What does a supportive mentoring relationship look like? Mentor Jay Brown and early career teacher Alisha Ibitoye lift the lid on their experience of working together through the Early Career Framework.
“My mentees get it – they get what teaching is about and they love the job.”
Jay is Assistant Head Teacher and Early Career Teachers induction mentor. One of his mentees is Alisha, a first-year early career teacher (ECT) on Ambition’s Early Career Teachers programme. Together, they’re working to improve the outcomes for pupils at Gorsefield Primary School in Manchester.
“We're both in this school for the same reason,” Jay says, “to give our children and adults the best opportunities.”
But what does this mentoring relationship look like in practice? And how do they support one another to be their very best in the classroom?
A good mentoring relationship
The transition from a trainee-teacher to an early career teacher was relatively smooth, Alisha says. “Obviously, it's a big step, but it's a step that's really rewarding and it becomes really empowering as you move through it.”
Key to Alisha’s positive experience was the support she received throughout her journey on the Early Career Teachers programme, which is underpinned by the Early Career Framework. The Early Career Framework is a two-year induction which sets out everything teachers need to know and do at the beginning of their careers to thrive in the classroom. Teachers on the framework are entitled to additional support and training throughout these two years. As part of this induction, Alisha receives ongoing support and feedback through regular sessions with her mentor, Jay.
Individual support in the form of mentoring is vital for the confidence and progression of teachers early in their career. In fact, in a recent Department for Education evaluation, 91% of early career teachers said that their mentor helped them to develop confidence in their teaching.
For Alisha, a good mentoring relationship is a about trust, honesty and the ability to accept and address feedback.
Starting out as a teacher can be intimidating, she says, but mentoring has given her the confidence to excel. “I think it's about trusting in yourself, that you do have the ability, but also trusting in the Early Career Framework and that your mentor is there to support you. And having the trust to tell them, I'm struggling with this, and I need support here.”
Building that support sets the foundation for a great relationship. Jay explains, “I think it sounds easy to overlook, but we get on, we work really well together, and we understand one another. I respect Alisha and the hard work she does, and she respects what I do.”
This mutual respect means that both Alisha and Jay are learning from the relationship. In fact, Jay says he often finds himself learning from Alisha and implementing parts of her practice in his own classroom.
“I like to think I impart knowledge to Alisha and our other early career teachers, but I get just as much knowledge, skills and experience back. They have a fresh way of looking at it, which it keeps me on my toes and keeps me on the top of my game as well.”
Thriving on the Early Career Framework
The Early Career Framework was rolled out nationally in 2021 to provide a standardised support package for all new teachers entering the classroom. But when Jay was starting out in teaching, there was no formal induction for teachers.
“During my ECT year, there wasn't the same commitment to CPD - the depth of learning and rigour just isn't the same as it is today with Ambition," he says. "I had to find out a lot of things the hard way or the long way around, which meant that I made a lot of mistakes."
Early career teachers now have a very different experience, Jay explains. As part of the Early Career Teachers programme, there is a logical progression of steps to improve teaching. Alisha can focus in on those areas within her teaching practice, planning and delivery – a process which Jay feels makes you a better teacher quicker.
Alisha agrees, “I think anyone who is coming into teaching now is lucky because it's such a supportive time. I feel I have tailored support for me.”
“I think Alisha is right,” Jay says. “Coming into teaching now, yes, there are lots of challenges, but you know that your ongoing development is taken care of, particularly if you're working with Ambition.”
The Early Career Framework isn’t only beneficial for early career teachers. For Jay, being a mentor is one of his favourite parts of being a teacher. “Teaching is brilliant working with children, but seeing your staff flourish. For me, it's just as important.”
“Our mission statement here at Gorsefield is to inspire and challenge all children and adults to excel and I really feel like working with Ambition, and as a mentor, has given me that opportunity.”
"Now is the perfect time for anyone to be coming into teaching"
Making coaching sessions work
Coaching sessions are key for supporting the development of early career teachers. For Alisha and Jay, the 45 minutes they spend together weekly is an opportunity to share feedback and to model ways of improving their practice.
The pair use Steplab – Ambition’s learning platform. Through the platform, Jay has access to support materials and can see what Alisha is studying too. He can also record any notes or feedback he has whilst observing Alisha’s lessons.
Jay sits in on Alisha’s lessons once a week. These observations are arranged a week in advance so that Alisha has opportunity to implement targets set in her coaching sessions.
Jay explains, “I take my iPad, open up Steplab and record my notes and targets during the lesson. Steplab is brilliant in its approach here - it's really clear, step-by-step and can be completed during the observation. Then, for the instructional coaching session, Steplab presents my feedback back to me to support the structure of the session.”
Each coaching session builds on Alisha’s learning from the Early Career Teachers programme. “What’s useful with the Ambition Early Career Teachers programme,” Jay says, “is that the modules are carefully sequenced. With instructional coaching built into Steplab, in terms of the workload on my side, it’s relatively minimal – I’ve just got to know what Alisha has studied previously.”
Impactful learning with instructional coaching
Instructional coaching has a strong evidence base as one of the best forms of continued professional development when measured against impact and pupil learning. Ambition’s Early Career Teachers programme uses instructional coaching as a key to how early career teachers learn on the framework.
Jay describes instructional coaching as a “freedom of error culture”. Early career teachers can take a target, and rehearse it in a low-stakes, safe setting: “We’re going to practise it, refine it and then you see it happen in the classroom.”
Alisha remembers a target she was set in her coaching session which helped improve the way she interacted with her pupils. She was asked to break down instructions to her pupils into three small steps, using limited words and her fingers to show these steps. Alisha explains that she was given the same target as another early career teacher in her school which enabled her to work collaboratively. She says, “I was able to feed back to my colleague what I think she did well and what she could even do even better, and she was able to do the same for me. That was really useful.”
“What's great with Alisha,” Jay adds, “is we focus on something the week before, but the next week it's embedded; it's there and it's part of her teaching practice, not just for observation.”
But according to Jay, the real magic happens outside of mentoring sessions: “It's often when I'm not sat for an observation, I'll be walking past and I'll hear that phrase or that approach being used and it works – I’ll be like, ‘yes, she’s got it’. They've not done it for me or for a show. They get it because it's part of their teaching practice and to improve the quality of education in their classroom.”