Congratulations! You’ve found yourself a pre-service teacher to mentor. You have just been placed in a very important role in this person’s life.
A mentor teacher can make or break a teacher’s career. If you’ve ever had a bad mentor teacher, you know how much it can shake your confidence. On the other hand, a mentor teacher who believes in you and helps you be the best you can be will set you up for a great career.
One of the most important things you can do for your pre-service teacher as a mentor is to write good notes. Not only will this help your pre-service teacher learn and grow during their placement, but it can help them build their portfolio.
In Australia, pre-service teachers must have enough good evidence for their portfolios. They will need to prove that they have met the Graduate standard of each of the seven Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, and they will need your help.
On the flip side, mentoring a pre-service teacher can also help you. The Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher levels of the APST are much easier to achieve if you have experience mentoring. Your notes for your pre-service teacher are great evidence for them, but also great evidence for you!
Here are some essential things that you can include in your lesson observation notes to help support your pre-service teacher.
Take notes on what happens during the lesson.
This sounds like a given. What else would you base your observation notes on? It is a bit more nuanced than it sounds, though.
In your notes, you need to be objective first. This means you need to write down what the teacher did and what the students did, and that’s it.
Leave out your judgement. If you find yourself writing “because” or “so that they” or “trying to”, stop. This is your interpretation of what’s going on. What you need to write first is only what you see and hear.
This can be difficult if you’re an experienced teacher. It can be even more difficult if you’ve spoken to your pre-service teacher about their plans for the lesson and a new strategy they could try.
This teacher needs evidence of what they did in the lesson. They also need evidence of what the student did. Your interpretation and feedback are important, but you need to start with the objective observation first.
After the lesson that you’re observing, meet with your pre-service teacher as soon as possible to discuss the lesson. This is when you’ll add the next part to your notes:
Discussion and interpretation of the lesson
This part of your notes should be a record of a conversation that you’ve had with your pre-service teacher. You should talk to them about their lesson, including:
- What they intended to do – what strategies did they try to use?
- Why they intended to do it – what do they know about their students and their subject?
- How well the lesson went – were they able to use teaching strategies effectively? Did they select the right resources and strategies for this particular lesson?
In this conversation, your pre-service teacher should take the lead. In fact, you shouldn’t have much to say at all other than questions.
The key to a mentoring relationship is to allow your pre-service teacher to understand their own teaching. They need to be the one to reflect on their practice and identify areas for growth. You need to help them, of course. But your lessons for them will be much more impactful if they lead their learning.
Feedback and next steps
This is where you give advice and feedback. Until this point, your notes should be entirely what the pre-service teacher has done and discussed.
Once you’ve discussed how the lesson went and what they were trying to do, you know what they need to take the next step. If they want to keep trying a particular strategy, give them tips to use it more effectively. If you don’t think that it’s the best strategy for this class, give them suggestions for others. This should also be in conversation with your pre-service teacher, not only in your notes. Your notes should be a formal record of what you discussed.
The next steps are a little different from this advice and feedback. The next steps that you document should be concrete and specific. You want to have something tangible for your pre-service teacher to implement.
“Give more feedback to students” is a great tip, but it’s not a next step. “Informally assess student work as you’re walking around the classroom during the lesson and let students know if they’re on the right track” is a much easier next step to implement. Remember, your next steps shouldn’t be lofty goals. These should be something that your pre-service teacher can do in the very next lesson.
Your notes are important documents for your pre-service teacher. It is important to remember that these notes are a formal record; they should not be the only form of feedback or communication with your pre-service teacher.
As a mentor teacher, you should never give your pre-service your notes without discussing them with them. The mentor/mentee relationship is an important one, and for your pre-service teacher to learn, they need to process and understand.