Mentoring the Mentors: Hybridizing Professional Development to Support Cooperating Teachers’ Mentoring Practice in Science

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Published: 
2019

Source: Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 19(1)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors developed a series of three online mentoring modules to broadly disseminate their mentoring professional development (PD) in an engaging format that utilizes animations, case studies, and user interactivity.
They coupled these online modules focused on effective mentoring strategies with a half-day, face-to-face professional development on the elements of effective science instruction (ESI).
The following research question guided the researchers’ study:
How does a hybrid of online and face-to-face PD in ESI and mentoring impact the quality of mentors’ work to support preservice teachers?

Methods

Study Context and Data Sources - The authors undertook this study in the context of an elementary science methods course at a Pacific Northwestern university.
Mentors were cooperating teachers at four nearby elementary schools who hosted mentees in their classrooms in conjunction with the science methods course.
Mentees were elementary preservice teachers working in groups of three to plan and deliver 6 weeks of a science unit, using the elements of ESI to frame their lessons.
Mentees rotated the role of lead teacher for each lesson, so that each group member taught two complete lessons while other group members provided instructional support.

Sample - Twenty-two mentor teachers from four elementary schools in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods completed all of the data collection for this study.
The findings described below are drawn from a subset of five participating teachers who had not completed any prior face-to-face mentoring PD offered by our research group.
A total of 17 mentoring conversation recordings (nine held prior to PD and eight held after PD) from this subset were available for our analyses.
The authors also analyzed and coded the participants’ written responses for common themes before and after the intervention.

Findings
When comparing mentor conversations held after the hybrid PD to those held beforehand, the authors observed notable changes in both the content and structure of discussions.
Conversations held prior to the PD were focused first and foremost on classroom management (54% on average), whereas those held after PD were overwhelmingly focused on elements of ESI (76% on average).
In concert with this shift, the authors observed an increase in discussion of student data related to the learning target from an average of 14% in the conversations prior to the PD and 23% of the post-PD conversations.
The authors also found that the structure of mentoring conversations also underwent a notable shift in response to the PD.
In conversations prior to the PD, cooperating teachers overwhelmingly utilized a consulting stance and were also the dominant voices in the conversation, responsible for 67% of coded text.

After PD, conversations alternated nearly evenly between coaching and consulting stances, and preservice teachers held much more of the floor – accounting for 45% of dialog on average.
In written reflections prior to and after the PD, the cooperating teacher participants also noted personal growth in an end-of-module reflection on learning.
Following the modules, the authors found that most mentors similarly noted that the conversation should focus on the targeted science idea rather than instructional moves, and that specific suggestions should only be provided if the novice is stuck regarding the next steps to support students’ learning. Content and structure of the mentor conversations were intentional goals of the modules, and the initial ideas and reflections provide evidence that these goals were met.

Discussion
The authors point out that as the preceding analysis demonstrates, this model for hybridizing the PD by moving the mentoring strategies to an online format effectively supported the participants’ mentoring practice and offered specific affordances not provided by traditional face-to-face teacher PD.
Although cooperating teachers had classroom knowledge and valuable teaching experience upon entering this program, they more effectively coached the mentees and used evidence of student learning to guide their mentoring conversations with the novice teachers.

Cooperating teachers who participated in the hybrid PD sequence showed statistically significant increases in their ability to use coaching as a default mentoring stance, to focus on evidence of students’ science learning, and to draw on a consistent framework for ESI during their conversations.
The authors also note that the mentoring conversations after the PD series emphasized an exploration of student learning in relation to a science learning target instead of the stronger emphasis on student behaviors or management strategies prior to the PD. In addition, the cooperating teachers utilized a more flexible mentoring stance, coaching unless consulting was needed, which has been previously noted as an effective mentoring strategy.

The online mentoring PD also provided a more time- and cost-efficient approach to PD while improving the mentors’ ability to focus on what matters to support students’ science learning.
While the online mentor modules provided effective, flexible, and cost-effective training for helping cooperating teachers conceptualize and facilitate mentor conversations, the authors found that the in-person ESI training provided necessary background information in terms of what cooperating teachers should look for and talk about in a mentor conversation.
In order to focus the conversation on student learning, cooperating and preservice teachers needed to have a common understanding of the learning cycle within the science lesson and a common language to discuss that process.
The in-person ESI PD provided a dynamic group learning environment and a shared experience to build community, which helped pinpoint individual teacher concerns and confusions and allowed the authors to focus on a specific framework for science instruction that preservice teachers were implementing.
The authors conclude that by combining the online mentor modules and an in-person ESI PD, the hybrid format resulted in effective PD for cooperating teachers mentoring novice science teachers.

Updated: Dec. 01, 2019
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