Mentoring substructures and superstructures: an extension and reconceptualisation of the architecture for teacher mentoring

April, 2020

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 46:2, 184-206

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this paper, the authors offer a more comprehensive supportive framework for mentoring which would better facilitate optimally effective teacher mentoring in the English Further Education (FE) sector, and which is potentially applicable to mentoring in different phases of education (e.g. primary and secondary or K-12 schools) and other professional settings in wider international contexts.
They do so by drawing on a substantial empirical study of teacher mentoring in the English FE sector (Hobson et al. 2015) to:
(1) examine the validity of Cunningham’s (2007) thesis that the presence of eight architectural design features enhances, and their absence impedes, the effectiveness of teacher mentoring;
(2) refine, extend and reconceptualise Cunningham’s institutional architecture for mentoring as an organisational mentoring substructure incorporating additional design features which impact the effectiveness of teacher mentoring; and
(3) expose limitations of the concept of an institutional architecture and propose a complementary mentoring superstructure as a necessary additional means of striving for optimally effective mentoring.
Their focus in this paper is on the identification of common features of a supportive mentoring infrastructure that are evident across diverse contexts.

To investigate these aims, a concurrent equal status mixed methods design (Tashakkori and Teddlie 1998) was deployed.
This comprised an initial review of literature, which informed semi-structured interviews with teachers, mentors and other stakeholders, and an online national survey of teachers of all subjects/vocational areas across the FE sector.

Review of literature
A systematic key word search of the British Education Index, the Australian Education Index and the USA Education Resources Information Centre (ERIC) was undertaken, together with Google Scholar and Google key word searches to identify relevant academic, professional and policy literature.
To update the original literature review and inform the specific focus of this paper, we identified and reviewed all research outputs that had cited Cunningham’s (2007) mentoring architecture article, which at that time (July 2018) had amassed 14 CrossRef citations and 36 Google Scholar citations.
Interviews with FE teachers and other stakeholders
A snowball sampling technique was initiated, via a range of national and regional networks relevant to the sector, which led to the recruitment of 40 interview participants, drawn from 19 different organisations across England.
The semi-structured interviews were recorded and transcribed, with participants’ permission.

Online teacher survey
A national online teacher survey was developed and was also distributed using snowball sampling via a range of regional and national networks.
A total of 392 usable responses were received, from respondents at career stages ranging from trainee to long-serving and highly experienced teachers, across all nine regions of England.

Findings and Discussion: reconceptualising the architecture for teacher mentoring
The authors’ findings refine and extend the design features of an institutional architecture for teacher mentoring proposed by Cunningham (2007), and demonstrate the need to extend the conceptualisation of architecture beyond an organisational focus to incorporate the wider context in which mentoring operates.

Refining an architectural substructure for mentoring
The authors’ findings, which largely align with yet extend those of previous studies in the field, show that a supportive organisational architecture or mentoring substructure in the English FE sector would include, at a minimum, the following key design features:
(1) An organisational commitment to mentoring;
(2) Clarity and consistency regarding mentoring roles;
(3) Rigorous methods of mentor selection;
(4) Effective methods of mentor-mentee pairing, to ensure that, where possible, mentees are allocated suitable, same subject or vocational-specialist mentors, and have an element of choice in the selection of their mentor;
(5) Appropriate mentor training and networking opportunities;
(6) Mentee training to help them cultivate productive mentee mindsets (Searby 2014);
(7) Mentoring relationships of sufficient duration (normally one year or more); and
(8) Means of ensuring that participants in mentoring schemes are accountable for this aspect of their work.
There is little evidence in the present study or in the wider teacher mentoring in FE literature to support the importance of three of Cunningham’s (2007) architectural design features or sub-features: physical resources for mentoring, the accreditation of mentors, and evaluating the impact of mentoring.

Towards an architectural superstructure for mentoring
In addition to offering a refinement, extension and reconceptualisation of Cunningham’s (2007) institutional architecture for mentoring, the authors’ findings demonstrate that a supportive organisational architecture or mentoring substructure is a necessary but insufficient condition for optimising the effectiveness of teacher mentoring. The concept of an organisational architecture is necessarily limited because the wider context inevitably interacts with and makes an impact on the organisational architecture and what goes on inside it, including specific mentoring relationships.
Their analyses suggest that the external considerations that influence the extent to which it is possible to establish a supportive organisational architecture or mentoring substructure include:
1) the resource provided to organisations to support mentoring and professional learning and development (PLD);
2) the presence or absence of a wider (e.g. education sector specific, regional, national and/or international) support structure for mentoring;
3) the presence or absence of appropriate, research-informed mentoring policy directives;
4) wider local, national, international and global education agendas and orthodoxies.
The authors argue, then, that organisational mentoring architectures or mentoring substructures will be significantly enhanced where there exists a complementary and coherent mentoring superstructure.
A supportive mentoring superstructure comprises features of the wider educational, political, social, economic and ideological context, across regional, state, national, international and global arenas, which together provide favourable conditions for the establishment and maintenance of effective mentoring substructures.
It follows from the findings that such features would include:
(1) sufficient funding for education sectors and organisations within them to support the development of effective mentoring substructures;
(2) research-informed policy-making which helps to foster appropriate conditions for effective mentoring (e.g. through effective mentor training and development within organisations, education sectors and systems);
(3) more generally, a retreat from the performativity, accountability and surveillance cultures associated with global education reform movement (GERM) and neo-liberalism, which dominate the English and many (but not all) other educational systems, and which have been found to impede the development of relational trust and openness (Jeffrey 2002; Keddie, Mills, and Pendergast 2011; Lumby 2009), which are pivotal to the success of mentoring relationships (Hobson and McIntyre 2013).

Cunningham, B. 2007. “All the Right Features: Towards an ‘Architecture’ for Mentoring Trainee Teachers in UK Further Education Colleges.” Journal of Education for Teaching 33 (1): 83–97.
Hobson, A. J., B. Maxwell, A. Stevens, K. Doyle, and A. Malderez. 2015. Mentoring and Coaching for Teachers in the Further Education and Skills Sector in England. London: Gatsby Charitable Foundation.
Hobson, A. J., and J. McIntyre. 2013. “Teacher Fabrication as an Impediment to Professional Learning and Development: The External Mentor Antidote.” Oxford Review of Education 39 (3): 345–365.
Jeffrey, B. 2002. “Performativity and Primary Teacher Relations.” Journal of Education Policy 17: 531–546.
Keddie, A., M. Mills, and D. Pendergast. 2011. “Fabricating an Identity in Neo-liberal Times: Performing Schooling as ‘Number One’.” Oxford Review of Education 37: 75–92.
Lumby, J. 2009. “Performativity and Identity: Mechanisms of Exclusion.” Journal of Education Policy 24: 353–369.
Searby, L. 2014. “The Protégé Mentoring Mindset: A Framework for Consideration.” International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education 3 (3): 255–276.
Tashakkori, A., and C. Teddlie. 1998. Mixed Methodology: Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 

Updated: Jan. 09, 2021