Mentoring the Mentor: Professional development through a school-university partnership

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Published: 
September 2019

Source: Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 47:4, 327-346
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Introduction
The purpose of this article is to critically examine efforts to trial and refine a contextualised professional development model (Betlem, 2014), designed to promote teacher capacity for mentoring within a school-university partnership.
The article adopts a multiple-perspective inclusive of three academics situated in an Australian regional university, and nine teacher-mentors from surrounding K-12 schools.
The authors describe the evolution of the research-based school-university partnership in its first year, and a model of collaborative professional learning that utilised Participatory Action Research (PAR) (Kemmis, 2009, 2012) as a structure for engaging teachers in critical reflection.
The authors critique PAR as a structure for targeted professional development for teacher-mentors, and its potential for growing teacher capacity by promoting a culture of collaborative inquiry that promises to improve teacher quality.

Describing the research

Research purpose  - The purpose of this two-phase study was to investigate an evidence based contextualised professional development model for the practice of mentoring.
The model adopted by the researchers for this inquiry, referred to hereafter as the Mentoring the Mentor professional development model (MtM model) grew out of a doctoral study (Betlem, 2014).

Research questions  - The aim of the first phase of a two-year study, was to trial and refine the MtM Model.
A Pilot study was conducted to determine the model’s applicability to practice and context, and the following questions were posed:
(1) To what extent does the teacher-mentors’ experiences of PAR contribute to learning about mentoring and their understandings of PAR?
(2) In what ways does the academic-partners’ lived experiences inform understandings about PAR for promoting collaborative professional learning?

Research design - Participatory action research was chosen by the researchers for its capacity to understand the participant’s world and the way it can foster change through collaboration and critical reflection.
The cyclical structure of plan, act, observe, reflect and re-plan enabled a fluid research model to accommodate teacher-mentors to research their practice and researchers to evaluate and re-evaluate the MtM Model.

Participants - The three academics entered the inquiry as both participants and researchers.
They anticipated sharing their experiences and drawing on their professional knowledge and skills to guide professional learning and support the growth of the teacher-mentors.
Three site-based professional learning groups (PLGs) were formed comprising teacher-mentors from three participating schools.
An academic was assigned as the primary facilitator to a PLG and supported by another academic.
Over three school terms of approximately 30 weeks, the academic-partners met with teacher-mentors in their PLGs either face-to-face or online, for 8 −10 one-hour sessions.
The academic-partners used the PAR reflective cycle to elicit feedback and critical reflection from teacher-mentors.
They developed regular summaries of PLG sessions, uncovering key themes and ideas that fed back into subsequent “action” of PLG sessions.
 

Findings and reflections
The authors report that this research uncovered trends of knowledge, skills and role development ascribed to teachers as mentors.
It revealed insights into teacher-mentors’ emerging understandings of PAR and its application to practice and context.
It gained a multiple perspective of MtM as a model of collaborative learning by drawing on the voices of teacher-mentors and academic-partners.
The findings were organised by the authors around the three identified themes:
Teacher-Mentors’ understanding of mentoring practice, Teacher-mentors understanding of “doing” PAR, Academic-partners’ understanding of collaborative learning underpinned by the MtM model, each of which is represented through context, process and relations.
As a result of the first year of this inquiry, refinements to the MtM model were explicated and documented.
The authors state that to appreciate the MtM model’s capacity for reflective practice, the outcomes of this inquiry suggest that teacher-mentors first complete a PAR cycle before encouraging their mentees to embark on a PAR cycle; that is, identify a PAR goal in a timely manner to meet individual (and school) needs and maintain group momentum/cohesion by directing and redirecting as needed.
In addition, they note, it is important to enhance critical reflection by providing professional reading to guide reflection, and by creating a space of time for journaling during the PLG sessions. Also the authors recommend to gradually diminish structures over time as members of the group are expected to assert authority and ownership of the process.
The authors note that this inquiry affirmed the strength of PAR as a transformative learning process (Kemmis, 2009).
Through the act of “doing”, teacher-mentors’ understanding of their role changed how they related to mentees. Teacher-mentors initially perceived their role as managerial: assessing the mentee, quality control of their practice and, in some cases, writing reports for accreditation bodies.
As a result of doing PAR, they began to shift their practice to one which focused on cultivating a relationship with mentees based on equality and collaboration, as well as guiding mentees’ reflective practice.

Participatory action research is recognised for its capacity to nurture relationships and shape circumstances as “a practice changing practice” (Kemmis, 2009, p.464).
The authors point out that informed by this inquiry, PAR may be conceived as a meta-practice capable of empowering teacher-mentors about the “practice” of PAR whilst they are engaged in it.
Teacher-mentors reiterated the cyclical reflective strength of PAR, and its possible application to school contexts.
 

References
Betlem, E. C. (2014). Mentoring teachers with a critical friend: Transforming professional development through visual tools. Unpublished doctoral thesis. University of New England, Armidale N.S.W. Australia. Retrieved from https://rune.une.edu.au/1959.11/18116
Kemmis, S. (2009). Action research as a practice-based. Practice. Educational Action Research, 17(3), 463–474
Kemmis, S. (2012). Researching educational praxis: Spectator and participant perspectives, British Educational Research Journal, 38(6), 885–905. Retrieved from.
Kemmis, S., & McTaggart, R. (2005). Participatory action research: Communicative action and the public sphere. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 559–603). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc. 

Updated: Oct. 07, 2019
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