Mentoring in SA – what our Educators Say survey reveals

The Collins English Dictionary defines a mentor as:
“A person’s mentor is someone who gives them help and advice over a period of time, especially help and advice related to their job.”

Another simple definition describes it as “an experienced and trusted colleague”.

By either definition, it’s reasonable to suggest that all of us as educators should have a mentor or many of them throughout our career. Indeed, Singapore has long encouraged every educator to be a mentor and also be a mentee to ensure a dynamic interchange of ideas and professional support.

So what about us in South Australia?
Our 2019 Educators Say survey gave some interesting insights into our ‘State’ of mentoring.

Across all sectors and all levels of care and schooling, only 23% identified as having a professional mentor. Of those twenty-three percent, 80% were members of a professional association. It’s not difficult to conclude that associations already play a significant role in educators finding a mentor.

For the 23% with mentors, the majority were in leadership positions or preservice educators. Only 20% of those with mentors identified as teachers. Of in-service educators the highest number of those with mentors were in early childhood (27%) followed closely by secondary (25%). The largest number of those with mentors were in independent schools (26%) and the lowest in the Catholic sector (15%).

So, if you have a mentor you are more likely to be an early childhood educator in a leadership role in an independent school’s early childhood setting and a member of a professional association. Next in line would be a secondary teacher in a public school who is also a member of a professional association.

But who are the Mentors?
They are most likely to be a preschool director (85%) or in a school leadership position and most likely to be from the public school sector. Teachers formed the second lowest group of mentors at 27%.

So why don’t educators have a mentor?
The greatest response at 59% was that their employer didn’t offer a mentoring program.
This implies that educators are looking for a formal mentoring program, but this implication is not backed up by the survey which revealed that 84% of mentoring across the State was Informal and that 60% of those mentored had chosen their own mentor. Only 34% had their mentor chosen for them by their site or their system and our focus groups described these ‘site selected’ mentor relationships as being unsuccessful not because of lack of interest by the mentor but most often lack of time. Often stated was that there was one meeting with their assigned mentor and rarely a second because that mentor was too busy with their leadership duties.

What was exciting with the survey results was that 89% of those with a mentor (mostly self-chosen) were satisfied with the mentoring relationship. The reasons for that satisfaction were the knowledge and experience of the mentor (80%), professional feedback (67%), strong relationships (59%), and the enthusiasm of the mentor (57%).

The major reasons for dissatisfaction with their mentoring relationship were no regular meetings (43%), lack of connection with the mentor (36%), with the mentor too busy, lack of structure and lack of enthusiasm scoring equally at 21%.

So if you are being mentored you are one of 23% of educators in the State, you are very likely to be a member of a professional association, you are either a preservice educator or in a leadership position other than the principal, and most likely you are from the independent or public sector.

So what does this mean for associations?
Keep in mind that the highest level of satisfaction with mentors came from mentees who selected their own mentor, who respected the mentor’s knowledge, experience and enthusiasm and where strong relationships and regular contact existed. Combine this with the fact that professional associations provide a strong point of professional connection where educators learn together through sharing research and successful practice, then there is great scope to connect members and potential members with colleagues and foster mentoring relationships.
This is an exciting challenge for our professional association community and one that is fundamental to our collective purpose.