When Ms Diong Mei Yih joined the Pat’s Schoolhouse (Kovan) in 2015, she had been in the early childhood sector for only three years. Her experience then had been with teaching four-year-old children and now she was working with toddlers.
“I knew that I needed support and advice from the more experienced teachers,” she recalled.
Fortunately, the centre has a unique mentorship programme designed to help less experienced teachers like her. At any one time, the programme has a few senior staff dedicated to guiding new teachers.
“My mentors went through my lesson plans with me, suggested improvements and gave me ideas for activities,” Ms Diong said. “Thanks to them, I also started documenting everything from issues I have raised, to what I have learnt from my mentors and peers. I found that journaling helped to strengthen my reflective skills and competencies as a teacher.”
The mentorship programme is the brainchild of Ms Wee Suat Kwan, the centre’s Assistant District Manager. Ms Wee also oversees another Pat’s Schoolhouse in Serangoon.
Building a Mentorship Programme
She first conceived the mentorship programme in Pat’s Schoolhouse (Serangoon) in 2009, when a senior teacher there decided to take a sabbatical.
“I discussed with the senior teacher about the idea of supporting new educators. She agreed that it was important that they understand the pre-school’s culture, our programme and how we work with children and parents,” Ms Wee said.
The senior teacher agreed to do short stints during her sabbatical to mentor less experienced educators.
Initially, the scope for mentoring entailed observations of teaching practice followed by feedback and suggestions to the educators. Ms Wee believes in reviewing the mentorship programme periodically to address gaps and to enhance the mentee’s experience.
“The mentors discuss with mentees on issues ranging from how to conduct parent-teacher meetings to writing children’s progress reports and providing feedback to the children’s parents. The mentors also conduct training sessions for mentees on curriculum-related topics such as phonics,” Ms Wee said.
Empowering New Mentors
Ms Wee said that she tries to rotate the mentors between teaching and mentorship to keep them abreast of new early childhood pedagogies and practices.
“A mentor needs to also walk the ground. Things are fluid and evolving all the time in our early childhood sector. A mentor has to keep up to date and experience the changes too, in order to be an effective mentor,” Ms Wee said.
The other key to a good mentorship programme is selecting people with the right attitude and relevant skills-set to be mentors, she added.
“A mentor is someone who is skilled, open-minded and know how to work with people, situations and issues. For instance, some new educators may have difficulty in translating theories into classroom practice and experience disillusionment. The challenge for the mentor is to gain their respect, and scaffold the educators in connecting the dots and help them bridge theory with classroom practice,” she said. Ms Wee strongly believes that a mentor can really help nurture and groom the next generation of educators.
Supporting Mentoring through Community Collaborations
The centre has also included a partnership element in the mentoring programme. Working with various community partners has further enriched both mentors and mentees. Under the mentorship of senior teachers and collaboration with the National Parks Board (NParks) in 2016, Ms Diong helped to organise two community projects – a park clean-up and garden launch for the centre. These guided collaborations helped Ms Diong understand how community partnerships worked and helped her gain useful skills from her mentors. This process invariably translates into enriching resources for curriculum planning and experiences for the children.
Ms Wee, who won the Outstanding Early Childhood Leader in 2016 by the Early Childhood Development Agency, said that she has been “blessed” with the help of committed mentors in her centre.
Ms Diong added that the support from her mentors has been invaluable. She said: “Ms Wee always says that one needs to teach from the heart. We are here for the children and passion should drive our teaching. I will always be guided by this.”