Combining mentoring and pedagogical leadership in schools - Afterthoughts

On the workshop with schoolteachers and principals, Ramallah 30 May 2023

There were about 25 of them, Palestinian women schoolteachers and principals from Jerusalem, Ramallah, and the surrounding areas. They had received an invitation to attend the workshop on mentoring and leadership that was an initiative and joint effort of OLIVE project in the Faculty of Educational Sciences in Helsinki University, the Faculty of Education in Birzeit University, and the Palestinian Ministry of Education. They came along with their teams, as they explained later during the session. The teams ranged from teacher-principal pairs to groups of five or six from different specializations. At some point, I said I had anticipated the majority would be women teachers and men principals. They laughed. We all laughed, and it all felt more personal.

The teachers’ union in Palestine declared a strike that lasted for months. They had just returned to their schools and had to deal with piles of work and worries, about how to catch up with fallen-behind teaching and incomplete syllabi. And questions about what kind of summer this one would be, if the decision was made to skip holiday to make up for lost time because of the strike.

This meant it had to be time well spent if they were going to attend that workshop. And it was there. The tension of the last months electrified the room. But the confessed wrong prediction seemed to let things loose. Along with the follow-up of my long experience teaching English in schools in Greece before I went into the Doctorate world and the academia in Finland. It was not my plan to include touches of my personal experiences at first.

Given the pressure of a two-hour short meeting where difficult topics were to be tackled and the contextual pressure where the strike is only one example, connection with the workshop participants did not seem very likely.

And yet, thanks to the personal touches and confessions, we did manage to trace the common threads and take it from there.

We shared experiences in different configurations, including group mentoring, co-mentoring, mentoring circles, collaborative mentoring, and mentoring* (for more on mentoring check our article, link below) communities, along with the opportunities, and challenges that emerge in the process. We also shared the realization that, despite the need to support their professional development, it is a struggle for practicum students to make time to both reflect on their studies and plan their work in schools.

Mending this situation is therefore essential and tracing the link that ties mentoring, pedagogical knowledge and pedagogical leadership is part of the solution. Developing, for instance, novel pedagogies and combining technologies with collaborative work must be informed by the practical wisdom that grows in lived experiences of teaching and leading classrooms and schools** (for more about the content of the workshop, see the slides below).

To get there, building relations is a sine qua non.

Considering technological advancement and the connectivity of internet platforms and services, building relations is not considered to be an issue per se. Building relations and networks does not, however, equal relating.

For relating to happen, it is not enough that teachers, students, and principals reach shared understandings with one another. Neither can the use of technology on its own, no matter the multiple channels and digital pathways, make relating possible. This direction will take bold planning of curricula that recognize the link between the university, the school and the society. In this way, the tensions and challenges the student teachers are faced with will also be recognized and the need for space and time for both reflection and pedagogical action will be taken into account.

In addition, curricula will need to revisit the content of teaching and introduce current issues into the teaching program.

Sustainability is one such issue that needs to be looked into from a global perspective. Sustainability is web of complex phenomena including social and environmental matters. Littering, for example, is an important aspect of showing care to the environment and to others. Littering is, however, one part of the environmental crisis. Focusing on littering isolates our teaching and our student teachers from critical and defining dimensions of the environmental crisis, including climate justice, social justice, forced migration, human rights, minority rights and women’s rights. This kind of focus does not only turn our teaching into a simplistic moralistic device, it deprives our students from global citizenship learning as well. In other words, it does not pay justice to our students, the school, education or the society.