Developing and maintaining engaged OSHC educator teams through mentorship
It has been argued that educator engagement is the single biggest factor in creating a successful service. Services with high educator engagement often see greater productivity, reduced turnover and lower absenteeism.
Over the past five years, outside school hours care (OSHC) services have been growing to meet increased demand and as OSHC services increase, both in size and number, having engaged teams of educators is more important than ever, to ensure high-quality and good outcomes for children.
A sense of belonging
First and foremost, for both children and educators to feel a sense of engagement with a service, they need to feel a sense of belonging and attachment. A sense of belonging or relatedness has been studied comprehensively over the past 20 years and its links to motivation and engagement are well known. Belonging is a sense of unity, a sense of community, coming together to support a common goal.
A number of resources exist to support leaders to create this within their services, with one important component involving leaders themselves being brave enough to reimagine traditional leadership structures, and be open to distributed leadership models.
Growth means change
Traditionally OSHC services have been created with a flat organisational structure, with a co-ordinator managing the day to day operations of the service. However, as services have grown in size to meet ever-increasing demands, this organisational structure is no longer fit for purpose.
Many OSHC services are now seeing the benefits of making the shift from flat organisational structures to a team-based structure to drive engagement and productivity in their teams.
For many services, a key change when moving to a more distributed leadership structure is the introduction of the role of mentor in the organisational hierarchy.
Mentor roles and responsibilities
Mentors are many things – coaches, supporters, advocates, guides. One of the chief roles of a mentor in a distributed leadership structure is to act as a conduit for implementing new ideas, managing feedback and keeping individual educators challenged and engaged.
Rather than being transactional, mentor/mentee relationships are all about support. For leaders, the presence of mentors within the service actively guiding and working with other staff can distribute some of the burdens of their leadership role, while also allowing the entire team to feel as though they are contributing to the ongoing growth and development of the service.
In terms of accountability, the introduction of a mentor/mentee structure means that there are additional checkpoints and supports throughout the process of growth and change. Rather than all employees reporting to one supervisor, there are multiple points through mentors for critical reflection, engagement and discussion.
Benefits for mentors
For those educators who step up to the responsibility of a mentor position, there is growth within their own leadership journey. Acting as an example and point of stability, mentors can provide educators with a sense of connection and belonging in the workplace, focusing on the strengths and attributes they wish to cultivate in their mentee, while growing their own capacity as a leader.
By working individually with a mentee, mentors can “try on” a more formal leadership role without the weight of responsibility which comes with a managerial position. An important career progression element for senior staff, mentors often become aspirational and influential members of the team, with more junior staff seeking to emulate them.
Mentoring programs can support in developing positive connections between co-workers, which will have a positive impact on the rest of the organisation. The influence that a mentee can have on those around them can help bring a more positive atmosphere to the workplace.
With all the challenges faced by the sector in 2020, retaining and supporting good staff is more important than ever, and mentoring is one core way to achieve this.
About the Author: Adrian Pattra is a management consultant with a Master of Education (Ed. Psychology). He is currently Education Director of Farran Street Education.