Research
3 July 2019

The importance of mentoring and leadership training

by Luisa Russo (Evaluation & Impact Adviser)

A recently-released report from the OECD explores how teachers acquire knowledge and skills related to teaching practices and apply them in the classroom.

In June, the OECD released the results of their 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), the largest international survey designed to evaluate the state of the teaching profession. The accompanying report, “Teachers and School Leaders as Lifelong Learners” explores how teachers acquire knowledge and skills related to teaching practices and apply them in the classroom.

Conducted every five years, the survey asks teachers and principals about their working conditions and learning environments. The 2018 survey collected data from approximately 260,000 teachers in 15,000 schools across 48 countries and economies.

Two key findings highlighted in the TALIS results include the low mentoring rates for new teachers, and lack of leadership training for principals.

Finding 1: Low rates of new teachers receive mentoring

The 2018 TALIS survey found that principals across the OECD consider mentoring to be a key element for developing teachers and improving student outcomes. However, in Australia, only 37% of novice teachers (with up to 5 years’ experience) have a mentor. Although higher than the OECD average of 22%, this still means that 6 out of 10 new teachers do not have a mentor.

Mentoring helps to nurture early-career teachers in the beginning stages of their professional growth. Research has consistently found that new teachers experience a range of benefits from quality mentoring relationships, including emotional support, increased confidence, improved self-reflection, problem-solving capabilities and the development of classroom management practices and norms[1].

Students gain up to five months of additional learning when new teachers receive high quality mentoring[2], and these benefits provide a strong foundation for mentees to begin growing as teachers and to become increasingly effective in the classroom. The relationship is mutually beneficial, with mentors also reporting benefits to their own professional development and learning[3].

Teach For Australia believes coaching and mentoring to be one of the most significant tools for early teacher training. As part of the Leadership Development Program, Teach For Australia Partner Schools commit to providing each Associate with a School Mentor as on-the-ground contextual support, complementing their Teaching and Leadership Adviser and ACU Academic Mentor.

The School Mentor is an important part of ensuring the development and effectiveness of Associates, offering significant support as they integrate into their new school environment. Selected by school principals, School Mentors observe Associate teaching, provide reflective feedback and collaborate with the Associate’s broader support network.

School Mentors benefit from a training program to ensure that effective mentoring practices are developed. Designed to build best-practice skills and knowledge for effective mentoring, the Mentor Development Program supports mentor teachers’ professional growth through in-person training, online learning modules, regional professional learning communities and collaborative practice.

“I feel empowered to be an effective mentor after the training. The training was fun, relevant and effectively delivered. I hope to spread some of the learning among all teachers at my school.”
– School Mentor to Cohort 2019 Associate

“As an experienced leader I was confident about mentoring and coaching overall but the last two days have been outstanding in providing me with some really specific and useful frameworks, approaches and strategies to support our 2019 associate but more generally all staff I work with.”
– 
School Mentor to Cohort 2019 Associate

Two-thirds of the principals at our partner schools find the Mentor Development program to be a value add to partnering with TFA. Furthermore, principals from just under half of our partner schools report that due to their partnership with TFA, the practice of providing mentors for early career teachers has increased.

Finding 2: Lack of leadership training for principals

Only 43% of Australian principals reported undertaking any formal training in instructional leadership before they commenced their role as principal, which is significantly less than the OECD average of 54%.

In their Teacher’s Guide to TALIS, the OECD highlighted the importance of providing better training for school leaders: “There is considerable room for improving the preparation and training of school leaders, and by implication their professionalism. Pre-service programmes and professional development activities can focus on, for example, developing school leaders’ abilities to cultivate a shared vision and shared practices among school staff, shape improvements in instruction, develop organisational capacity and manage change.”

Teach for Australia provides targeted professional development to middle-career teachers with leadership potential, directly addressing this need for high quality leadership training. The Teach To Lead (TTL) program seeks to build emerging leaders’ skillsets, mindsets and self-efficacy and support their ambitions to lead the long-term improvement of schools in challenging contexts.

TTL encompasses targeted workshops, the community of a peer cohort, and the personal support of a coach in order to develop leadership and management skills that drive student achievement. TTL participants, called “Fellows”, put these skills immediately into practice, applying their learnings on the job. Throughout the program, Fellows learn how to:

  • build a high-performing team, working towards a shared vision,
  • lead sustainable change,
  • communicate expectations and hold colleagues to account,
  • observe teachers and deliver quality feedback, to support practice improvement,
  • develop a strategic plan,
  • use data to drive goal-setting, planning and action,
  • coach individuals to develop,
  • design and deliver high-impact professional development for teachers,
  • lead challenging conversations,
  • boost self-awareness and
  • build personal resilience.

The program is designed to build the skills that matter most in schools facing the greatest challenges. By building these fundamental skills, TTL aims to influence and effect real change in schools that need the strongest leaders.

“It is by far the most valuable professional development I have ever participated in. We are so well supported and the course content is relevant to middle leadership roles. It also provides an incredible network of people in varying roles and situations to share and draw on for ideas and inspiration.”
– Teach To Lead Fellow, Cohort 2018

“It has had such a significant impact on how I lead. My confidence and expertise in my role has grown so much as a result of such intense and sustained training.”
Teach To Lead Fellows, Cohort 2018

The program, although only launched in 2016, is already realising positive outcomes. Two-thirds of TTL alumni have achieved promotions in schools serving low SES communities, with a quarter now working in principal class positions.


[1] Hobson, A. J., Ashby, P., Malderez, A., & Tomlinson, P. D. (2009). Mentoring beginning teachers: What we know and what we don’t. Teaching and teacher education, 25(1), 207-216

[2] New Teacher Center (July 2017). Retrieved from https://newteachercenter.org/

[3] Lopez-Real, R., Kwan, T. (2005). Mentors’ perceptions of their roles in mentoring student teachers.