Mentoring as More Than “Cheerleading”: Looking at Educative Mentoring Practices Through Mentors’ Eyes

November 1, 2019

Source: Journal of Teacher Education. Volume: 70 issue: 5, page(s): 567-580

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

As student teachers cite mentors as the most important influence on their learning (Clarke et al., 2014; Gareis & Grant, 2014; Schwille, 2008), it is important to provide on-the-ground examples of educative mentoring that focus on growth, continuity, and inquiry.
The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand what educative practices of mentoring look like through the eyes of mentors.

To understand how teachers make sense of their mentoring actions (Schwandt, 2000) in the context of these practices, the research team collected a variety of qualitative data from multiple mentors across the school year.

Context and Participants

Mentor Study Groups (MSGs): Twenty-three elementary classroom teachers met 3 times each semester for 75 min in university-organized school-based MSGs of three to seven teachers during the 2015-2016 school year.
All mentors at each school site were required to participate.
These MSGs, facilitated by researchers, provided the primary space for formal learning experiences for the mentors.
Between each MSG, mentors audiotaped their practice in action with their student teachers, listened to recorded clips, and discussed their experience at the next MSG.

Mentors: Ten teachers were selected for data analysis.
The teachers who were selected completed 100% of required audio recordings of their mentoring practice and distinguished themselves as mentors who were exhibiting characteristics of educative mentoring (Duncan-Andrade, 2007).
Of these 10, there is at least one mentor from each school site.

Data Collection and Analysis

Data sources: Six audio recordings of mentoring conversations with the student teacher ranging from 15 to 60 min (30 min on average), six written reflections, video recordings of MSGs, and one interview with each of the 10 mentors were collected across the 2015-2016 school year.
At the beginning of each MSG, the mentors completed written reflections about what they learned from engaging in a specific mentoring practice.
At the end of the school year, each mentor participated in an interview.
The end-of-the-year interview followed a uniform semistructured protocol where each question was asked, but probes were unique to the participant and the context.
The aim of the interview was to provide an opportunity for the mentors to look back at their mentoring across the year.
In the interview, the authors explored how the mentors described their implementation of one of the three mentoring practices (coplanning, observing and debriefing, and analysis of student work) they felt resulted in powerful student teacher learning.
They also wanted to find out if and how the mentors described a shift in their mentoring after participating in the MSGs.

Data analysis
To understand what educative practices of mentoring look like through the eyes of 10 participating mentors, the authors analyzed what mentors reported they did in prior practice, ways in which they were enacting features of educative mentoring during the study, and in what ways, if any, they talked about a shift in their practice.

Drawing from mentor–student teacher conversations, mentor-written reflections after the conversations, MSG talk, and exit interviews, the authors describe the ways in which the 10 mentors experience three practices common to mentoring: coplanning, observing and debriefing, and analyzing student work. Within each section, they highlight examples from the mentors, while the tables at the end of each section summarize findings across all 10 mentors studied.

The practice of Coplanning
 At the beginning of the school year, the mentors were asked to coplan with their student teachers. The 10 mentors reported their initial coplanning as hit or miss, expecting the student teacher to learn through exposure, giving ideas, and scheduling for the next day.
The 10 mentors experienced a shift in how they enacted and talked about coplanning. Shifting from a hit-and-miss approach that assumed learning by exposure, the mentors tried out in practice ways to help student teachers see how complex the process of planning is through thinking beyond the lesson plan, exploring what students walk in with to a lesson, and focusing on what teachers want students to walk out with from a lesson.

The practice of Observing and Debriefing
At the beginning of the year, many mentors realized that they had a “kitchen sink” approach to observing and debriefing that included everything the mentors could think to share.
The 10 mentors experienced a shift in the way in which they enacted and talked about observing and debriefing.
From an all-over-the-place laundry list approach that assumed more feedback equated to more helpful learning, the mentors shifted their practice of observing and debriefing to include focusing on one aspect of effective teaching to improve, using evidence to target learning and teaching, and asking questions to elicit student teacher thinking.

The practice of Analyzing Student Work
Using data to drive instructional decisions is common vernacular among teachers. Many mentors reported assigning their student teacher to the daily task of collecting and reviewing student homework or doing this task themselves while their student teacher taught. However, exploring student work together in deep, analytical ways was a new practice for many mentors, often resulting in learning for both mentors and student teachers.
The 10 mentors shifted how they approached analyzing student work in several ways. Previously, analyzing student work had been an activity completed in isolation. More than grading papers quickly, having an implicit internal process, or just putting grades in a gradebook and moving on, the mentors realized the power of having conversations about connections between goals, instruction, and learning, and recognizing assumptions they and the student teacher made about learning.

Traditionally, classroom teachers have been asked to “cooperate” during student teaching, providing advice to imitate and emotional support to solve problems.
But merely cooperating does not mean that mentors view themselves as educators who are an active part of helping a novice learn.
Educative mentoring, which involves using teaching expertise along with knowledge of student teachers as learners to create learning opportunities, must be learned over time (Schwille, 2008).
The findings of this study provided concrete examples of ways in which teachers shifted their practice from cooperating to educative mentoring while participating in sustained professional learning about mentoring.

Concluding Insights
To promote educative mentoring, targeted professional learning opportunities for mentors that provide both educative learning and ongoing support are necessary (Feiman-Nemser, 1998). Findings from this study can be used to develop mentor preparation programs rooted in the experiences of actual mentors.
The mentors from this study helped the authors define the educative practices of coplanning, observing and debriefing, and analyzing student work.
These three practices illustrated by 10 mentors in this study can serve as a foundation of what educative mentoring can look like.
The authors present one way to facilitate professional learning experiences for mentors, and this model can serve as an example for other university-based programs.
They recommend teacher preparation programs
(a) select a practice common in mentoring,
(b) define what it looks like when done in educative ways,
(c) create time and space for mentors to inquire into their use of this practice with the support of their colleagues and university personnel, and (d) together reflect on the enactment of the practice. Under this model, mentors and universities can expand their understanding of what educative mentoring looks like together, and how it can positively influence the student teacher’s growth both now and in the future.

Clarke, A., Triggs, V., Nielsen, W. (2014). Cooperating teacher participation in teacher education: A review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 84(2), 163-202.
Duncan-Andrade, J. (2007). Gangstas, Wankstas, and Ridas: Defining, developing, and supporting effective teachers in urban schools. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 20(6), 617-638.
Feiman-Nemser, S. (1998). Teachers as teacher educators. European Journal of Teacher Education, 21(1), 63-74.
Gareis, C. R., Grant, L. W. (2014). The efficacy of training cooperating teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 39, 77-88.
Schwille, S. A. (2008). The professional practice of mentoring. American Journal of Education, 115, 139-167.
Schwandt, T. (2000). Three epistemological stances: Interpretivism, hermeneutics, and social constructivism. In Denzin, N., Lincoln, Y. (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 189-214). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Updated: Jun. 18, 2020