Educational Leadership - Mentorship in Early Childhood
As early childhood educators we work in a sector that is under appreciated and underpaid. This is why the latest studies show that 1 in 5 educators plan to leave their job in the next 12 months. We lose quality educators every day because this is a sector with high expectations and little monetary reward. As leaders in the sector we have an obligation to advocate for recognition. However there are also techniques we can implement in our service to keep our educators engaged and inspired. One of the ways we can do this is through providing a strong mentorship program. Leadership in early childhood education, in order to be truely effective, must go hand in hand with mentorship. In an industry that constantly evolves with new research and trends, we must ensure we are sustaining the interest and passion of those educators around us.
Mentorship, when implemented consistently and effectively, can be integral to providing quality early childhood care and education. It is a way of keeping the team informed and engaged in their own professional development and can assist in alleviating the fear associated with change. But how? How do we drive a strong mentorship system and how will this lead to the aforementioned benefits?
The first step to establishing an effective mentorship system is ensuring all educators chose the right mentor for them. There is an inclination as a leader to mentor everyone in the service yourself, but this simply isn’t viable (unless you never need to sleep!). Additionally, it really isn’t the most effective way because, no matter how inspiring a leader you are, you won’t be the right mentor for everyone. Choosing a mentor should be indicative of what you want to achieve with your mentorship system. If keeping everyone on the same page and well informed is your solitary goal then mentoring every educator as the NS/EL might work for you. But if your goal is also to keep every educator inspired and empowered then I would suggest allowing them to choose a mentor themselves. I would encourage them to choose someone who is inspiring to them - someone they enjoy bouncing ideas around with, but also someone with more experience/higher qualifications. This ensures the educators stay engaged while their professional development is being scaffolded.
Once educators have chosen an appropriate mentor it is a good idea to create a mentorship file for them. Documenting the mentorship process is important. Firstly, it allows you to demonstrate your quality staffing arrangements and governance technique throughout assessment and rating. But more significantly, it allows mentors and mentees to revisit their learning sessions and link learning to professional goals and appraisals. As an NS/EL I organised all these items together to create a mentorship file. So each educator would document their mentorship meetings (a simple explanation of what was discussed) and with this the mentor would set some follow up actions. These follow up actions linked directly to the educator professional goals (a document they filled out upon their initial employment) which their mentor would help them to achieve. This process, and how mentors and mentees participated in the process was reflected in their appraisals. I would also add their professional development attendance and certificates, essentially creating a personal professional growth file for each educator.
Once a strong mentorship system like this exists and is being contributed to on a regular basis, as educators we become more naturally engaged in our own professional learning. This encourages us to further our knowledge and motivates our innate passions which brought us to work in the early childhood sector in the first place. Mentorship like this also places emphasis on the importance of the role, and thus promotes a more professional attitude and atmosphere in the early childhood service. It is important to remember that this is a collaborative process and mentors will also learn from, and be inspired by, their mentees. It works both ways, particularly after a long standing mentor relationship. My own mentor, who I met 11 years ago, is still my ‘go to’ person whenever I have an issue or question I can not resolve alone. And she to comes to me in the same way. None of us should be alone in this sector - every educator needs other educators. Collaboration is one of the strongest tools at our disposal and a mentorship system is a fantastic way to encourage collaboration.
To Amanda…. Thank you for being such an inspirational mentor all these years. And to all my mentees - I only hope I can do the same for you.