In this post, I intend to share an experience I had attending a Peer-Group Mentoring session, at Kiipula (a Vocational school), led by Riikka Michelsson.
First of all, let me introduce briefly the concept of Peer-Group Mentoring – PMG.
“Peer-group Mentoring is a new model of supporting professional development. It can be organized among a variety of professions but here we focus on teachers. […] (PMG) is an activity involving teachers sharing and reflecting on their experiences, discussing problems and challenges they meet in their work, listening, encouraging one another, and, above all, learning from each other, and learning together (HEIKKINEN JOKINEN and TYNJALA, 2012, p. xv)”.
The group session I attended usually happens once a month. I was lucky I had met Sanna Ruhalahti, the person who made all the contact so that I had the chance to join it and, besides that, gave me the book I’ve been reading recently.
When I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by Riikka. She was preparing coffee and said that was an important kind of “ritual” to open the session. As a coffee-addicted, I totally agree that is a great way to warm-up conversations and boost Professional Development!
She organized everything so neatly. We had a quick chat before the meeting; Riikka shared some important historical and operational aspects of this PGM project called Osaava Opelix, which is a project funded by the Finland Education Ministry and aims to support teacher and school community development.
Through PGM sessions, educators not only find support for their professional challenges through the discussion and group construction/negotiation of some coping strategies, but most of all, they advance their skills, build network, share good practices and enhance their knowledge. Thus, a sustainable professional development comes about and everybody’s knowledge and experience are taken into account.
Riikka said it has started with an attempt of retaining young teachers in schools, as a lot were quitting their jobs during the first year; probably because of lack of guidance and support.
Coffee was ready, and along with it a set table with some goodies, beverages and finger food. The way Riikka took care of everything, so carefully, surely caught my attention. It was not only about a job, it was about people, receiving them warmly and giving them/taking from them the best with open heart.
The group was welcomed by the door. Everyone helped themselves, grabbed their coffee and joined the table. A quick conversation went on.
The session began with the use of dialogical tickets (Dialogical Method – developed by Helena Aarnio). The aim is to assure dialogue happens symmetrically.
Each one received the same amount of tickets, in this case five. Summarizing, this is how it works: each ticket gives the person the chance to talk. Each one uses a ticket a time, after everyone had their turn. That allows symmetry in conversation, as everybody has their chance to speak and be listened.
Sometimes, one can get excited with the conversation and forget about the cards. The group then makes the person remember and somehow that also becomes a fun, pleasant time.
Facilitator is always present, mediating and assisting dialogue. With good use of communication strategies, the group members are able to conduct themselves symmetrically and respectfully.
After that, an open conversation went on. No one held the conversation for so long. They talked, they laughed and they came up to many levels of work life and their own life, not only about challenges, but about positive things and how to help students to develop important skills for the 21st century.
The session took a little more than two hours. People were there talking, having coffee and surely growing together. The PMG project has been designed in such a way that it provides practice-oriented Professional Development; on-the-job learning. Educators’ knowledge is explored and valued.
What amazed me most was becoming aware of the fact that this kind of project is supported by the Education Ministry, even being provided for small groups (4-10 members in each). Quality is the focus, not quantity. The fund is decentralized and administrated by the mentor himself/herself. Trust is the basis of all relations and we can see that through small attitudes, everywhere.