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Mentoring for School Improvement

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Developing collaborative networking between schools in Europe

Peer-to-peer networking and mentoring is recognised as an effective mechanism for career-long professional learning. An EU-funded project highlights its potential at a whole-school level.

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Schools across Europe have already developed efficient frameworks to support teaching and learning that make innovative use of digital platforms, tools and content. Many creative teachers have also transformed pedagogical practice by integrating technologies in their classrooms. However, digital innovation at scale remains an ongoing policy challenge for Ministries of Education across Europe. The EU-funded MenSI project explored new approaches to school-to-school mentoring. These entailed holistic and active collaboration between two or more establishments for specific purposes, such as professional development, to overcome isolation or facilitate overall organisational improvement.

Acknowledging the peculiarities of school-to-school mentoring

Coordinated by the European Schoolnet (EUN), the MenSI project started by recognising that such mentoring often takes place through school networks, although outcomes vary widely. Differentiation is determined by crucial factors such as whether participation is voluntary or compulsory, instigated externally (top-down) or internally (bottom-up), and the level of recognition and support by education authorities. “Key issues were to gain a better understanding of how specific top-down and bottom-up approaches function, as well as to explore how different incentives and rewards can motivate schools to become and remain engaged in whole-school peer learning,” explains MenSI project manager at EUN, Enrique Martin. Involving Ministries of Education in six countries (Belgium-Flanders, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Portugal), MenSI created a network of school clusters wherein 24 mentor schools partnered with 96 mentee schools. Each mentor school worked with four less advanced schools and created collaborative spaces, both physical and virtual, such as regional hubs, online sharing platforms, web-based networks, and virtual communities of practice. Moving many mentoring activities online, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, revealed that whole-school mentoring works best if it includes a mixture of online and face-to-face activities. All teachers were provided with the resources to meet online, which also narrowed the gaps in digital competence levels between mentor and mentee schools. “While provision within MenSI of some direct financial support to mentor schools may have been useful in facilitating networking and exchange activities within the school clusters, it did not appear to be a significant motivating factor in ensuring that mentoring activities were sustained throughout the project,” stresses Martin. Incentives and rewards that were more frequently cited as being particularly effective included the following: being given time to engage in digital professional development, receiving software licences, equipment and other resources, recognition of individuals by the education system, and schools or clusters involved in mentoring and career advancement.

An ongoing process of education transformation

“MenSI illustrated that long-lasting change cannot be achieved overnight. Building up an effective mentoring community of practice takes time and dedication, mutual trust and openness,” states Martin. “It is also crucial that school leaders are involved and motivate other teachers to participate, including by validating the time invested in mentoring. ”MenSI results have been disseminated to all of the 34 Ministries of Education the EUN supports. Under the EUN umbrella, the results will also be utilised by EUN’s independently funded Future Classroom Lab initiative. Moreover, lessons learned from MenSI are being leveraged in the new EmpowerED project, which aims to explore how schools in Europe can provide mentoring and testbed services to European EdTech start-ups.


MenSI, schools, education, school mentoring, peer mentoring, whole-school peer learning, professional development, collaborative networking

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