Teach for Belgium, in collaboration with Onderwijscentrum Brussels (OCB) on the Dutch-speaking side, and Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles on the French-speaking side, have been committed to training and tutoring mentors across Belgium since the very start of the NEST project. With each language community subjected to their very own education system and particular context, it was only natural the trainings were designed separately for the two groups in order to provide to most tailor-made approach to their needs. Mentors in both groups thrived during the first year of the project, in total 50 mentors throughout Belgium mentored 120 novice teachers and became growingly conscious of their substantial role within their school. Provided with concrete frameworks and tools for directive and transformational coaching, they could not only support their mentees but were also able to critically assess their own growth and create a personal development plan. At the same time, they became curious about ‘The Other’. Even though the two systems are fairly different (each has its own education minister), surely there must be similarities? What better time than this second year of the project to build bridges between our two mentor groups to exchange, connect and learn!

Let’s kick-off the second year

No sooner said than done! To celebrate this new year of the NEST project Teach For Belgium organised an inspiring kick-off event in September where mentors from the Dutch-speaking and French-speaking sides met and learned from each other. To start off, mentors from both language communities joined focus groups in their respective languages and context, and brainstormed on their specific policy needs for mentoring and discussed thresholds and opportunities. Our respective NEST tutors introduced the training programme for the year and did a quick recap of last year’s content. And then it was time to mingle! An inspiring meet-up of French-speaking and Dutch-speaking mentors was organised, both facing different and not-so different challenges when it comes to mentoring. Conversation starters with a few inspiring questions on mentoring on the tables, a quick introduction and they were set to go. As it turned out, NEST mentors in Belgium, no matter the language, encountered similar difficulties and saw similar opportunities for their respective systems. Rather than a barrier, the language component turned out to be inspiring and comforting; it merely confirmed that even if they don’t speak the same language and work in a different system, there are still so many things out of their daily realities they could connect on. The enriching conversations inspired Teach For Belgium to record short bilingual videos with some of the NEST mentors commenting on the challenges and opportunities in their daily job.

During the following months, both groups continued their respective trainings with intensive sessions on both ends in October, November and January, taking into account the valuable input from this bilingual exchange, the focus groups and the intermediate research results. Together, NEST mentors and their mentees are growing towards more adaptive mentoring and a more sustainable coaching approach so that they can be their best for those students who need it the most. In the coming months Teach For Belgium will inform and inspire stakeholders and policymakers about NEST’s growing insights and findings, for both language communities. A bilingual panel discussion on teacher shortage and teacher retention in disadvantaged schools in both communities is in the making. Only by building bridges between regions and countries can we address and tackle this pressing issue and build a better future for our next generation!