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I need some support! Mentoring in 21st century schools. November 13, 2011

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Educational Leadership, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Dr Maggie Clarke

In her first post, Maggie Clarke positions mentoring for teachers in a new light by focussing on the collaborative nature of schools and how new models and processes of mentoring need to be explored.

Can you remember your first day as a teacher? I clearly recall being told as I was given my classes, “let me know if you have any problems” and that was my support! Teaching can be an isolating profession where you are left on your own to get on with your teaching in your classroom. What many of us craved in our early teaching careers was someone who could be a “shepherding hand” who could help us in our workplace knowledge, our classroom practice and professional relationships. Emerging more recently in schools is the introduction of these ‘shepherding hands’, in the form of mentors. Mentoring is not a new concept but it has not been fully implemented in the teaching profession, unlike many other professions. If mentoring practices are evident in some schools, the models and types of mentoring have changed little over the last thirty years. In the schools of the 21st century there is a need to provide mentoring that is collegial and is based on a mutual relationship.

Raza and Mosca (2002) in their research explored ideas of changing employee-organisation relations. They posited that the ‘new age employee’ expects to be treated in a more equitable manner than previous generations. They believe that contemporary organizations need to provide opportunities for employees to have feedback on their progress and “proper tools to assist them achieve their goals” (p.2). Organisations, in an attempt to provide these opportunities, are turning to mentoring as one means of providing professional learning for their employees. Increasingly, managers in organisations are seeing mentoring as an important source of professional learning for less experienced employees. Many organisations are recognising that facilitation and support of a mentoring process is an effective strategy to build the organisation.

Over time there has been a plethora of definitions of mentoring and often these definitions have been defined in terms of the type or form of mentoring. Usually, mentoring has been defined in terms of either informal or formal mentoring. Mentoring can be recognised by the type of relationship that is evident in each mentoring process. It can be a formal or an informal relationship and within these boundaries the relationship can be reciprocal or non-reciprocal. It is the construct of the development of the relationships that is important in 21st century schools.

Formal mentoring relationships are generally designed for a predetermined length of time and are usually of short duration. Many managers implement formal mentoring programs as a strategy to induct new employees into their organisation (Douglas & McCauley, 1997). Within these programs the protégé is allocated to a mentor by the management of the organisation and usually, there is little or no involvement of staff in the selection process of matching the mentor and protégé by either party. These programs are purposefully developed, monitored and evaluated by the management in terms of expectations and goal attainment. There is an inequality of status in this relationship with communication often being one-way. The mentor directs and drives the communication down to the protégé with little opportunity for the protégé to have input or respond to the communication from the mentor. The one-way communication in formal mentoring can result in the protégé being unable to ‘connect’ with the mentor. This type of mentoring is probably one that some teachers have experienced in their own employment situations.

Informal mentoring relationships, on the other hand, are spontaneously formed through people getting to know each other in the work environment. The relationship is usually voluntary and is often based on mutual professional identity and respect. The relationship is of a more personal nature and while communication can often flow from the mentor to the protégé, it takes place in a more informal manner. This informality is derived from the fact that the management of the organisation does not initiate the relationship but rather the relationship often forms through social contexts such as meetings ‘over coffee’. The communication in this relationship is more relaxed and has little structure.

Evidence from the literature indicates that there are fewer limitations in informal mentoring than formal mentoring. The two major areas of difference between formal and informal mentoring are in the levels of career guidance and psychosocial support. Informal mentors usually provide a higher level of coaching and increase the protégé’s visibility in the organisation. They also provide counselling, social interaction, role modelling and friendship.

The co-mentoring relationship has been a development reported in the literature in the last ten years (Jipson & Paley, 2000; Mullen, 2000; Kochan & Trimble, 2000; McGuire & Reger, 2003). Terms such as “mutual mentoring” (Fritzberg & Alemayehu, 2004), ‘reciprocal mentoring” (Gabriel & Kaufield, 2007) and “synergistic mentoring” (Goodwin, 2004) are used interchangeably in the literature to describe the practice of co-mentoring. Co-mentoring recognises the contribution that each person brings to the relationship and is based on reciprocal benefit. In this relationship the status of each person is equal and the communication pathway is one of reciprocity with each person mutually benefiting from the relationship. What is important in this type of mentoring relationship is that the relationship is of mutual benefit.
As our experiences with mentoring develops and evolves in contemporary workplaces so too will the types of mentoring processes change and develop. A new model of mentoring that involves informal and co-mentoring experiences has emerged in the research. Clarke (2004) reported on a layered model of mentoring that involves three stages. These stages are:

  • collegial friendship
  • informal mentoring and
  • co-mentoring.

This model is a new conceptualisation of mentoring and portrays mentoring as a series of overlapping experiences. This layered model does not conform to any previously documented form of mentoring. It is a new way of thinking which recognises the contribution each person brings to the mentoring relationship, and is based on reciprocal benefit.  The process is not contrived by the organisation but develops somewhat serendipitously between the mentor and in essence, this approach to mentoring recognises the significance of friendship, the contributions and equal status of each involved and the mutual benefit inherent in such a partnership. It emphasises that personal, professional relationships form a vital part of mentoring.

Mentoring approaches vary and can have their place in different contexts andalthough many organisations use formal mentoring programs to achieve organisational and individual goals, it is evident that more informal mentoring practices such as a layered model of mentoring can achieve extraordinary professional development and growth. Organisations should set themselves the challenge to explore new styles and forms of mentoring that are conducive to the 21st century workplace!

References:    Clarke, M. (2004). Reconceptualising mentoring: Reflections by an early career researcher. Issues in Educational Research, 14(2), 121-143.      Douglas, C., & McCauley, C. (1997). A survey on the use of formal developmental relationships in organisations. Issues and Observations, 17(1B 2), 6-9.    Fritzberg, G.J. and Alemayehu, A. (2004). Mutual mentoring: Co-narrating an educative friendship between an education professor and an urban youth. The Urban Review, 36(4), 293-308.    Gabriel, M.A. and Kaufield, K.J. (2008). Reciprocal mentorship: an effective support for online instructors. Mentoring and Tutoring: Partnerships in Learning, 16(3), 311-327.    Goodwin, L. (2004). A synergistic approach to Faculty mentoring. Journal of Faculty Development, 19(3),145-152.    Jipson, J., and Paley, N. (2000). Because no one gets there alone: Collaboration as co-mentoring. Theory into Practice, 39(1), 36-42.   Kochan, F. and Trimble, S. (2000). From mentoring to co-mentoring: Establishing collaborative relationships. Theory into Practice, 39(1), 20-28.    McQuire, G., & Reger, J. (2003). Feminist co-mentoring: A model for academic professional development. NSWA Journal, Spring, 15.    Mullen, C. (2000). Constructing co-mentoring partnerships: Walkways we must travel. Theory into Practice, 39(1), 4-11.     Raza, A & Mosca, J. (2002). The new age employee: An exploration of changing employee-organisation relations. Public personnel Management 31(2) 187-201.

Maggie Clarke is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.  Her research interests are in professional learning particularly related to the practices of mentoring and reflective practice. Her research on mentoring has been acknowledged through publications in a number of published international and national journals.


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