Introduction - Mentoring


Since the development and implementation of NCN‘s first Quality Assurance Programme, mentoring has always been a core part of our work to support the achievement of quality standards in services. Mentoring forms an important part of the support that NCN provides to services participating in the Siolta Quality Assurance Programme (QAP).

Mentoring is very aptly defined by Rolfe-Flett (2001) when she describes it as being ‘an alliance of people that creates a space for dialogue that results in definition, action and learning’ for all.

Soave & McCormick (2005), continue with the realism that mentoring cannot realise its true potential if it is not an integral part of 'the early childhood care system’. It must be seen as a thread that permeates the system and enriches all aspects of early childhood. To truly have an impact on the education and care provided to children in early childhood practice, mentoring must be recognised for its value by all stakeholders in the system including practitioners, child care organisations, early childhood care and education services, parents and funding bodies.

Mentoring within the context of practice is like looking at a service with a fresh pair of eyes, a critical friend, that sees all of the positive aspects of practice that are happening, starting from a strengths base but also notes the areas of challenge experienced by the educators and how these may be overcome.

In supporting services participate in the Síolta QAP and demonstrate evidence of meeting the Síolta quality standards, NCN’s mentors offer support to services through:

    • Coaching      
      responding to skills based needs and helping to encourage and enable others

    • Guiding        
      sharing knowledge in a way that empowers others

    • Modelling     
      modelling successful behaviours and attitudes, demonstrating successful strategies

    • Teaching      
      inspiring, enthusing and helping others to integrate knowledge into daily practice

    • Advising       
      being a source of specialist support

    • Counselling  
      acting as a reflective listener, enabling others to find their own solutions to problems

    • Leading        
      inspiring others to develop their vision, communicate this with others and deliver results

    • Being a "Buddy"
      supporting new colleagues to settle into their role with help from more experienced people

What is involved for services and mentors?

Services who sign up to participate in a Siolta QAP will receive an initial on-site visit from a Siolta mentor. Siolta Mentors are currently employed by a number of Voluntary Childcare Organisations and others. During the first visit discussions will occur regarding the areas of practice the practitioners are confident with and other areas that they feel they need more information and support with. A lead person within the service is encouraged to guide and support their own team through the Siolta QAP, alongside their mentor, beginning with supporting staff to carry out a self-assessment of their own practice under the 16 Siolta Standards. Action plans are then drawn up with agreed targets outlined and a review mentor visit date is scheduled. It is then the responsibility of each member of the team within the service to work together to achieve the targets prior to the next mentor visit. This process is cyclical and continues until the service is ready to begin to compile their collected evidence in a portfolio for validation.

What are providers actually required to do?

Management and staff within services are required to work as a team and to focus on the areas of practice they have identified as challenging. This varies from service to service, for example it may be that the curriculum planning needs to be strengthened or interactions need to become more child led. The practitioners then focus on the targeted area and implement strategies into their practice or documentation that will begin to strengthen the focus area. Communications are very important during the process and it is important that whole staff teams and also room teams meet on a regular basis. Once the changes are understood to be working within the daily practice then staff may begin documenting the evidence under the specific Siolta standards in a portfolio. The collated evidence may be in the form of photos, video, policies, children’s work, planning sheets, observations etc., these pieces represent on-going practice and enable naturally occurring evidence to be gathered in the service. The evidence gathered is then easily transferred into the final portfolio that will be submitted for validation to the Early Years Education Policy Unit established by the Department of Education and Skills.

What is the Síolta baseline assessment tool and how is it used by staff?

In working to reflect on provision and practice within the setting, mentors support staff to use the Siolta baseline assessment tool. This helps to identify where they feel they are at in relation to their practice under the 16 Siolta standards. The baseline is filled out identifying a level from 1-4 that practitioners feel the service is currently meeting. The baseline tool then requires the service to state why they feel they are meeting this level and the evidence they would currently have to show this. The baseline is a tool to identify areas of strength in the daily practice and also any challenges experienced by the setting. Once the challenges are identified by the service, targets are then set to develop the practice and overcome these, resulting in a higher level of quality practice. One baseline assessment tool is completed for the whole service.

What is Portfolio Building?

Portfolio building is the finalisation of the QAP process which involves staff collating all evidence of quality practice that has been gathered under each Siolta standard. This process also involves re-examination of evidence to ensure that only the most fitting evidence is finally submitted which will reflect the highest quality of practice from the service under the various Siolta standards and components.

Evidence can be in many formats but will most likely be in the form of video footage, photographs, children engaged in play, documentation such as learning stories, planning sheets, letters from parents, newsletters, policy and procedures etc. Once the mentor is happy that the service has successfully completed the Siolta QAP and that this has been reflected both within practice and the portfolio, the service can then be put forward for validation as meeting each of the Siolta standards.

What is Validation?

Validation is the final stage in the Síolta QAP. This is where the services Portfolio of evidence (inclusive of self-assessed ratings/levels for each Standard and Component) will be sent to an external assessor appointed by the Early Years Education Policy Unit for a two-part validation.

Part 1 will involve a desk-based review of the Portfolio and all evidence contained within it.
Part 2 will consist of a validation/assessment visit to the setting.

When the validation process is successfully completed the service provider will then be issued with a validation certificate.

Summary: A day in the life of a Síolta Mentor

As each setting is individual and mentoring is tailored to specific settings requirements in this outline is not definitive, but rather a summing up of a fairly typical Mentor’s day.

Prior to visit
Preparation: Review status of service at last visit and research relevant standards or practice areas currently being worked on.

During visit
Meet with Manager, Supervisor or Síolta Liaison Person for review of progress since last visit, and to discuss issues (if any) that have arisen which may have impacted on progress.

Review of Action Plans for each room prior to room visits. This could entail reviewing one or more Baseline Assessments, and subsequently checking on the quality and relativity of evidence collected for same.

Visits to each room within the setting. Observation of practice (in relation to specific Standards and or other areas of practice) and feedback to staff on practice observations.

Feedback to Manager and or Room Leaders on overall observations (practice and documentation).
Discuss and agree on a forward plan of action for next visit and provide a provisional date. If the mentor identifies areas in which the service needs support, he/she will recommend whether this is information, training, support need or all three together.

Following visit
The mentor then records a summarisation of the day’s events, discussions, plans etc. onto a Visit Record Form and sends this form back to the Service and also to NCN. If additional information, training or support need has been identified, the Siolta mentor comes back to NCN’s overall Siolta lead and consults as to what might be best for this group. The mentor then follows up with the service on these recommendations.

Feedback from services receiving NCN mentoring support

Tuning into Young Children-supporting children’s voices in practice

For additional information see Supporting Early Childhood Services Achieve Siolta Standards