Teaching takes practice – and excellent mentors

August 24, 2017 12:28 pm

Sophia D’Ambra is our Recruitment and Advocacy Manager for New South Wales, and an Alumna of the Leadership Development Program. In this post, she reflects on the importance of mentors and learning from your mistakes.

I applied for the Leadership and Development program because I thought it was a unique opportunity to be a part of an organistaion which exists to help close the education gap in Australia. In hindsight, I had a very superficial understanding of the complexity and prevalence of educational disadvantage.

It wasn’t until I started the Leadership Program that I realised that access to an excellent education it is not a universal right for all children in Australia. Once I realised this, my desire to become an effective teacher increased. However desire alone will not make you an effective teacher.

Teaching is complicated and multifaceted, it must be practised and reflected upon in order to be mastered. Like any such skill, mentors and on the job training are integral to success.

I recently attended a panel led by Peter Goss, School Education Program Director for the Grattan Institute about creating more engaging classrooms for students. Sixth-year teacher and panellist Amiee White reflected on the necessity of mentors and the time for observation, feedback, collaboration and reflection in order to grow as a teacher. “No teacher comes in as an outstanding teacher,” was the panel’s message.

Goss’ most recent report reinforces this idea stating that induction programs “for all beginning teachers,” should be strengthened and “led by expert mentors.” Regular opportunities need to be provided for teachers to give and receive feedback on how to improve classroom climate for learning.1

As an Associate of the Leadership Development Program, I had access to multiple mentors, all of whom were expert teachers themselves. I was observed, provided with feedback and had fortnightly reflection meetings with my in-school mentor, my Teaching and Leadership Advisor and a University Clinical Specialist. Their trained eyes could identify my areas of development in a way that I never could as a beginning teacher. For example:

  • I needed to learn to be myself an authentic in the classroom. This was something I struggled with in my first year of teaching.
  • Two girls were spending a significant amount of time putting makeup on in class – my focus must have been elsewhere that lesson because I didn’t notice.
  • After an observation in my first year, my clinical specialist provided me with a record of every individual student’s actions for the duration and my interactions with every student. I was surprised to see there were some students with whom I didn’t interact for the entire lesson.

These reflections acted as a catalyst and with the help of my mentors, I started to build my skills in observing, monitoring and influencing the actions and interactions of every student in every lesson. (When you teach economics in a woodwork room full of exciting drills due to the limited supply of classrooms, this is a difficult task!)

Being open to feedback and learning from your mistakes are a key part of Teach For Australia’s Leadership Development Program. The ability to learn from self-reflection is even a core competency for our Associates: if I was not open to learning from my mistakes in the classroom, which can certainly be painful at times, improvement would not have been possible.

If you are someone who seeks opportunities to challenge yourself, learn from others and reflect on your performance with humility – what impact could you have in the Leadership Development Program?

1 https://grattan.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Engaging-students-creating-classrooms-that-improve-learning.pdf