Mentoring to strengthen the mentor–mentee relationship through emotional intelligence

It is possible that a beginning teacher will find difficulty in expressing and articulating their emotional needs appropriately so, for them, your emotional intelligence skills help to interpret and manage the beginning teacher's emotions, such as fear, panic or happiness. Interpretation of these positive and/or negative emotions starts with a mentor picking up a beginning teacher's verbal clues such as: 'I hope pupil X isn’t here today' or 'I'm dreading teaching period 4 today', which could indicate a particular issue/challenge that they are experiencing and with which they may require your support. Sometimes non-verbal clues can also be given by the beginning teacher, such as tiredness; lacking enthusiasm or feeling ill; missing deadlines; coming late to school and showing disengagement with pupils while teaching. If, as a mentor, you overlook such indicative clues then there is a possibility that the situation will worsen and the beginning teacher might display further signs of an escalating issue. For example, a pattern of absence, especially when they are due to teach certain classes, aggressiveness, anxiety and stress, which could ultimately result in them withdrawing from the teaching profession.

Task 5.6 asks you to contemplate signs and clues of, for example, fear, panic and unwillingness to listen by a beginning teacher and ways to find out the underlining issue that is causing negative emotions.

Task 5.6 Emotional intelligence to recognise negative emotions

First, ask a beginning teacher you are mentoring to identify an issue with which they are finding difficulty coping. Then unpick the situation to get to the underlying issues by carefully observing their actions in lessons and during weekly mentoring meetings with you, as well as in other school-based situations. Next, list any observed verbal and nonverbal clues that could indicate an underlying issue. The following questions could help you to identify underlying issues, by tracking some of the negative emotional changes:

  • 1. Has the beginning teacher reacted in an unexpected way to a situation or comment, perhaps in a way that could be perceived as over-reaction? Why do you think they reacted in such a way?
  • 2. Has the beginning teacher displayed any avoidance strategies, such as a pattern of absence or used pupil behaviour as an excuse to avoid practical tasks or whole class experiments?
  • 3. Is the beginning teacher ignoring your (or other staff members') emails, isolating themselves from you and/or others during non-teaching times and breaks?

If any answers to the above questions indicate that there could be an underling issue in relation to the beginning teacher's actions, then:

  • • Arrange an informal meeting with the beginning teacher at a place and time where you will not be disturbed and have sufficient time to talk.
  • • Gently explain the concerns you have and ask how you can support them.
  • • Most beginning teachers are relieved when they are given the opportunity to discuss such issues, but some might be more hesitant to admit something is not right. In this instance, reassure the beginning teacher that you are there to listen when they are ready.
  • • For those who do share their worries, list two or three actions for the beginning teacher that will help resolve their concerns, and state what you will do to support them (this might be to revisit the conversation in the next planned meeting or a specific action such as making an action plan, et cetera). You could revisit Table 5.2 to support this discussion.

Task 5.6 can be further supported by using the suggestions below:

1. Be aware of your own emotions

Ensure there is a calm environment in which the beginning teacher can express their feelings, fears and worries. Although you may yourself feel frustrated, impatient, disappointed and irritated, especially if the beginning teacher is not responding in the way you had hoped, it is important to be in control of how you react. This does not prevent you from challenging any inappropriate behaviour by the beginning teacher, but keeping your personal emotions out of the discussion will prevent you from becoming judgmental and support the beginning teacher in moving forward.

2. Practice

Facing a challenging conversation can be daunting, so pre-plan how you want the conversation to play out, including planning some key questions to unpick underlying issues, identifying positive actions where possible and planning some specific mentoring strategies that will be supportive. It is also important to be aware of the language used during the discussion. This pre-planning helps to take emotions out of the discussion and keeps the focus on the actions rather than the people (pupils, other staff members, et cetera) involved. You could perhaps ask another experienced mentor to join the discussion.

3. Using appreciative comments

Employ some appreciative and affirmative comments during your discussions, as positive reinforcement could encourage the beginning teacher to reflect on their teaching and learning strategies constructively by looking at both sides of the coin (positive and further actions required).

4. Identify the cause of negative feelings

Identify with the beginning teacher, when and why they feel (i) unconfident, (ii) fearful, (iii) apprehensive or nervous, (iv) confident, (v) relieved, (vi) positive, et cetera. Ideally, you should be discussing these negative (and positive) feelings with the beginning teacher during your weekly mentoring meetings and, with careful questioning, you should be able to uncover underlying problems and possible solutions to overcome these feelings. However, in some situations, a more challenging conversation may be required. If this is the case, it is vital that, as a mentor, you are prepared for the discussion by clearly identifying the issues with the use of evidence.

5. Resolving issues

You must resolve an issue by a focused intervention. However, in some situations, the beginning teacher might become defensive and unwilling to accept and act upon targeted interventions. Here, it could be useful to share your own experiences to demonstrate that it is possible to recover the situation.

Summary and key points

A successful mentor-mentee relationship can only be built over time through the positive actions of both the mentor and beginning teacher. Through developing a successful mentor-mentee relationship, there is a much greater chance of a beginning teacher developing their teaching and hence enhancing pupils learning. Specifically, you need to:

  • • Take time to learn about a beginning teacher's emotional needs at the start of the relationship - this investment of your time will form the basis of the relationship
  • • Identify what you and a beginning teacher expect from each other, set boundaries and establish commitment outlines
  • • Be mindful of a beginning teacher's emotions, as they may indicate underlying issues, they have not raised in meetings
  • • Develop trust - act on your promises of support, listen without being judgemental and be approachable
  • • When a challenging conversation is required, prepare by planning the structure of the conversation, perhaps practise the key discussion points, and have any evidence to hand. Discuss and resolve the issue in a collaborative way.

Further resources

ACAS (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) (undated) Challenging conversations and how to manage them, ACAS, viewed 28 April 2020, from: uk/conversations

The ACAS website offers useful tips and guidance about having challenging and difficult conversations in a constructive way. Whilst not aimed specifically at education, the advice will help you prepare for difficult conversations, and allow you to control the situation more effectively. It should be helpful in maintaining a mentor-mentee relationship.

Goleman, D (2008) Working with Emotional Intelligence. London: Bloomsbury.

This book provides an exploration of emotional intelligence. It provides helpful suggestions to raise your own awareness of emotions and how they influence people to act in a specific way. It should help you to identify and understand some of the issues a beginning teacher faces and enable you to understand and influence the dynamics of a mentor-mentee relationship.

Teacher Tapp website (undated) Ask. Answer. Learn, Education Intelligence Ltd Venture, viewed 7 April 2020, from:

The Teacher Tapp website is a useful, easy-to-use application. It asks routine, day-to-day questions and offers appropriate research and articles reflecting the work being done by a teacher at the time. This could provide an extra source of support in working with a beginning teacher, allowing them to develop their practice and build on their pedagogical knowledge.

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