My Experiments with Mentoring

(I recently did a 5-week online course on Mentoring. This prompted me to reflect on everything similar to mentoring that I have done in my career as an educator.)

I have been in education for over 29 years. In the course of my life as a professional and teacher, I have had many opportunities to be an effective buddy to my peers. This included new staff or recently upgraded staff who needed some kind of assistance to understand the curriculum, assessment, and other aspects related to teaching and learning as well as the culture of the school / organization. Then I never knew what I was doing was some kind of mentoring and hand holding. All I knew was it came naturally to me and gave me such a lot of satisfaction!

Looking back I think I started assisting with a teacher (Ms. Krishnamani) who moved up from being a Kindergarten teacher to one handling English in the primary and middle schools. She would come to me to ask doubts, vet the assessment / question papers and we had a lot of discussions on teaching and learning in the classroom. This must have been in 1993/94 when I was a teacher handling English in the senior classes at The High Range School, Munnar, a school affiliated to CBSE and run by Tata Tea Ltd for their employees’ children. This was the time when major changes were happening in the English Language Teaching scenario in CBSE schools with ELT moving the communicative approach way.

In 1996 another new teacher joined our school – Ms. Seema Krishnan. She had no experience in CBSE schools but was a willing and quick learner. I remember spending very many hours discussing lessons, methodology and most importantly question papers. This was an very enriching experience and I recollected how I too gained much from those interactions as much as what I gave off.

I moved on in 2001 to be the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Vadavalli, Coimbatore, and here I had to mentor teachers – not just those from the English Department like before. I took charge as Principal from a very respected lady who had led the school for 31 years and it was a challenge, given my young age as well as the fact that I was a rank outsider. I was the newest kid on the block in a school which had nil teacher attrition. Besides, some of the senior staff were all older to me. Unlike now, I did not have the benefit of the internet or reference books to refer to. I went ahead with the gut feelings I had about administration. From previous experience I knew that I should never be in  haste and make very many changes, just for the sake of making them. I still remember telling the Correspondent of the Vidyalaya, Ms. Anuradha Ajithkumar that I don’t intend to make changes in the first year – which was accepted with a lot of relief.

I studied the systems and currents at work at school and within 6 months the staff of the school had accepted me. Bringing change was now easier but this meant spending time with teachers and telling them why it was needed. We introduced a teacher evaluation system which had also had a component of outgoing students of Class 12 evaluating the teacher. This along with lesson observations gave a two dimensional picture of the effectiveness of the teacher in the classroom. This was given as a document as feed forward to improve on classroom effectiveness. All these involved mentoring of a very informal kind.

In 2003 when I joined The Millennium School Dubai and later in 2010 when I joined Our Own English High School (OOS), Sharjah, there was a lot of handholding to be done as Senior Academic Supervior. OOS has a very experienced teaching faculty in the Senior School. The most important effort here has been in making the team ready for change and share with them news and views about the latest trends in education and helping them to make some of these part of their classroom strategies.

My most recent stint of more structured kind of mentoring was when my line managers asked me to train two new supervisor recruits – Ms. Rachel Pereira and Ms. Elizabeth George. Both were working as teachers when they were appointed as Academic Supervisors for Grades 9-10 and 7-8 departments respectively. The appointments were announced in the month of June 2012 and they were to take office in September 2012. Since schools closed for summer break by June end, I had time at my disposal. In the first fortnight of July both the new recruits spent time with me learning about everything that an Academic Supervisor has to take care of – administration, from staff & pupil attendance to lesson observation and review; from professional development to monitoring of teaching and learning material; staff support to parent interaction. I must say that I really enjoying sharing with them what I knew with 7 years of experience as Senior Supervisor. It also gave me immense satisfaction when they told me that they learned a lot from me and that they feel comforted that I am around so that they can fall back whenever they need me. I should also add that I could do justice to this because it was summer break. Otherwise I would be flooded with my own work and supporting my colleagues would have been a stress on my time, energy and resources.

Over and above these I have been a mentor to so many of my students right from Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Pallavur; High Range School, Munnar; Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Coimbatore; The Millennium School Dubai and at Our Own English Hish School Sharjah. Whenever my students had issues to handle and seek guidance, they did come to me. To this day even many of the former students are in touch online and do seek some kind of advice from me. Yes, I have been the conscience keeper of many of them! 🙂