So, your service has been contacted for student placement and your supervisor informs you that you will be responsible for mentoring a student with your group of children. You either:
- Happily seize the opportunity to take a student ‘under your wing’
- Blatantly refuse or try to think quickly on your feet to give your supervisor a reason why taking on a student would not work, or
- Smile and agree, whilst inwardly you cringe.
In an industry where we are very time poor, we tend to play a balancing game between meeting children’s needs, families’ needs, legal requirements and completing a mountainous amount of documentation and paperwork. It’s not surprising that taking a student onboard for placement can make some educators see student placement as an extra stress.
However, the role that Early Childhood Educators and Teachers in the workplace assume for student learning and development is unrivalled. Follow these tips for a positive student placement experience.Be prepared to lead the way and then gradually step back
Remember back to when you were on placement and how overwhelming and daunting the whole process could be?Students are expecting their mentors on work placement to demonstrate and show them how to fulfil this role of Educator and Teacher in an everyday context. They are watching, anticipating and wanting to put into practice the theory they have been learning. Students are up for a challenge so ask questions of your student, being prepared that some will be more nervous than others. Prompt them where necessary and extend their thinking by explaining specifics relating to your service, your expectations, how your service develops the curriculum, the routines of your group of children and the structure of your organisation. Give them lots of opportunity to build confidence through their interactions with the children and families; familiarity with routines and transitions; and developing skills in documentation of learning and programs. In doing this, they will become a more seasoned educator in reflective practice too. After all, a mentor is someone who will guide, encourage and support another on their own professional journey to improve. What better way to lift the standard of the Early Childhood industry than with one-to-one guidance.
Just as the children we educate and care for are all different, so too are Early Childhood students. Each student on placement will differ in their learning styles, life experiences, personality, motivations for seeking a career in the early childhood industry, and values and beliefs about early childhood education and care. A mentor needs to be respectful of these differences and acknowledge that no two students are the same. The strategies and techniques that worked for one student may not work for another. As a mentor, you can still provide encouragement and give honest feedback too.
Communicate, communicare, communicate
Not just with the student obviously, but also with the student’s training provider! Be clear about the expectations of the training provider whilst the students are on placement in terms of assessment requirements, professional conduct, etc. Invest in your student and be genuinely interested in them and their studies. Liaise regularly with the student’s training provider and create a collaborative partnership that is beneficial to the student achieving their learning outcomes whilst on placement in your service. As a mentor, be confident to step-up to another level of leadership and provide some constructive and positive feedback to both the student and their training provider.
Share your expereinces and impart your knowledge
Whilst on placement, students will be looking to the Educators and Teachers within the industry to guide them. Sometimes as Educators and Teachers we don’t give ourselves enough credit for the experience that we hold and the impact that we have made on children’s and families’ lives. Forge a relationship with the student and share your own experiences and knowledge with them. Whether this be in terms of what practices are being demonstrated in your service, or strategies you have used when comforting a child, or how you document the children’s learning and development. Students are ready to take onboard new ideas, suggestions and feedback. In fact, they crave it. So the more you share with them, the more they will absorb and then siphon through for the value it can add to their professional growth.
The never-ending quest for signatures and validation
One of the most dreaded aspects of a student’s placement work is obtaining and collecting the supervisor signatures on their assessment work. Be patient with your student during this time and do your best to sign off all their documentation required; from a training provider’s perspective, it is a compliance requirement. Read through your student’s work. Whilst it can be difficult to find the time to provide written comments, a good reflective and constructive conversation with the student is of equal value.
Belonging (It's a team effort)
The concept of Belonging is one that is not unfamiliar to an Early Childhood Educator or Teacher. This concept is one of the central aims of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). However, whilst services are so good at creating welcoming spaces for the children and families that they are working with, commonly this concept of Belonging falls short for students. I have often heard from students that, apart from their direct placement supervisor or room leader, they were not acknowledged let alone communicated with by other educators. We can break this cycle with simple gestures and conversation from all within the service. It’s not a big ask and the value that it will add to your student will be immense.
So next time your supervisor informs you that you will be responsible for mentoring a student, rather than cringing or thinking on your feet for an easy out - engage in some above the line thinking and view this as an opportunity to help shape and mould the next lot of future educators.