Mentoring as meaningful professional development: The influence of mentoring on in-service teachers' identity and practice


Source: International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 21-36

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

There is a need for continued research in mentoring, particularly within education.
That is, there exists a need to investigate how mentoring, specifically within structured teaching practicums, can be used and/or viewed to support mentor teachers.
This paper presents research about this possibility.
Indeed, some (e.g. see Jones, 2015) have highlighted how such research might inform policy and practice within educational contexts.
Attention herein, then, is placed upon discovering and discussing how mentoring can contribute to the continuing professional development of mentor teachers, as well as the revitalization of their teaching identity and practice.

The authors employed a qualitative case study methodology. Using that methodology, they built a single bounded case.
This allowed them to gain a close and in-depth understanding set in an authentic, real-world context (Yin, 2012).
Consistent with constructivist theoretical framework, they sought in this study to “generate or inductively develop a theory or pattern of meanings” (Creswell, 2003, p. 9) and to understand and interpret the influences of mentorship on the mentors through the mentors’ eyes.

Two experienced mentor teachers were purposely recruited to act as mentors to a small group of pre-service teachers.
The mentors chosen had a long history of working as mentor teachers with the local university’s teacher education program.
By way of an e-mail invitation, all pre-service PE teachers from one university (22) were invited to participate in this research, which would take place in the 10 weeks of classes prior to the start of their official practicum.
All five pre-service teachers who expressed an interest in engaging in the study did so.
Due to administrative decisions out of the authors control, only two of the pre-service teachers had their practicums at the research site.

Data sources
The authors identified and utilized multiple data sources to provide the depth of information necessary to fully understand the influence of mentoring on mentors (Creswell, 2014; Stake, 1995; Yin, 2012).
These data sources included the following: field observations/notes, journals and audio-recorded interviews.
Together, these provided “multiple facets of the phenomenon to be revealed and understood” (Baxter and Jack, 2008, p. 544).
Author 1 made observations and recorded field notes at least twice a week over the first ten weeks of interactions between mentors and protégés.
Notes were taken during all meetings and on-site before, during and after classes taught by the mentors.
Researchers observed all interactions between protégés and mentors.
With their journal responses, mentors were able to provide the type of personal data that came from their own interpretations of events as they happened.
This contributed to the in-depth account of mentors’ understanding that was sought.
Interviews were necessary to thoroughly investigate mentors’ understanding of their mentorship experiences and interpretations.
The authors considered the content from mentors’ journals, which was also coded for expected and emerging themes along with observational data.
This information allowed us to (re)draft questions used in the subsequent interviews.
All data were then collated and analyzed, confirming expected themes of teaching identity, teaching practice and professional development.

Establishing a professional learning community (PLC)
To ensure the formation of a working PLC, an initial meeting was held in a local restaurant, guided and paid for by the researchers.
A social meeting took place mid-way through the ten-week research period to ensure that the research parameters were being met and, more importantly, that a PLC was being established and nurtured.
A final meeting took place, again in a local restaurant, as a celebration and summation of the work.
At all three of these social meetings, we were able to collect additional observational data.

Findings and conclusion
In many cases, experienced teachers who are routinely asked to mentor those new to the profession, are missing out on an opportunity to support and develop those new teachers.
Mentors are in high demand and widely used in education; their value to the system is not in dispute.
However, school and university personnel have seemingly failed to understand that, in the teaching practicum, there is an existing structure to not only develop pre-service teachers but also support the continued professional development of experienced teachers.
The authors observed that a collaborative mentoring partnership focused on teaching and learning benefited both mentors and protégés.
Positioned as a shared journey of learning, mentorship of this form can support both the teaching identity and teaching practice of mentors.
The teaching practicum can provide teachers with professional development opportunities that are teacher-focused and teacher-owned; professional development is most effective when it is in the moment (van Manen, 1994) and in context (Beauchamp, 2015).
The authors believe that when considering the continued development of experienced teachers, those involved with (teacher) education must attend to the three themes generated in this work.
These themes of teaching identity, teaching practice and professional development should be understood to be inter-related.
To ask experienced teachers to consciously reflect on their practice, to participate in professional development to improve their practice and/or to consider their teaching identity requires a set of conditions that ideally intrinsically motivates them to act (Beauchamp, 2015).
Focused and purposeful use of the teaching practicum can provide this opportunity, with the anticipated outcome being a rejuvenated, reflective experienced teacher.

Baxter, P. and Jack, S. (2008), “Qualitative case study methodology: study design and implementation for novice researchers”, The Qualitative Report, Vol. 13 No. 4, pp. 544-559.
Beauchamp, C. (2015), “Reflection in teacher education: issues emerging from a review of current literature”, Reflective Practice, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 123-141
Creswell, J.W. (2003), Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, 2nd ed., Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Creswell, J.W. (2014), Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, 4th ed., Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Jones, M. (2015), “Mentoring and coaching in education practitioners’ professional learning: realising research impact”, International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 4 No. 4, pp. 293-302
Stake, R.E. (1995), The Art of Case Study Research, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.
van Manen, M. (1994), “Pedagogy, virtue, and narrative identity in teaching”, Curriculum Inquiry, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 137-170.
Yin, R.K. (2012), Applications of Case Study Research, 3rd ed., Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA 

Updated: Feb. 09, 2021