Teaching and fostering Independence: What This Looks Like in a Practical Subject and How it’s Translated to Mentoring an ECT

By Chelsea Pawlaczyk

Art & Photography Teacher and ECF Fellow at Sutton Community Academy

From my first job in a Secondary School back in 2013, to now, wow, it has been a whirlwind. I have undertaken a range of roles from Assistant Head of Year, Head of House, Lead Teacher, 2nd in Department, to today, where I work at Sutton Community Academy as Head of Photography alongside my role as an ECT Mentor and ATT Fellow.

Several years ago, I was privileged enough to be professionally coached in a previous school, this process opened up a whole new world for me and was the most impactful CPD that I have ever received. My thinking, planning, delivery and even my thoughts felt exposed each time that I was coached. After a year of regular sessions, in which I was only ever allowed to teach for 15 minutes; before going straight into my coaching session; I felt like my eyes were truly opened. I could see and recognise, for what felt like the first time; exactly what was happening in my classroom, including how and why the learning was taking place. When being coached, every single detail of my delivery, thinking and planning was exposed and analysed in a supportive environment.

This experience included training which enabled me to then coach others, later inspiring me to become a Mentor and ATT Fellow for the Trust. I feel a huge sense of satisfaction every time I deliver a coaching or mentoring session. Now, I also have the privilege of being a part of termly clinics and full training days with ECTs across our Trust, which I know then has a huge impact on our students.


I have taught Photography and Art throughout my career, having the pleasure of working alongside some fantastic professionals, truly passionate and creative people. It is important to question how my coaching experience translates when I am planning and preparing to mentor an ECT, especially in a practical subject. The most important aspect of my own teaching; which impacts my students every single day; is to promote and develop independence. Both my Art and Photography courses are designed and delivered to build and nurture the essential skills that are needed to ensure students can then work towards driving their own learning. How do we as teachers encourage this process and nurture it? Then mentor this technique when developing ECTs? In the same way that we do with the students, using a range of examples and firstly modelling.

We use Steplab to gently nurture each individual skill. The system allows mentors to analyse each element of being a teacher in microscopic detail. This allows me as a Mentor to focus on all the key elements of my practice, it allows and encourages me to expose my thinking as to why I have developed my curriculum in the way that I have. I am forced to analyse the impact of the student’s skills and how they impact the final result. I often question, what does the road map look like for students to move towards independence?

What does this look like in practice? It may be team teaching, aiding delivery by exposing and questioning my own thinking, reevaluating what works in my classroom and how this may need to be adapted for another member of staff. I also need to consider how the class, or room, can impact the delivery of the same topic. I think the most critical thing here is also having a deep understanding of subject knowledge. What misconceptions look like and how to navigate them as well as knowing what ‘good’ looks like.

Being a mentor and ATT Fellow, has really projected me back into that coaching philosophy, encouraging me to question and develop my own practice to ensure that this translates clearly to my ECT and then in turn, the students we serve.

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