Early Childhood Teachers As Mentors – Supporting Students in Your Child Care Centre

Throughout the course of the year, learning students from University, TAFE, and other institutions come and go through our early childhood services. While their time with us may be only a matter of a few weeks, we can have a positive, lasting impact on their learning journey, which in turn has a lasting impact on the early childhood industry. Your own development as a child care worker can also be influenced by how you view learning students. Consider the following ideas when welcoming your next TAFE or university student into your early childhood service:

Remember Your Own Learning Journey
When you stepped into your first practical experience in an early childhood service, how did you feel? Were you shy, insecure, and overwhelmed? Were you confident and ready to get the most out of your time in the centre? Think back to each of your practicums and remember those feelings as you begin to support the student in your centre.

See The Student As Being On A Learning Journey
The student is working toward being a well rounded professional, but they are not expected to be there yet. The journey takes time and just as we support children in their development by helping and challenging them, so to we need to support and challenge our students.

Consider which part of the journey the student is on. Are they are the beginning of their studies or well into their course? Our expectations of a new learner need to be very different to that of a student about to complete their course.

Provide a Good Induction Program
Centres should have a comprehensive induction program which allows students to understand the expectations of the service and the staff. We cannot expect students to work toward professionalism if they are un-informed about the centre and its programs. Induction programs should include a tour of the centre, introduction of each staff member and their role, information on relevant policies and procedures, and confidentiality. Students also need to know the centre’s expectations on arrival / departure procedures, breaks, practicum written work, and how to implement their tasks assigned by their learning institution. Encourage the student to ask questions of staff, and particularly the Director.

Assign A Mentoring Staff Member
It can become very confusing for students if a number of staff are overseeing their placement. Assign one staff member to mentor and support the student, and where appropriate, have them work the same rostered hours.

Introduce The Student To Children And Families
As a TAFE Supervisor, there were a number of times I visited students on workplacement and the families of the service had little idea about the ‘strange person’ in the corner playing with their child. Families have a right to know a bit about the people who are caring for their child. It is a requirement of most learning institutions that the student display a poster / photo of who they are and where they come from. Ensure this is completed, along with a note of welcome / introduction in your centre newsletter. This helps the student to feel they are valued and will lead to greater teamwork.

Children usually take it upon themselves to ask about unfamiliar people, but it’s a positive experience for both the student and the children to have a proper introduction. Children can then learn how to say the student’s name and a little bit about them.

Take The Time To Explore The Student’s Written Work
The student is an adult learner and ultimately responsible for their written assessments. However, if we are to be effective mentors, we need to understand the expectations of the learning institution and how we can best support the student. Familiarise yourself with what the requirements are, what the student needs to be competent at by the end of the practicum, and what kind of experiences the student may need to implement in their time. Do this on a daily basis, discussing with the student what they need ready for the next day.

Offer Constructive Feedback
Simply citing the students work, or signing their attendance is not offering the best of our own experience and learning. Comment on the positive things about their interactions, teamwork, efficiency and written work. Offer suggestions and ideas on how they can build upon their strengths and challenge their growth areas.

View The Student With A Balanced Perspective
This is the biggest trap centres fall into when supervising students. They tend to see students in one of two extremes.

1. As ‘just a learner’ – which can lead to the centre staff viewing the student as either an annoyance or extra hired help who can do all the ‘dirty work’ OR

2. A ‘new best friend’ – which can lead to the student being an outlet for staff for complaining or gossiping about the centre.

A professional mentor will know how to balance the student being a cooperative team member, but will be wise in their judgment of sharing ‘in house’ information about the service.

Practicums are part of the learning process, and ultimately part of developing new staff for the Early Childhood Field. When mentoring learning students remember the practicums which best supported you and why….and then be part of the positive memory of another early childhood professional as you support, guide and grow them.

Cassandra Eccleston is a dedicated and experienced childcare professional and writes for Onsite Early Childhood Training who produce cutting edge Child Care Staff Training by DVD. You can visit our website for more free resources, downloads, forums and information on early childhood teachers as mentors and the latest childcare staff training available.