher trainer and materials’ developer. Maria works as an EFL teacher at the Straight Up Markoyannopoulou schools