Professional learning: Improving mentoring skills

Research shows that outstanding teachers have a shared commitment to the improvement of teaching and an openness to critique by colleagues. In late 2019, the Association of Independent Schools New South Wales (AISNSW) held its annual teacher accreditation panel, aimed at reviewing applications from teachers applying for Experienced Teacher status. In today's article we speak to Luke Polson, a member of the 2019 accreditation panel, and Estelle Lewis, AISNSW Head of Teacher Accreditation, about why this is such a rich professional learning opportunity for the educators involved.

Educators across New South Wales converged on Sydney to take part in an accreditation panel aimed at assessing applications from their colleagues seeking recognition as Experienced Teachers.

The Association of Independent Schools NSW (AISNSW) held its annual teacher accreditation panel and more than 100 teachers took part in the process, reviewing applications from 260 of their peers. Experienced Teacher status is a more challenging level of accreditation in the state, beyond Proficient Teacher, that recognises teacher practice and increases their remuneration.

Besides the reviewing of applications, the panel is also an opportunity for teachers and school leaders to network with other educators across the state. Luke Polson, Assistant Director of Studies at The Armidale School in regional NSW, attained his Experienced Teacher status in 2018, so last year he decided to see the process from the other side.

Being a mentor to others

‘For me it was great to go to Sydney and see the process from the other side, and see the quality of the applicants and the evidence they submit,' he says.

Given his geographical location, Polson says it can be difficult to access high quality professional learning, so he jumped at the chance to be involved in this accreditation panel and see the range of evidence that was submitted.

The biggest takeaway, Polson says, was the fact the experience will make him a better mentor to other teachers who wish to undertake the process in the future. ‘I feel like I'm in a better position to guide others through to help them meet the standards they need to be meeting,' he tells Teacher.

The process involves spending three days in Sydney – the first of which focuses on completing training and developing understanding of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.

‘We go through the different types of evidence that [applicants] could submit from their own teaching practice and then how we make informed judgements about when you're meeting the standard or not meeting the standard,' Polson says.

Once the training is completed, the panel members are then assigned a range of different applications to review. The teachers work together through the applications to ensure that all the evidence has been thoroughly looked at.

Being recognised as an Experienced Teacher

Speaking from personal experience, Polson says he decided to undertake the process to seek recognition as an Experienced Teacher in 2018 because he wanted to reflect on his practice as an educator.

‘Sometimes teachers, we like to be in our own classrooms with our students by ourselves and it's hard, we're all very busy and it's difficult sometimes to get people to come in and give you feedback on how you're going,' he shares.

‘A process like this is a good opportunity to really reflect on all the facets of your professional life, because you submit evidence all the way through from your classroom practice to how you report, how you assess, through to how you're involved in the professional community and all of that.

‘So it's a good opportunity to stop and reflect on where you're at, what you're doing well and what areas that you perhaps identify that you need to work on. So that was one of the drivers for me to do the actual accreditation.'

Professional learning in action

AISNSW Head of Teacher Accreditation Estelle Lewis says teachers come from all over the state to be on the panel because they recognise it as exceptionally good professional learning in a number of different ways.

‘First of all, they become very familiar with our professional teaching standards and the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers which is very useful in their own school context,' Lewis tells Teacher.

‘The other thing is that they then also have an understanding of what quality evidence looks like. Evidence of practice – how do you demonstrate to somebody else about your practice? And that again is very useful. It supports teachers if they wish to apply for the higher levels of accreditation.'

Lewis says that educators also get the opportunity to look at ways their colleagues are implementing programs in their own classrooms. ‘The great thing about that is they learn some innovative practices, it can also assist them in reflecting on their own practice as well.'

According to Lewis, the panel also allows teachers across the state to network with each other.

‘We get country teachers talking with teachers from Sydney, from small schools, from very large schools – and so teachers sometimes feel that they are isolated in their schools … because they're so busy, but this is an opportunity to see how teaching and learning happens in a really wide range of contexts,' she says.

‘It becomes a very good networking opportunity, both a professional networking opportunity but also just getting to know your colleagues and exchanging ideas and contexts that are different to theirs.'

Giving back to the community

Supporting teachers going through this process in the future is important to Polson, who says it was valuable speaking to other educators on the panel about their approach to mentoring.

‘In talking to other people in similar roles, it was great for me to learn how they support their staff through it and the different models they use for either how to supervise them or how to manage the classroom observations. It was also great to hear what sort of frameworks other schools had in place for it.'

Polson says the experience was so rewarding for him in 2019, he'll definitely be putting his hand up to be involved in the process again this year.

‘When I did mine, I didn't quite realise the scale and the size of this panel that assembles to mark all the applications, and it's good to be going back and be giving back to that community, that has supported me through it previously,' he says.

‘So, there's the professional learning side of it, then there's the giving back to the community, and the education part of it as well. So there's definitely lots of things that would drive me to keep doing it and hopefully other people as well.'

Think about a professional learning experience you’ve recently taken part in. What did you take away from the experience? What are some skills you developed or topics you learned more about?

What are some of the personal qualities you look for in a mentor? How do you ensure you’re getting the most out of the relationship with your mentor?