‘Instructional coaching is the new mentoring’ with the Early Career Framework


Kathryn Darwin, Lead Teacher and self-proclaimed “massive teaching and learning geek” at Delta Manor Croft Academy, was a mentor with Ambition’s early roll-out of the Early Career Teachers programme. Here, she tells us about the benefits of an instructional coaching approach using granular, evidence-based insights.

Kathryn Darwin

Kathryn Darwin

Lead teacher, Delta Manor Croft Academy

A new mentoring mindset
Mentoring is changing. It's not just checking that your early career teacher is okay; it's about helping them improve. While welfare remains crucially important, instructional coaching is becoming increasingly recognised as a powerful tool for helping new teachers to get better at their job. Now a highly-experienced mentor, Kathryn is one teacher who didn’t have such a well-supported start to her career:

"When I was new to teaching, no one ever really showed me what ‘good’ looked like, except for saying, “Go and observe”. Development meant being told, “improve your questioning”. That was no way near specific enough.

"Showing what ‘good’ looks like is much more than just talking about it. It’s what we do with the kids; why would we not do it with a novice teacher?"

Ambition’s early roll-out of the Early Career Teachers programme offered Manor Croft a carefully sequenced curriculum with a strong focus on instructional coaching. This put mentors like Kathryn into the role of expert, working alongside a junior colleague and helping them to identify points for improvement. Under an instructional coaching approach, these improvement points are tackled one at a time, so that learners are not overwhelmed with too much information or demoralised by the scope of the task. As Kathryn puts it:

"I’m so pleased that Ambition’s programme is much more granular, with a view to bit by bit improvement. I might say to my early career teacher, 'Think about misconceptions. How are you going to use those misconceptions? How are you going to plan for those misconceptions?'"

Granular is good
Having a singular, clear point to work on means development is attainable. As a result, it changes the way mentors and mentees feel about targets, because granular targets can be accomplished in shorter time scales, building progress that creates a sense of achievement. Granular improvements can also be measured more easily than larger or more vague targets. This helps both the mentor and the mentee, as Kathryn notes:

"When working with my mentee, I’m not looking at everything that's happening and coming up with a random target. I’m focusing on something really specific. It has totally changed the way I watch him teach as well, because I go in knowing exactly what he’s working on, such as behaviour. He is really clear on what ‘good’ looks like now, in comparison to where I was at that stage of my career."

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Evidence made easy
There is now a significant evidence base to show that instructional coaching has a substantial impact on teacher development. The teacher can improve their practice straight away because their mentor provides feedback that is specific and action-based.

Kathryn found isolating a single element of teaching to focus on each week much easier because of the Steplab platform. Steplab provides the latest research in manageable chunks that match the weekly targets or topics for development. The sequencing of topics and the bite-sized snippets of research have both proven extremely useful for Kathryn in developing her mentee:

"We discuss questions like, “How does this research impact what you do in this area? What's your target this week? Does Rosenshine impact that?” It has been very, very clear that my new teacher is engaging with research at a much earlier stage in their career than I did.

"I don't need to dredge up an anecdote about how useful this method or technique has been for me – there is actual research by about six different people readily available. And then next week’s topic builds on that, so we're progressing all the time."

Not all give, give, give
Engaging with the latest research has naturally provided Kathryn with the opportunity for professional development as well. The way we design programmes at Ambition places equal importance on what mentors learn as to what their junior colleagues learn. As a self-confessed “teaching and learning geek” with “far too many teaching books to get through”, Kathryn enjoyed the opportunity of further development and found the regular research input from Steplab benefitted her as much as her mentee.

"I have found new insights into my own teaching practice through mentoring as part of Ambition’s programme – it has allowed me to geek out even more!"

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School-wide impact
Manor Croft is a school which has built an interest in research into its culture, and Kathryn was pleased that the Early Career Teachers programme fed into this approach from day one. During the early roll-out, new teachers received research insights bit by bit, in manageable chunks, from the very start of their induction into the profession.

"A lot of our learning cycle is based on things like principles of memory. Our early career teachers could see straight away why our kids are better at remembering things than the pupils down the road, and why their contacts from ITT may have been finding it harder than they were. It is because they’re part of the early roll-out of the Early Career Framework, rooted in research."

Seeing evidence put into action opened up teaching and learning conversations across school as well. “It is not just impacting the mentors and early career teachers, but actually impacting school culture,” Kathryn says. “It's my big dream to have more coaching partnerships or even coaching groups across school.”

New direction for new teachers – and their colleagues
Involvement in the early roll-out of Early Career Teachers has been exciting for Kathryn, because she’s worked with a lot of trainees under different providers across the past couple of years.

"On the different programmes I’ve been a part of, it has not always been clear as to what new teachers really needed. Once they reached the end of the NQT year, new teachers are often a bit rudderless without knowing how to develop their teaching further. This was certainly how I felt at that stage. I thought, “Oh well, am I done now? No one is going to help me anymore.”

"The Early Career Framework and Ambition’s Early Career Teachers programme bridges that gap because we're still supporting our new colleagues, but doing it in a way that evolves with them. And having that direction for us is nice. It has created opportunities to develop other staff around it, with the benefits of mentor training and easy access to research being felt elsewhere.

"I think that's very different from what has happened before."


If you’d like an overview of what the Early Career Framework is, read the explainer article on our blog.

Early Career Teachers

Find out more about our new DfE-funded programme for early career teachers.

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