Exploring the importance of mentor relationships for teachers

Teach For Australia Thursday, December 10th, 2020

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 support, in addition to their Teaching and Leadership Adviser and Australian Catholic University Academic Mentor.

The School Mentor offers significant support to the Associate as they integrate into their new school environment, and play an important role in the development of the Associate. Selected by school principals, School Mentors observe Associates’ teaching, provide reflective feedback and collaborate with the Associate’s broader support network.

We spoke to School Mentor and English teacher Veronica Burke from Warwick Senior High School in Perth’s northern suburbs who is mentoring Cohort 2019 TFA Associate and music teacher Milly Bawski.

“Being a TFA Associate has been the most gruelling, challenging and mentally exhausting experience,” Milly said.

“When reflecting on the last two years, all I can say is ‘How did I do that?’. It has felt like an endless ‘to-do’ list that you have no choice but to meet the requirements, otherwise, your students or ACU will be right on your tail!”

“However, I did not prepare myself for how wonderful, hardworking and kind students could be … I’ve cried many times from watching my students achieve greatness.”

Veronica, who has been a mentor for both first and second-year Associates in 2019 and 2020, will continue her role in 2021.

“I have also worked with a TFA Associate in my own learning since 2016 and had previously done some mentoring with him in my role as Acting HOLA. Being a mentor has been a very positive experience and has also been challenging at times,” Veronica said.

“I understand a lot more now about how important positive mentoring is; (about) some of the principles underpinning good mentoring practice, adult learning principles, as well building greater understanding and knowledge of my own strengths and areas for growth.”

Veronica describes her mentoring relationship with Milly as incredibly positive and rewarding.

“Milly is a fantastic beginning teacher and an exemplary classroom practitioner, as well as being hardworking and professional. Our school is so lucky to have her on our staff. Milly has always been respectful of my experience. She has been open to advice, and willing to act on the advice I’ve offered her,” Veronica said.

“It’s also important to say that our working relationship – as mentor and mentee – has worked both ways: Milly has learnt things from me, but I too have also learnt so much from her about current teaching and learning practice and methodologies. I have enormous respect and admiration for Milly and other TFA Associates who leave what they know and what they are familiar with to start a new career and juggle learning being a beginning teacher with completing their Master of Teaching – and finding a balance between the two.”

“It’s hard to explain how extremely lucky I am to have Veronica as my mentor”, Milly said.

“I had expected our mentoring time to be more of a ‘tick the box’ checklist, but Veronica has gone above and beyond with the support she has given me. Our one-on-one mentoring time has been a significant consistent and structured part of this program over these two years, which really highlights how important having a mentor is.”

Milly said her mentor time with Veronica was utilised to highlight her strengths, develop her areas for growth and check-in on her well-being. Having a mentor outside of her learning area has also been crucial in helping Milly get out of her office and develop networks in the school, which has been fundamental to getting support from other teachers and for the music program in general.

“One of the most important things I’ve learnt about mentoring is the power of listening,” Veronica said.

“It’s their journey, not your own. Listening to what they’re saying and working out the needs of the Associate is vitally important. If I could add another thing I’ve learnt, it would be the importance of asking good questions.”

Both Veronica and Milly offer important advice for TFA community members, whether they are Incoming Associates or teachers at a TFA partner school.

Veronica said she would encourage all teachers to consider taking on a mentoring role: “ It’s important to remember that everybody has strengths and weaknesses and that we are all lifelong learners: this is one thing that all experienced teachers, beginning teachers and students have in common.”

Milly’s advice to TFA Associates in their first two years of teaching is to value their time with their mentor.

“Teachers are extremely time poor, so to have dedicated time with someone on staff who is there to support you with everything including school-based requirements like report comments, behaviour support, teaching and policy, as well as ACU assessments, was incredibly helpful.”

Learn more about TFA’s Mentor Development Program here

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