A rise in searches for terms such as ‘nqt want to quit’ and ‘nqt depression’ reveals a harrowing amount of stress surrounding current NQTs in schools. Mentors therefore harbour an increasing amount of pressure to ensure NQTs are being adequately supported. So how can you be an inspiring mentor and support your NQTs?
1. Change how you talk about mistakes
The sooner we dispel the myth that great teachers are born and not made, the sooner we can accept that mistakes are an inevitable part of teaching. Especially in the beginning. As a mentor, there is choice as to how you frame the mistakes made by your NQTs. It’s important to communicate that teaching is a constant learning process, and it is only natural to make mistakes as you learn. Emphasising this can help to break down the barrier sometimes felt between experienced teachers and NQTs, and allow a more open space for non-judgemental and honest discussion about classroom practice. A good way to get NQTs and teachers talking about teaching could be to host a Film Club.
Changing the way you talk about mistakes can also empower NQTs by encouraging deeper self-reflection. Self-reflection has the power to make us question how to change and adapt to situations in the classroom. Making mistakes therefore helps to form important reflective habits which are crucial in an ever-changing environment. In reality, mistakes are not so much the issue. What makes the difference is how they are talked about and then utilised as a tool for positive change - and the feedback given is crucial in achieving this.
“IRIS Connect has really accelerated my progress because it’s allowed an insight into my practice that I wouldn’t have had in any other way.” – Chris Brown, NQT, Braunstone Frith Primary School
2. Make feedback empowering
Feedback is only as useful as the proposed actions that follow. For this reason, it’s important that your feedback is empowering and is followed by constructive improvement strategies.
One way to make your feedback empowering is to use techniques that aid self-reflection, such as exploratory questioning, rather than simply giving instructions. Asking ‘what do you think you could have done differently?’ rather than ‘you should have done this…’ can help NQTs to make self-reflection a habit and learn how to overcome challenges on their own. One school told us how these techniques helped their NQTs draw out their own solutions to challenges, which helped to improve behaviour management within the classroom.
However, with lessons moving at a fast pace, comments about particular areas of teaching can sometimes get lost in the motions. So how can you ensure feedback given at the end of a lesson has a clear focus and strategy? By using video technology to record lessons and store the footage in a secure online platform, mentors and NQTs can objectively and clearly identify aspects of practice which are particularly strong, as well as highlighting areas of improvement.
Rewatching footage of the lesson and adding time-stamped comments allows feedback to be contextualised, ensuring that improvement strategies have a clear focus, leading to quicker and more significant changes. In fact, recent findings from the Education Endowment Foundation pilot programme stated that there was strong evidence to suggest that video had helped to change teachers' thinking and improve their classroom practice.
Whilst not all feedback is positive, it is still useful to frame it in a positive way, and construct feedback as a tool to inspire change. Working with your NQT to discuss improvement strategies, could boost their confidence to try different techniques and make practical changes in the future.
"As I have fully completed my NQT year, I will progress into my RQT year having a high priority of using IRIS Connect on a daily basis. It is a tool that has helped my pupils to achieve excellent learning and helps me to be the best I can be. I would highly recommend IRIS Connect to any teacher, especially to new teachers like myself who doubt their ability." - John Mulgrew - East Manchester Academy
3. Extend support beyond targets
Remember to extend your support beyond the assessment checklists, and actually check-in with your NQT when you can. Not all contact has to be formal and scheduled. It’s good to have a discussion outside of assessment objectives and targets. Even a simple 2 minute chat in the staff room, over a cup of tea to see how they’re feeling could be the little boost of morale they need to get through their next lesson. A little bit of compassion, honest advice, and openness can go a long way.
The NQT year is often a time of intense worry and stress. As a mentor, you can provide NQTs with a source of security and guidance in uncertain terrain. However, if it all gets too much and you sense that your NQT is struggling, or if you are an NQT who is not sure where to turn, there is help and support available. Being honest about your struggles and letting others know you are feeling this way is not a sign of weakness. The Education Support Partnership provides a free helpline for teachers, with trained counsellors available 24/7 ready to listen to any problems you are facing and help you find a way forward.
"I have found IRIS Connect extremely useful as an NQT. It has enabled me to try different strategies and reflect on them immediately, enabling me to improve as a teacher and thus enhancing learning." - Katie Evans, NQT, Dunottar School
NQTs are the future of the teaching profession. If nurtured adequately, they can be part of the solution to improve the recruitment crisis and teacher shortage. It is now more crucial than ever that we give NQTs the recognition they deserve as they develop.
Whilst feedback can sometimes get caught up in what could have gone better, it is important to not forget what went well. This can be the difference between a confidence boost for NQTs to improve their practice further, and can reinforce behaviours that are currently working well for them within the classroom.
Being new is daunting, and being new whilst having to act like you have it all together is even more daunting. You may have to have some difficult conversations at times, but the hard work and resilience required to complete an NQT year is undeniably worthy of praise in its own right.
Do you have any advice on how to support NQTs? Leave your comments below, or tweet us at @IRIS_Connect.