Support for new teachers
In this article, lead educator, Ellie Overland, explores some of the different people who can help newly qualified teachers on their journey.
In most schools or educational settings you will be allocated a mentor. Their role is clear, to provide ongoing support throughout the year. The formal support will involve regular meetings, opportunities to discuss challenges and observation. This relationship is important and, in most settings, is part of your entitlement as a new teacher. You will also have a slightly reduced timetable, particularly to allow time for meetings with mentors and ongoing CPD you can engage with as part of your development. Mentors are usually highly experienced staff and have an interest themselves in staff development and will enjoy working with you on your journey. Early on it is useful to discuss arrangements for your support, some mentors are more busy so you need to wait until scheduled meetings to discuss issues. Other mentors may be more available and happier to discuss issues whenever they occur.
Another formal relationship is with your line manager. Your line manager may also be your mentor but it can be beneficial for them to be different people. Your line manager, whilst also providing support, has a more managerial role around accountability. The best relationships with mentors are open and honest and some new teachers can feel more guarded when talking to their line manager. When you identify your targets and CPD needs these could be with either your mentor or your line manager. When you first start working with your mentor and line manager make sure you are clear who is the correct person to speak to about different questions or challenges. The more open and honest you can be with your mentor the more they can provide appropriate support.
Away from the formalised relationships, you will work with many colleagues in school. It can feel quite daunting when you first begin as you feel everyone has more experience and is more knowledgeable. The first thing to remember is that they were all new teachers once too! Experienced teachers are always happy to support less experienced members of staff. Also please remember it is not a one-way relationship. Over the years I have pinched some of my best activities from newly qualified teachers and Headteachers always feel new teachers bring an added energy and new ideas to their staff.
Meeting colleagues can be quite difficult if you are in a small department or key stage group. If there is a staff room make use of it, even if it feels a little terrifying to start with, you will soon start chatting. Also take advantage of any social events organised early on. Many schools will organise a social event early in the academic year to welcome new staff. It can also be useful to join a working group or CPD events. This may give you opportunity to work with colleagues in other areas of the schools that you may not have met under other circumstances.
Observation is also a useful process to engage with. Visiting other classrooms and engaging in professional dialogue is a great way to get away from your own teaching area. It also allows you to see different approaches to practice that you may not see if just working with your mentor or immediate colleagues. Ask your mentor to introduce you to colleagues who may have strengths in a particular area to help focus your observations and link them to your targets.
It can feel quite difficult to adjust to working with support staff as a new teacher. Directing Teaching Assistants can feel particularly alien, especially if they are highly experienced. Again, open and honest conversations are key. You need to direct support staff within your own classroom to ensure effective practice. If you feel they have more experience, particularly with specific groups of pupils, then make use of their expertise. They are great people to ask for advice. Also see working with them as a two-way conversation so you can discuss strategies.
Remember that there are support staff available in different areas of the school, from receptionists, to cleaning to catering staff and technical support. All these people are great allies and will help you whenever they can. A smile and a friendly chat is a great start to building relationships across the school.
On my first day as a newly qualified teacher, I remember sitting in a whole school INSET session in the hall. There was a big presentation on the data, the results analysis from the summer and the targets for the year ahead. I think I probably understood less than half of what was said, and it was the first of many moments where my confidence was dented. As we got to the coffee break, the teacher next to me turned around and said “don’t worry, I didn’t understand a word of it either “. Whilst being an opportunity to make a new friend, it was not a great start to my year. Data covers a multitude of aspects of your teaching and it is important to ask if you do not understand.
Who the data manager is in your school, depends on the size of your educational setting. In some schools, there is a data manger whose main role is to manage data, collating it and disseminating it. In some schools it is a member of the teaching or support staff who has data as part of a wider role. It is useful for you to find out who the data manger is and their availability. Often data managers may put on CPD sessions specifically for newly qualified teachers. It is essential that you attend these, and bring some data for your own pupils with you to these CPD sessions so that you can ask specific questions.
As a student teacher, you may never have had access to the full data set for your pupils. Data can be one of the most daunting aspects of adjusting to the greater level of responsibility as a newly qualified teacher. Acronyms and data collected can vary widely from school to school. As a new teacher, you will now be accountable for the progress and data of your pupils. To do this effectively, you need to know what the data means and what sort of data you need to collect yourself. The data manager can really support this understanding and are usually happy to help.
You are probably still in touch with your peers from teacher training. They are a great lifeline during your early career. You may not see them as often now but online contact can be a great source of support, from sharing ideas to having someone who is going through similar challenges to yourself. You can also use social media to find other support groups for new teachers. These can be equally supportive.
A note of caution here is to be careful about online discussions. Although they are a great source of support, do be careful not to disclose information about colleagues and pupils. Also, if you need to vent or complain, do not do this in an open forum or a large group – it is highly unprofessional. Keep these conversations private and only with people you trust.
The teaching unions can be a great source of support for newly qualified teachers. The union reps in school will probably introduce themselves. Membership of a union will provide access to information for newly qualified teachers and advice and support whenever you need it. Some unions will hold social events early in the academic year and these are a useful way to meet other new teachers.