Mentorship: a holistic approach

Sharon got in touch with me in May 2020 via the UNSW Mentorship platform that was launched the same year. She and I had a lot in common instantly: I completed the Graduate Diploma in Education (Secondary) in 2015, she is in the process of studying for the Masters of Teaching (Secondary) now. I was banging my head against the wall trying to figure out how to stay in Australia with my partner, family and friends throughout 2013-2016, she has been navigating similar challenges in 2020. She has a lot of questions about professional practicums in Australian high schools as part of initial teacher training, I had similar questions in 2015. 

Throughout our sessions we have covered:

Going through the initiation into a teaching profession: the first two placements at schools.

  • How to interpret Australian Professional Standards for Teachers in order to collect the required evidence during professional practice at school?
  • How to take a critical stance on the Standards and think about them as a set of guidelines that could be further improved? It’s our professional duty to make a contribution into how student teachers are assessed, and what characteristics and behaviours constitute a well-prepared teacher who can work with children and their parents. 
  • What to expect in a report written by a supervising teacher at the end of a professional placement?
  • How to communicate effectively with all members of the school eco system: head teachers, classroom teacher, and administrators? How to practise finding answers to your questions in a timely manner without overthinking and being overly self-reliant? As a new teacher, we have questions that already have answers. It’s wise to learn from the experience of other teachers who are often keen to share. Our questions need to be brief and specific, so that our colleague teachers could give us precise advice and recommendation as there is very little spare time at schools.
  • How can a teacher maintain her authentic self while facing students with challenging behaviour? How to resist making instant judgements and instead take time to understand the reasons for such behaviour and where it fits within a larger social and cultural context?
  • How to have a change-maker mindset in a classroom setting? Every problematic situation has a solution and through collaboration with other teachers, these solutions can be found and applied. 
  • How to make science lessons engaging by addressing students’ kinaesthetic needs? Theoretical and practical scientific exploration can take a form of a jigsaw activity that helps the teacher to create scaffolded tasks that encourage teamwork.
  • How to design a science lesson based on a Youtube video that can inspire students to create something of their own? Videos can have power to entice young learners to imitate the technique or process shown.

Practising resilience, patience and creativity: habits required to settle in a new country

  • How to think strategically and realistically about complex and constantly changing immigration law in Australia and how to draft an achievable roadmap?
  • What are the requirements for successfully passing the Credentialed Community Language Test (CCL) and how to prepare for it? Where to find a tutor who would give practical tips for the test and would be able to assess the candidate’s current level of interpretation skills? We tried reaching out to NAATI registered interpreters who specialised in Cantonese to English, but couldn’t find anyone who could help. We also wrote to several AUSIT registered interpreters, but the result was the same. I recommended Sharon to reach out to Sydney Language Solutions that run courses to prepare for CCL and NAATI tests. Sharon quickly found a tutor who was able to help with CCL preparations. After practising diligently her interpretations skills with the tutor and independently, she successfully passed CCL Test, which gave her 5 points.
  • How to make a jump from C1 level writing in English into a near-native C2 level? A magical word is “collocations”. How to use the combinations of words that are natural to the English language? How to emotionally detach from your own writing to scrutinise every word bit by bit to improve sentence structure and flow?

Over the course of our three-month discussion, Sharon and I came up with strategies that can support us in our personal and professional lives. Through regular practice of externalising my thoughts about teaching, learning and immigration, I developed a vocabulary to talk about complex issues.

We make decisions on a daily basis, and it’s a real gift to have an opportunity to share this decision making process with someone who can benefit from it. While communicating with Sharon, I was able to zoom out on some sections of my life and conceptualise them, put them into a larger context, which helped me to make sense of seemingly chaotic situations.

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Weiyi and I started working together through the UNSW Career Ready Mentoring Program that was launched in May 2020. We’ve been on an incredible journey since then, and every meeting opened up new opportunities for both personal and professional growth.

Weiyi studies the Master of Curating and Cultural Leadership at UNSW Art & Design, a university based in Sydney, Australia. I am an alumnus of UNSW and applied to be a mentor for a student who is in the process of finishing their degree. The UNSW Alumni and Engagement Team matched me with Weiyi as our academic paths and career aspirations interrelated. We’ve had weekly meetings where we exchanged ideas about the art world. Due to COVID-19 and current Australian travel policy, Weiyi is not able to study on site in Sydney, but she continues to study online. I am located in London at the moment, and in a good position to show Weiyi the possibilities that her career in the arts can bring. Through our flexible approach to mentoring sessions, our open mind and positive attitude, we were able to support each other in our creative lives. This is what we discuss and work on together:

Artist interview. What to ask an artist? How to research the artist’s practice to understand the depth of their creative process? How to record the interview online and edit it?

To practise this skill, Weiyi researched my art practice, came up with a number of questions and interviewed me. She wants to write an article that explores the influences of geographic locations on the artists’ style.

Galleries in the UK, China and Australia. How to approach galleries if you are a young curator?

To establish a connection with a wide variety of galleries around the world, I recommended Weiyi to create a website where she could showcase her understanding of the art market. She is now in the process of creating one.

Relational art and socially engagement art practice. How to connect with artists, curators and the community and engage them in a meaningful way.

I talked to Weiyi about a local community project that I was involved in. It is an environmental campaign to save The Happy Man Tree. Although the campaign is not explicitly related to practicing art, it has strong elements of socially engagement practices. I wanted to show to Weiyi how to think outside of the box and gain inspiration from immediate environment.

Grants for curators. Where to look for funding for young curators? How to apply for them? How to meet the criteria of funding bodies?

We looked at the Arts Council in Australia and the UK, and identified their key criteria for applying. Weiyi is now in the process of putting together an application.

UNSW Career Ready Mentorship program allowed me to share my experience with Weiyi who really needs this extra support right now. In the process of talking to her and looking back at how I got from point A to point B, I put my professional experience into the prospective. It also allowed me to gain a higher appreciation for what I’ve achieved so far. Weekly meetings with Weiyi kept reminding me of my values.

Together we stand.

This is how Weiyi felt about having me as a mentor.