Leadership Development Program

School mentors key to unlocking Associate expertise

Monday, February 5th, 2024

“A big part of why I think TFA is head and shoulders above other programs is the support you get.”

Eliza Kramer, Cohort 2021 Alumna, said one of the standout features of Teach For Australia’s employment-based pathway is the one-on-one coaching and mentoring provided during the two-year program.

Each Leadership Development Program Associate has a dedicated TFA Teaching and Leadership Coach, an Australian Catholic University (ACU) Academic Mentor, and an in-school mentor to accelerate their development while teaching in the classroom and studying their Masters.

“You have three different support people who are with you for the entire two years and have nothing but your best interests at heart. They became not just mentors, but friends and really trusted people in those two years – people I still talk to today,” Eliza said.

From mentee to in-school mentor

In some cases, the in-school mentors are also TFA Alumni themselves – which gives them a unique understanding of the Associate experience.

That includes Sonia Loudon and Rachelle Cole, who are both Alumnae of TFA’s Cohort 2013 and mentor Associates at Elevation Secondary College in Craigieburn, Victoria.

Sonia is now an Assistant Principal at the school and said she became a mentor to “pay it forward”.

“The in-school mentor I had when I was an Associate was brilliant – she made me a much better teacher and still mentors me to this day,” Sonia said.

“Even though we are years apart, there is so much of the experience that we can relate to, and I hope we’re able to provide much more value to the mentee because we’ve been through the program before.”

Award-winning Associate

Sonia and Rachelle both mentored Cohort 2022 Alumna, Alice Hu, who was placed at Elevation Secondary College, a government secondary school in Craigieburn, Victoria to teach Mathematics during the program.

Within those two years, supported by her mentors, Alice quickly became an award-winning teacher – receiving an Outstanding Early Career Secondary Teacher Award from the Victorian Government – and helped her students achieve significant learning outcomes.

One of Alice’s students took out the National Maths Talent Quest, another was best in school for the Australian maths competition, and another advanced three years in Maths Pathway in just one year.

Sonia mentored Alice in her first year of TFA’s program and said she was already a strong teacher with a deep knowledge and passion for Mathematics – but one thing they worked on together was the fact that not all students were as “inherently fascinated by, and motivated to learn maths” as she was.

“We looked at sharing a sense of achievement but also urgency and accountability in the class to get her students engaged and invested. We also worked on creating a culture where everyone in the class is participating, everyone has a role to play, and everyone is expected to give their best,” Sonia said.

Alice said Sonia’s mentoring helped her to put learning at the forefront of all her conversations with students.

“I had to really diversify my measure of what success looked like in maths. Instead of ‘did you get an A?’ it was ‘did you attempt the question?’ – encouraging those positive behaviours,” Alice said.

Second-year focus shift

Alice was mentored by Rachelle in her second year of the program, with added focus on developing her leadership skills.

“Alice took on a leadership role in the planning team, so we talked a lot about running a team and how to do that effectively,” Rachelle said.

“Alice is very ambitious and so hard-working, and commitment and improvement focused, which is incredible and inspiring to see. A lot of our conversations were about deciding on priorities and what you can control to ensure the profession is sustainable for Alice in the long-term.”

This shift in focus “tracks the journey you take in the Leadership Development Program”, according to Sonia.

“What we were working on in the first year is getting pretty good at teaching – and you work on that forever – I’m still trying to be a better teacher,” Sonia said.

“Going into the second year, the focus often shifts to taking on leadership and fostering some of the ideas you have. Mentors help you figure our your priorities and next steps and put them into action.”

Mentoring is ‘invaluable’

Alice said she would have been “a fish out of water” without the support of her mentors at Elevation Secondary College.

“When you come into the program and you have the cognitive overload from just managing 25 students at once, the mentor structure is invaluable because it helps you to focus and understand what parts of your expertise can fit into what parts of the school to improve outcomes for students,” she said.

Sonia said Alice had brought “something different and special” to the school and her students.

“You go in as an Associate not really knowing anything about schools, but because of the way TFA selects associates, they bring some really fantastic ideas and really important new perspectives,” she said. “Alice’s first-hand experience of studying Mathematics at University, and what it took to get her there, has shaped the way she talks about the subject with her students. It’s also led to changes in our curriculum and acceleration programs.

“Each Associate comes with something to offer – but we have got to bring them the right situation, support, context and voice to be able to contribute that. Good mentors realise that you have to hear and harness the perspective of individual Associates because they can see things about your school and your students that you might not be able to.”

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