Mentoring Beginning Teachers to Enact Discussion-based Teaching

May. 15, 2014

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 22, No. 2, 127–145, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study was to examine one mentor as she assisted three beginning teachers to shift their teaching practice to a more robust understanding of a high-leverage practice, discussion-based teaching.

This study is a qualitative, longitudinal descriptive case study of one mentor’s work with three beginning teachers who were part of a two-year, university-based professional development intervention.

This mentor participated in a two-year university-led professional development intervention to prepare her to target discussions as a focus.
Tenets of assisted performance are used to analyze the mentoring approach used with each unique beginning teacher. The tenets of assisted performance include: (a) identifying performance levels, (b) structuring situations, and (c) scaffolding support and preparing for unassisted performance.

Data sources include records of conversations with beginning teachers, field notes from school visits and phone conversations, reflections written by mentors as part of the online support, and materials provided by the mentor from meetings with beginning teachers (i.e. agendas, handouts, resources, etc.), and observations of the beginning teachers in classes.


The mentor believed that discussion could enhance teaching practice.
Change takes time, and helping beginning teachers internalize and adopt a complex practice requires mentors to provide opportunities for practice, feedback, and introduction of more complex ideas related to the teaching practice. She remarked that by centering her mentoring work on helping beginning teachers understand and enact discussions, her work gained a focus she had never had before.

Furthermore, the mentor’s enactment of mentoring is in stark contrast to typical buddy mentoring that is pervasive in the USA and across many international contexts. Mentoring beginners toward a complex new practice requires a learning stance of a teacher educator who is not afraid to take on a leadership role in the school. This stance includes working to meet individual learning needs, but also involves broader issues outside of the teacher–learner relationship. Functioning as a teacher leader required her to assume a mantle of authority to hold the beginning teachers accountable for trying out ideas that she promoted involving discussions and she co-learned beside them.
Taking on this authority necessitated that the mentor talk with the principal and other support staff in the building to find out the degrees of freedom available to her in the immediate context and in the shared cultural norms of the school that could promote her work as mentor. She exercised her authority by requiring all beginning teachers to attend monthly meetings, when other mentors did not. She found ways to extend mandated scripted curriculum instead of acquiescing when the teachers did not seem interested. Promoting this reform-based practice through careful scaffolding was her primary agenda, and she saw it as her role to question given practices and promote others. Without this vision of her role and the courage to assume it, an opportunity to learn new practices and ideas might not have been possible .

Finally, university professional developers encouraged mentors to try on ways of mentoring using tools grounded in a particular normative view of how teachers learn to teach through scaffolding elements of discussion-based teaching. The mentor embraced the stance of an educative mentor, agreeing that her primary role was to improve beginning teachers’ effectiveness and instill in them reflective habits that foster analytic knowledge related to reform-based teaching. In this mentoring program, mentors worked together in a professional learning community, meeting regularly with other district mentors who were similarly prepared to discuss cases, role-play practice, watch videos, and study indicators of effective discussions across grade levels in similar ways proposed in professional development literature. The mentor took advantage of all the support provided to her, asking for extra coaching sessions, adapting ideas into her own tools for use with her teachers, and using ideas from the professional development in her beginning teacher monthly study groups.


The mentor met each beginning teacher where they were in their development, and took on the authority to move each of them forward as they embraced features of a complex practice related to reform-based teaching. Rather than facilitating learning ordinary practices, this mentor provided an image of an exemplar. She provided an image of the possible as she helped beginning teachers learn the power of local knowledge from teachers who took on teacher educator roles, who pushed back against institutionalized norms of learning to teach alone or learning to teach the scripted curriculum. In order to sustain this kind of support for mentors to enact this image of mentoring that directly impacts teacher learning, policy-makers at the district and national level must support a specific vision of mentoring.

Updated: Jun. 01, 2016