What is a mentor?

A mentor is an experienced worker who supports and advises a beginner in a personal relationship.

Mentoring is recognized as one of the best strategies to train teachers, since it’s the only one that can provide them with some feedback on their real practice. It’s a necessary complement to the training received in teacher training institutions (universities, institutes of education, teacher education colleges) or during ad hoc workshops. Contrary to these strategies, mentoring is mostly focused on practice, not theory.

Cambodian Background

Over the years, the frontline strategy of government and donors to improve classroom practice has been funding workshops on numerous topics. However, research has shown that direct training only accounts for about 10% of the observed change in teachers’ behaviors. Direct and immediate feedback to practitioners about their teaching (e.g., via mentoring) on the other hand accounts for about 70% of observed change. Thus, the frontline strategy used by most donor-funded projects has been shown empirically to be the least effective. This suggests the need for consideration of alternative methods that can improve the efficiency of teacher training and lead to genuine change in classrooms. Such considerations should include continuous training of teachers, improved school management, emplacement of school-based mentors, and explicit administrative structures that can support mentoring provisions. 

Recent changes in the development context refer to the elevation of ‘mentoring’ as a key strategy in the Teacher Policy Action Plan approved by MoEYS in 2015 as well as the commitment of MoEYS to establish a Graduate Degree program in teacher mentoring at the National Institute of Education. It’s a major strategic shift in approach that will lead to significant efficiencies in the way that the MoEYS develops human resources in schools and training institutions.

Various practical definitions across the globe

A mentor holds a formal position or function that takes place in an administrative and legal framework. It is important to notice that the positions and duties of a mentor can vary significantly from a country to another, or even in the same country, depending on who has the authority to recruit him.

For instance, some private schools appoint their own personnel to train their new teachers, because they have an elitist approach or simply because they want to preserve a strong identity and alternative methods. In this case, it’s a step in a career path that may last for many years.

In other cases, especially in public school systems, an experienced teacher is just selected whenever a beginner colleague is appointed to the school, and attends a one-day workshop to understand what the administration is expecting. The mentoring relationship ceases when the mentee is certified, generally after one year or two, or even a few months.

Mentoring in the NGPRC program

The NGPRC program is much more ambitious than the average mentoring system, since our mentors receive a very intensive one-year training (instead of a short workshop). They obtain a dedicated Master’s degree. After they graduate, mentoring is their main duty, although they continue to serve as teachers for around one third of their time.

Their duties aren’t limited to novice teachers, although the latter are the main beneficiaries of the program. Teachers can have some seniority in the profession and still be novices in a specific environment. In the New Generations Schools, all newly recruited teachers are expected to participate to the program, in order to implement the latest reforms and increase their professional standards.

On a deeper level, teachers should consider themselves as continuous learners and provide their students with the good example of constant improvement. Professional Learning Communities depend on their ability to share experience. Observing and being observed should become a natural dimension of a teacher’s work. All teachers can benefit from a little piece of advice from time to time, when they become rusty with their routines.

Non-threatening position

In some cases, mentors are given a supervision authority to certify newly teachers and are expected to grade them as a part of the graduation process (for instance in the UK). In other cases, they focus more on their counselling role.

The NGPRC has clearly chosen the latter approach. In effect, the objective of the mentoring program in Cambodia isn’t to select novices, but to improve the teaching capabilities of all the profession. Teachers can benefit directly from feedback and counselling. We are confident that teachers can build up their professional capacities without a stick and carrot policy. After all, if mentoring can make their lessons unfold more smoothly, if it can increase student motivation or enhance their performances and the reputation of the teacher, there’s no need for external incentives.

Mentors should not be inspectors. There are other strategies to cope with unethical behaviors among teachers, and other authorities to do that, without transforming the counsellors into spies or policemen. The relationship between a mentor and his protégé (the word has a profound meaning) implies a lot of trust. Without trust, advice is not taken seriously and problems are more difficult to assess. No-one shares one’s concerns and difficulties, if it means putting oneself at risk in front of the bureaucratic machine. Thus, a huge number of problems remain unsolved.

Changing one’s practices is challenging and somewhat risky by itself. One has to leave one’s comfort zone in order to grow. A good mentor doesn’t want to add unnecessary threat to what is already a difficult endeavor.

In short

  • NGPRC’s mentors are school-based, which means that they spend most of their time in a single school, where they are available to help teachers on a daily basis,
  • They have followed a dedicated one-year training at NGPRC.
  • This training encompasses (1) a whole stream on the principles of mentoring and professional ethics, along with (2) teaching methodology, (3) educational research and (4) ICT.
  • They continue to fulfill normal teaching duties for a portion of their time (1/3), in order to maintain their own teaching skills and thus preserve their credibility.
  • They follow up several mentees at the same time.
  • They undertake classroom observations as their primary method of action.
  • They can undertake other tasks such as preparing lesson plans, co-teaching, animating pedagogical workshops, depending on the needs of the school.