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Home > News > 2020 > July > The power of mentoring

The power of mentoring

Access to quality mentoring makes a significant difference for teachers in building their professional identity, particularly in the early years. Research has found quality mentoring helps to prevent attrition among early career teachers. 

Mt Maria College Petrie has had great success in recent years after investing in a quality mentoring program.

After being appointed as Principal in 2015, Michael Connolly was leading a growing college that was always looking for new staff.

“I had the idea to look at graduates and mentor them quite intensively in their first three years to not only support them, but to improve their pedagogy and practice in a very focused way,” Michael said.  

“The other thing that I had noticed is that we were losing very good practitioners into retirement and as a system we were losing 30-40 years of corporate knowledge and beliefs.”  

This prompted Michael to devise a program that harnessed the expertise of experienced staff and partnered them with a focus on coaching and mentoring of early career teachers.  

“The program not only looks at staff well-being, but behaviour management, pedagogy, and time management skills,” Michael said.   

When Michael moved on from Mt Maria College Petrie to become Principal at St Columban’s College, the mentoring program model followed with him. 

The program at St Columban’s began in 2019.

Coaching strategies key to success

Distinguishing it from many other school-based mentoring programs, the Mt Maria Petrie and St Columban’s program is coordinated by a lead teacher mentor and coach.

Michael developed the idea of having a dedicated mentor/coach on staff after being inspired by a workshop at the Australian Council for Education Leaders (ACEL) conference in 2015.

He appointed Terry O’Connor, who had then recently retired from a 41 year long teaching career in Catholic Education, to the role.

Terry took up the role Teacher Coach and Mentor at Mt Maria College Petrie in 2016, and now also delivers the program at St Columban’s College.

Terry said the program draws on best practice strategies to support teachers in advancing their careers.

“The best place for [mentoring] to happen is on site through group meetings, individual observations of up to 40 minutes and then one-on-one feedback which is data-informed,” Terry said.

The program also provides additional preparation, planning and correction time for early career teachers, as well as mentor support through observation and feedback.

Terry said mentoring within the program is never used as a judgement tool and instead acts as a supportive mechanism.

“This coaching and mentoring is not inspectorial but rather supportive [as] a professional dialogue between observer and teacher with the principal receiving written copies of the feedback,” Terry said.

Michael said the feedback sessions helped teachers devise strategies to improve their practice and to track progress towards their goals.

“The feedback looks at the positive aspects of a teacher’s delivery and areas for improvement,” Michael said.

“Terry works with the early career teachers on strategies that can be used into the future.  

“Each term Terry sits with each teacher and shows their progress and sets goals for their ongoing development. 

“The tracking is progressing and well documented so that the early career teachers can see how far they have progressed.”

Program creates wide-ranging benefits

Each year, the mentoring program supports approximately 50 teachers across Mt Maria Petrie and St Columban’s College, with hundreds of observation and feedback sessions held.

Michael said early career teachers benefitted from lifetime value in the program as they are supported to develop strong pedagogical and behavioural management practices.

“Most of the early career teachers have been very grateful for the support, have developed into great practitioners and have had much less stress in their first years,” Michael said. 

“One of the great things is that we have not had any early year teachers leave the profession which is quite different to the national statistics.” 

Michael said mentors have found great satisfaction in being involved with the program.

“With such a great depth of knowledge it allows sharing of best practice and being able to make a difference in the lives of early career teachers,” Michael said.

“With mentors and mentees working together, it allows for great collaboration, strategic planning, improved staff wellbeing and creates an open learning environment for early career teachers to feel safe seeking support and advice.”

Terry also said mentors and mentees had reported positive experiences with the program.

“[Mentees] receive lesson feedback after observations dependent on their needs at the time – be they pedagogical or behaviour management,” Terry said.

“Mentors find great satisfaction in drawing on their professional experience – be it in teaching, leadership or even work/life balance.

“[Mentors] hold significant senior leadership experience and want to impart their accrued wisdoms to benefit, to advance and progress teachers.

“…I believe that those who have progressed through Catholic Education have a great deal to offer in terms of professional experience and Catholic ethos,” Terry said.

Michael said the program has received financial support from Brisbane Catholic Education as mentoring is recognised as one of the system’s priority areas.

“Mentoring and coaching will continue into the future for all staff at St Columban’s College,” Michael said.

If you would like to know more about the Mt Maria College Petrie and St Columban’s College mentoring program, contact Terry O’Connor at tmoconnor@bne.catholic.edu.au

Image: St Columban's College early career teachers and mentoring program participants, pictured with Principal Michael Connolly (far right)

IEUA-QNT mentoring program

Research has shown early career teachers have varied mentoring experiences.

While well-structured and supportive mentoring programs like those at Mt Maria Petrie College and St Columban’s have been very successful, some schools do not focus as strongly on formal mentoring arrangements.

In these cases, many early career teachers feel unsupported during their crucial formative years in the profession.

Our union coordinates a mentoring program for teacher members in their first five years to support those who do not have access to quality mentoring in the workplace or are seeking an additional layer of mentoring in their professional journey.

Now in its second year, the program pairs experienced teacher mentors with early career teacher mentees and provides meeting facilities throughout the school year.

To find out more about our union’s mentoring program or to express your interest in participating, please contact Adele Schmidt via aschmidt@qieu.asn.au or 1800 177 938.


Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.