How Expert Colleagues Have Helped to Shape the Teacher and Leader I Have Become

By Nicola Powling

Assistant Principal at Mildenhall College Academy

I am an Assistant Principal at Mildenhall College Academy and a secondary History teacher with nearly 20 years of experience in the classroom. My whole-academy leadership responsibilities are teaching, learning and assessment, as well as being the People Development lead. I am also a Visiting Fellow for the ECF working with Ambition Institute and ATTI to facilitate training for ECTs across the Trust and beyond.


What is My ‘Why’?

“Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.”  – Dylan Wiliam

As an early career teacher (formerly known as an NQT), I was fortunate enough to be mentored and guided by a range of inspirational and expert colleagues who have helped to shape the teacher and leader I have become. I was inspired by these individuals who were always striving to improve their classroom practice, despite their years of experience, because of their genuine desire to improve the life chances of the young people they were working with through providing a high-quality education.

I remember a senior leader in my first year of teaching who said to me “I love being in your classroom because you are teaching me how I can improve” – I remember being so flattered by this compliment, but now I have so much more understanding of what he meant by this. I can say with conviction and confidence that I am a better teacher today because of my involvement in delivering the ECF and working with a range of brilliant ECTs both within my own academy and across the Trust. They are the ones that are now inspiring me to continually improve my classroom practice through developing my expert mental models of effective teaching and learning and my own deliberate practice of evidence-informed pedagogy.


A ‘Wicked’ Problem?

“Record numbers of teachers in England quitting profession, figures show.”

– The Guardian, June 2023


The concerns around teacher recruitment and retention are nothing new – it could be referred to as a ‘wicked problem’ because it is difficult to solve, it is a problem that arises from other problems, it requires a multitude of solutions and it will never be entirely solved because the education landscape is always changing. However, it should not stop us from trying. For the sake of the young people and the communities we serve, as well as our own children, we have a responsibility as educators to belief we can make a positive difference. This is where I truly believe the work of ECT mentors is imperative to retaining the new talent entering our profession. By supporting new teachers to be the best they can be and by improving their feeling of self-efficacy, we can help to increase their job satisfaction and desire to make teaching their life-long career.

New teachers are novices – they do not have the experience in the classroom to have honed their craft (yet!) – however, this does not mean they have not secured some of the powerful knowledge around the science of learning and the model of memory that was lacking from my own training 20 years ago. Through delivering the ECF, as both a mentor and a Visiting Fellow, I have learned so much of the foundational knowledge and educational research that underpins effective pedagogy. This has led to me becoming a more effective mentor as not only can I share my years of experience in the classroom and the unpredictable nature of working with teenagers, but I have a secure understanding of why specific teaching methods work better than others.


A More Effective Leader:

“In terms of impact on student outcomes, instructional coaching has one of the strongest evidence- bases of any form of CPD.”

– Ambition Institute


As the People Development lead within my own academy, my involvement in the ECF and access to the vast training materials has supported my work in planning a whole-academy PD curriculum and improving the internal training offer for a wide range of staff. As the benefits of instructional coaching become more evident, the experience I have had as both an ECT mentor and a Visiting Fellow have enabled me to plan for the implementation of an instructional coaching model for all teachers within my academy, no matter how experienced they are. Using my knowledge and experience of delivering the ECF through instructional coaching, I am clear of the benefits of selecting small steps to focus on and making incremental improvements over time, as well as the opportunity to rehearse and receive regular feedback. This has supported me as a leader to explore and prepare for the implementation of a whole-academy coaching model from September 2024.


In summary, so much can be learned from working with Early Career Teachers and supporting the delivery of the new Early Career Framework. I am confident to say that I am a better teacher, mentor, training facilitator and school leader as a result of engaging with this important work of nurturing our ECTs to remain in the profession and to positively impact the lives of the young people and the communities we serve.

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