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Can Mentorship Fill the Education Gap?

Can Mentorship Fill the Education Gap?

In my last article I called 2021 the year of Resilience. We learned how to endure uncertainty, manage constant anxiety and weather repeated lockdowns. Let’s be honest – we missed out on a lot. 

I’d like for 2022 to be the year of Alliance. Now that (I hope) most of the world’s schools and corporations are well into the recovery stages of crisis management, we must come together more strongly than ever before in order to navigate the next, emerging stage of the COVID-19 pandemic: the fallout. 

In September last year, Lifeline saw several historical record high daily call volumes, and 96,273 calls were made in total, up 14.1% and 33.1% from the same periods in 2020 and 2019 respectively. Kids Helpline received 32,572 answerable contact attempts, up 4.6% and 16.7% from the same periods in 2020 and 2019 respectively. 

The impacts on mental wellbeing over the past few years will reverberate for years to come. Australia has everything to gain by accelerating the importance of employee and student wellbeing in 2022 – joining forces, allying together, and dialling in on Mentorship. All of us must consciously support and build each other up again in order to make up for what’s been lost, and schools and businesses must take the lead.  Here’s why. 

Teacher-teacher mentorship 

Whilst teaching is about cognitive progression, hard skills and knowledge, and is measured empirically, Mentorship is a little harder to measure. It’s about supporting and encouraging people to manage their own learning in order to maximise potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.

Teacher-teacher mentorship is well practised and the benefits are well-known. Mentors in learning environments are skilled teachers who are committed to supporting other teachers. A skilled teacher is not defined necessarily by years of experience, but by learner outcome success

Mentorship in this context helps teachers get better at teaching – identifying opportunities for specialisation or professional learning, and improving student performance. 

Schools are not immune from “The Great Resignation” and teacher-teacher mentoring also helps keep them in the profession longer. It helps them grow more confident in what they’re doing, and feel more supported in their school community. These are all great things. 

But the goalposts for teachers have changed somewhat and mentorship in learning environments has taken on new requirements. Professionals within all sectors have taken on added pressures in their roles. For example, most teachers have not had specific training in remote learning, and the swift migration was just as difficult for many teachers as it was for students.

Furthermore, during those periods of lockdown when schools were remaining open – the teachers inadvertently became front line workers. Another added source of pressure and anxiety on a high-stress role, being at the coal face of a potentially deadly virus was a position which none of them could foresee when starting their training. 

Schools must be on the frontfoot about allying with their teachers by providing added psychosocial support in the form of teacher-teacher mentorship, because the role has fundamentally changed.

Student mentorship

I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone of how the parameters changed for our students too. While students coped academically better than we might have hoped, the impacts on their wellbeing and mental health are alarming. Just because students are back in classrooms again, it doesn’t necessarily mean the issue is resolved. 

What’s encouraging is that we are already seeing an increase in the adoption of mental wellbeing software since the pandemic.  Educational facilities are understanding that wellbeing and new, holistic approaches to learning and the welfare of children, need to be implemented and tracked. This doesn’t always involve a big financial investment either – putting processes in place around the ubiquitous collection of self-reporting data is also a valid approach.

By leveraging the data they are probably already collecting, they can identify risk areas and individuals, and these facilities have a duty to be providing additional, pastoral care like student mentorship. They can ally with their communities of parents by flagging areas for improvement and taking proactive steps to manage difficult and potentially dangerous situations.

Mentorship in the Workplace

Data can help schools enhance their understanding of welfare – identifying risk factors and managing them before they cause harm. For businesses navigating new hybrid work environments,  the needs are virtually no different. 

Companies have had a vested interest in employee wellbeing for a while because the impact of poor mental health in the workplace has very real effects on bottom line revenue

Conversations about mental health in the workplace have become almost deafening.  Many companies have rolled out their own versions of wellbeing programs – everything from EAPs, rebates on health and wellness initiatives from gym memberships to acupuncture appointments, as well as in office resources like sleep pods and free kombucha

I wonder what the outcomes would be if these companies put as much money into driving really robust and enriching internal mentorship programs as they do into the more physical elements of employee wellness (many of which are purely designed to keep employees at work longer anyway)

Decades of research have given us strong indicators of what works. Researchers David Megginson and David Clutterbuck, co founders of the European Mentoring Center (now the European Mentoring & Coaching Council) point to two components for effective mentoring: building rapport and creating clarity of purpose. 

Mentorship results in happier, more engaged and less lonely employees with a greater sense of direction, value and clarity of purpose. 

Sure, it’s meant to be great for the gut, but the effects of a free glass of Kombucha just can’t go heart and mind deep in the same way as a conversation with a great mentor who genuinely cares. 

The benefits are mutual too, for mentee and mentor.

Finally, with all of the intelligence we’re gaining thanks to the growing sophistication of tech tools like Octopus BI, data must be viewed as an ally too. Data can provide us with trusted insight to act as a sounding board and progress indicator, and help us model new, more holistic approaches to learning and mentorship.  The benefits of both of these types of teaching will help all of us to navigate the years to come.

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