Academic journal article Babel

'There's More Than One Way to Skin a Cat': Reflecting on Mentoring Models in the More Leaps Project-With Apologies to Cats and Cat Lovers

Academic journal article Babel

'There's More Than One Way to Skin a Cat': Reflecting on Mentoring Models in the More Leaps Project-With Apologies to Cats and Cat Lovers

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The More Leaps project provided leading languages teachers in Australia the opportunity to work with a suite of professional learning materials and with colleagues in a collaborative inquiry community, aimed at exploring models of mentoring and developing improved leadership skills. Each participant developed a mentoring inquiry project, and these were individually tailored to meet the needs of individuals in their particular professional contexts. The range of models developed is explored in this paper, with analysis of the variety of models, and the emphasis on collaborative inquiry, as engaged reflexive praxis. In illustrating that there is more than one way to approach mentoring, the models provide illuminating insights into potential for all languages teachers to work with colleagues in collaborative and complementary ways, to improve individual practice and the leadership skills of the profession, and to support sustainable outcomes for long-term engagement in languages education in Australia.

Key Words

professional learning, collaborative inquiry, mentoring, engaged reflexive praxis

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INTRODUCTION

The Mentoring and reflecting: languages educators and professional standards (More Leaps) project ran throughout 2011 and 2012. The project was conducted by the Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations (AFMLTA) as a collaborative project funded by the Australian Government under its National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (NALSSP). Collaborative partners with the AFMLTA were the Research Centre for Languages and Cultures (RCLC) at the University of South Australia, responsible for the writing of the professional learning materials (AFMLTA, 2012a) and drafting a lead language teacher standard; and the AFMLTA's affiliated member organisations from each state and territory of Australia (Modern Language Teacher Associations [MLTAs]), responsible for implementing the mentoring programs within their states and territories under the guidance of the AFMLTA project management team.

A central element of the project was participants, teachers of Asian languages, working with colleagues in mentoring collaborations. The mentoring collaborations were explored in inquiry projects in which participants considered their own practice, and what might be learned from working with others, towards developing greater leadership skills and expertise in languages education for the teaching of Asian languages in Australian schools.

The context within which the project and its research sits is a moment in Australia's education history when national languages curricula are being developed for the first time, and in which teachers' professional work is also being guided (channelled?) by national standards and expectations, with an emphasis on promoting leadership qualities and articulating performance at the leadership level. As the AFMLTA is the national professional association for languages educators, and as an organisation that has been instrumental in initiating aspirational standards developed by its members for its members (c.f. Professional Standards Project 2008-2012), it was critical that it participate in a project of this nature at this time, responding to the growing need for increased leadership and collaborative practitioner agency in languages education in Australia (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009; Maggioli, 2012; Orland-Barak, 2010). In doing so, the AFMLTA continues to position itself as the primary provider of informed and innovative professional learning programs that tap into concerns of the moment and that lead evidenced professional practice, with its primary concern remaining the professional knowledge, agency, well-being and security of its members, teachers of languages in Australia (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009; Priestly & Biesta, 2013).

This paper elaborates orientations towards mentoring that informed the project, and analyses the range of mentoring projects undertaken by participants in relation to these orientations and relevant mentoring literature. …

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