Bridging the gap for beginning teachers: researcher as mentor

Published: 
May. 10, 2014

Source: International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2014, p. 171-187.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aims to examine the development of an unintended mentoring relationship between researchers and participants during a longitudinal, qualitative study.
It highlights the opportunity for teacher preparation to serve as a bridge to close the gap in learning between the relatively theoretical world of teacher preparation and practical world of classroom teaching.

Methods
The study analyzed extensive qualitative data relating to two beginning teachers over a five-year period. As a theoretical framework this study drew from Lave and Wenger’s (1991) theories of legitimate peripheral participation and communities of practice.

Discussion

Two larger themes emerged from the findings:
(1) the importance of trust in supporting beginning teachers; and
(2) the researcher as a bridge between learning and teaching.
The two themes found in the study’s analysis built upon one another.
The trust established between the researcher and participant was necessary for a successful bridge to close the gap in learning between the relatively theoretical world of teacher preparation and practical world of classroom teaching.

The results from the study highlight the mentoring role a researcher may play in supporting beginning teachers, particularly during the first year of teaching.
The strong bond the participants forged with the researcher were developed almost entirely through the researcher asking questions, listening intently, and asking additional probing questions.
The researcher became a significant player in the figured world of the teacher.
As noted in the literature, the necessary trust had already been established due to the frequency and depth of the interviews conducted during the pre-service year.
This sense of trust enabled a strong foundation for the figured world of the teacher to develop with a clear connection between teacher preparation and full time teaching.
The study provided an avenue for the teachers to develop their identity and learn to talk as a teacher.
Furthermore, the research study met Wenger’s (1998) criteria for an effective learning community.
Wenger described three factors for an effective learning community: what it is about; how it functions; and what capability it produces.
In this study, the teachers regarded the research study as focussed on the process of learning to teach.
In terms of functionality, the longitudinal nature of the study enabled the teachers to engage with and feel supported by the researchers for multiple years.

Finally, due to the sustained focus on the university preparation themes in each interview, the participants had a clear sense of purpose and focus to develop a community of practice within their schools.
Thus, the study provided evidence that participation in a longitudinal research study may act as a community of practice where novice teachers gain experience within the field boosting them from peripheral members to core participants in school-based communities of practice.

Conclusions

This study provides support for developing teacher education-based communities of practice to serve as a bridge to close the gap in learning between the relatively theoretical world of teacher preparation and practical world of classroom teaching.
This support may exist in multiple forms – professor/student teacher, student teaching supervisor/student teacher, researcher/participant – as it is not the personnel of the relationship but the engagement and design of the support which remains crucial.
The study recommends creating a support network between two individuals with an established, trusting relationship and comparable theoretical groundings.
Finally, the relationship must be built around non-evaluative, questioning strategies that encourage teacher inquiry.


Reference
Wenger, E. (1998), “Communities of practice: learning as a social system”, Systems Thinker, June.

Updated: Sep. 10, 2015
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