Cascading, Colliding, and Mediating: How Teacher Preparation and K-12 Education Contexts Influence Mentor Teachers’ Work

January 1, 2020

Source: Journal of Teacher Education. Volume: 71 issue: 1, page(s): 108-121

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Through the framework and illustrative examples presented in this paper, the authors highlight the multiple messages and pressures that mentor teachers, as individuals working within each context, navigate in their preparation of teacher candidates.
Moreover, drawing on systems theory and complexity theory, they describe how ideas and policies interact across and within these two contexts, creating possibilities and constraints for mentor teachers.

Mentoring Within Two Contexts
The authors’ model begins by acknowledging that the work of mentor teachers is situated within two different contexts—the context of K-12 schooling and the context of teacher preparation; the overlapping nature of the model is designed to show that mentor teachers work in both contexts simultaneously.
Informed by two theoretical perspectives—systems theory and complexity theory—they also suggest through their model that within each of these contexts there are dynamic “systems”—self-organizing networks of interrelated individuals and activities (Ennis, 1992)—that influence mentor teachers’ work with candidates.

In their model, the authors put mentor teachers at the center and the concentric circles surrounding them to represent the different systems that shape their work.
To represent their position as individuals within both the context of K-12 schooling and the context of teacher preparation, there are two sets of concentric circles that overlap, representing different systems in which they work.
The innermost circles consist of the individuals, policies, and practices with whom the mentor teacher is in direct interaction at the school level (K-12 teaching) and at the clinical level (teacher preparation).
Surrounding this are circles in both contexts representing district and school (K-12 teaching) and preparation program (teacher preparation), culture, policy, and practice - these all inform the actions that mentors engage in with the individuals, but their influence is more indirect.

The next set of concentric circles represent teaching policies emanating from the federal and state level (K-12 teaching) and the state and district teacher preparation policies (teacher preparation).
The outermost circles represent societal and cultural beliefs about teaching (K-12 teaching) and learning to teach (teacher preparation).
As a means of showing the dynamic nature of their model, the authors also draw on complexity theory.
Understanding the work of mentor teachers through a complexity systems model provides a more contextualized understanding of their work as well as the various dynamic influences, possibilities, and challenges that they face in mentoring candidates.
Much of the literature to date focuses on specific characteristics of good mentor teachers or effective practices they use with candidates.
Through their model, they aim to highlight the complex work of mentor teachers and the pressure that they face.

Discussion and Implications
The authors’ model emphasizes the interacting systems that influence mentor teachers as they participate in the preparation of candidates. It is not just that an experienced teacher takes on a candidate and prepares them to be a teacher; rather, their work is situated within historical norms, policy environments, and school, district, and societal belief systems that encourage certain types of actions and constrains others.
Moreover, mentor teachers themselves have beliefs and histories that shape the ways they mediate these pressures for teacher candidates.
Mentor teachers are constantly working within two contexts that present different demands and incentives as they engage in teaching both K-12 students and candidates. This simultaneous task, and the many systems in which each task is embedded, provides a complex environment for mentoring.

This framework illustrates both the situatedness of mentor teachers and possibilities for their agency.
Their daily interactions with candidates who encounter conflicting beliefs or contradictory policies allow them to mediate educational policy and practice for candidates throughout their clinical experiences. Just as policies or practices are influencing their work, mentor teachers’ work also influences the policies and practices of others within the systems in which they are situated.
Each system matters, but it is also the way that the systems interact with each other within and across contexts that inform the work of mentor teachers.
Although the literature has highlighted the critical work that mentor teachers engage in to educate candidates, it does not generally address the pressures and influences that cascade and collide across the contexts of K-12 education and teacher preparation, nor their role in mediating these cascades and collisions.

This model makes visible the complex process of mentoring candidates—pressures and messages emanate from within contexts and systems and the mentor teacher often serves as a mediator.
This has clear implications for practice, research, and policy.
This model highlights interactions and influences across the two contexts and makes clear the complexity of the mentor teacher’s role within them.
Given that preparation programs and K-12 contexts are mediating state policy, creating their own policies and practices, and putting expectations on mentor teachers to engage in certain behaviors, creating spaces for shared conversation can provide opportunities for each to understand the pressures, expectations, and barriers for effective clinical preparation for teacher candidates.
This is avenue and example of a practice that could strengthen clinical partnerships and also provide better learning opportunities for teacher candidates and K-12 pupils.

Although it may not be a common expectation that K-12 schools interact directly with teacher preparation programs, the authors see these interactions as promising opportunities for authentic partnerships.
Currently a small number of preparation programs partner directly with districts with the goal of preparing future teachers to work in the partner district (e.g., Klein, Taylor, Onore, Strom, & Abrams, 2013; Solomon, 2009).
When K-12 districts work directly with teacher preparation programs, with mentor teachers, teacher educators, and administrators from each context meeting together, learning from each other, and supporting their shared work of K-12 children’s education, they are more likely to be effective in these endeavors. Instead of viewing K-12 schools only as potential sites and mentor teachers only as individuals who are willing to host, or of viewing teacher preparation as teaching candidates a specific sets of skills or knowledge, this framework illustrates how the two contexts are in constant interaction with each other.

Ennis, C. D. (1992). Reconceptualizing learning as a dynamical system. Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, 7(2), 115-130.
Klein, E. J., Taylor, M., Onore, C., Strom, K., Abrams, L. (2013). Finding a third space in teacher education: Creating an urban teacher residency. Teaching Education, 24(1), 27-57.
Solomon, J. (2009). The Boston teacher residency: District-based teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 60(5), 478-488. 

Updated: Jul. 18, 2020