Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 40, No. 1, 36–55, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This study examines dialogue for evidence of inquiring habits of mind within mentor–mentee interactions.
Using both quantitative descriptive data and qualitative analyses, three research questions were addressed:
(1) What evidence of mentor learning and development can be identified within professional mentor–mentee conversations, and is this evidence substantiated by researcher analysis, within associated mentoring documents and through focus group interviews?
(2) How do the relative proportions of themes that arise in the first and final mentor–mentee learning conversations, as determined by the researchers, compare with the intended goals and the self-analysis of the mentors?
(3) How do professional development opportunities reflect in mentors’ participation in learning conversations, focus group interviews and documentation and development as a mentor?
In this study, the conversations between 13 mentors and their mentees in New Zealand were analysed, along with mentor self-evaluations and focus group data, over two years.
The findings revealed that learning and development was found but at differential rates not necessarily related to experience as a teacher or mentor prior to the programme.
Furthermore, while the goals typically aligned with the philosophy of the programme, conversation content analysis revealed a discrepancy between intended goals and actual conversation.
Based on qualitative analysis, there are several key findings about mentors’ learning and development that can be forwarded. First, shifts in the content of mentors’ conversations from their first to their last were evident. However, there was a differential degree of shift found among the mentors with some exhibiting modest growth and development and others exhibiting a greater degree of developmental shift. Moreover, there were discernible characteristics in mentors displaying these differential shift patterns.
While evidence of learning and development was documented for all mentors, most mentors displayed only modest shifts from their first to their last conversations with mentees. That is, they showed growth in their understanding of the what (declarative knowledge) but did not demonstrate a commensurate understanding of how (procedural knowledge) to incorporate that knowledge into their mentoring practice. In contrast, there were several mentors who not only demonstrated an awareness of what they should do to develop as a mentor, they seemed to understand what being an educative mentor entailed and demonstrated that they could enact inquiry-based practices.
Furthermore, the majority of goals related to the development of mentor capacity to assist the mentee to attend to thinking about teaching practice and student learning, rather than focusing mentor time on affirmations, describing and telling.
The findings suggest the use of professional conversation themes to build knowledge about mentoring practice and guide analysis may have the potential to leverage the quality of both mentor and mentee experiences as they engage in the interactional complexity of learning.
This study set out to look deeply into professional learning conversations to understand mentor learning and development.
The findings of this investigation contribute to the extant literature on mentoring in several important ways.
First, the themes that emerged in the analysis revealed that the mentoring experience can be influential not only in the professional development of novice teachers, but also in the growth and learning of those who come to that relationship as the more experienced – or knowledgeable – other.
Further, what was realized from the exploration of the goals that mentors intended to achieve or thought they achieved vis-à-vis the analysis of their learning conversations and documentation by the researchers was that this learning process for mentors was by no means simple or assured.
Mentors came to these relationships with good intentions, evidenced in the goals they set, but it took time and effort to make change. Also some mentors appeared to fall back on routine mentoring practices privileging affective and directive support. Consequently, even the best of intentions may prove insufficient to bring about educative mentoring, demonstrating that the mentor learning process is by no means assured.
Further, perceptual shifts in practice were through instruction in learning conversations and in the development of planned, self-assessed inquiry into educative mentoring. When any of these elements were absent, the changes in mentors were far less likely to emerge in their self-evaluations and in the learning cycles they completed. Hence, mentors do learn, but the nature and form of that learning are variable and worthy of continued empirical investigation.