The Subject of Mentoring: Towards a Knowledge and Practice Base for Content-focused Mentoring of New Teachers

From Section:
Mentoring & Supervision
Mar. 15, 2014

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 22, No. 2, 104–126, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors examine the knowledge and practice base of content-focused mentoring drawing from the wisdom of practice of a community of content mentors.

This two-year study drew on the wisdom of practice of mentors (Shulman, 1983) in a university-based induction program in California affiliated with a national new teacher support organization. The participants were 16 content mentors, who supported 31 new teachers.

The authors collected data from the content mentors about what mentors need to know and be able to do to support new teachers in teaching in their specific subject area and provided examples from practice through: (a) open-ended questionnaires; (b) focus groups; and (c) extended interviews with six focal content mentors during which they reflected on vignettes of their transcribed mentoring conversations with two target novice teachers over the course of the year.
Furthermore, the authors also reviewed and analyzed data from cases of 12 mentor–novice pairs for crosscutting themes. The cases involved transcribed, audiotaped mentoring conversations over the course of a year, interviews with the mentor, and an interview with the novice.


Through this study the authors reveal three themes.
First, developing novices’ content teaching is a distinct and critical mentor role.
Second, to support this role, experienced content mentors identified a complex knowledge/practice base, with mentors’ PCK and knowledge of assessment for content teaching as the most frequently reported domains.
Third, enactment of content-focused mentoring reveals promising practices in guiding novices in assessing and developing students’ disciplinary thinking, as well as, tensions between content-focused and socio-emotional mentor roles.

Furthermore, this study highlights the subject of mentoring also includes the subject matter of teaching. Respondents reported the extensive knowledge base of content-focused mentors’ role and the vignette illustrated mentoring a novice in the ethics of the discipline to develop student’s mathematical reasoning.

In addition, this study identified four domains of mentor knowledge and practices to support novices’ subject matter teaching targeting both teachers and students, the most prominent of which, was PCK.
First, it revealed dimensions of mentor knowledge and practice that target both students and novices, which included knowing how to use mentoring exchanges to: guide novices to develop curriculum and resources, support student understanding of content by focusing on students’ disciplinary reasoning, and address diverse learners’ access to content.
The second most prominent domain was knowledge of how to utilize assessment data targeting both students and teachers. The mentors described co-creating pre-assessments on disciplinary thinking skills to inform a teacher’s instructional planning, as well as assessing student comments in the flow of instruction to understand students’ disciplinary reasoning.
Third, mentors identified the capacity to build novices’ understanding of content knowledge.
Finally, mentors identified needing a set of mentoring strategies to communicate with and support novices in respectful and appropriate ways. Mentors need to consider the personal support and development needs of novices while also focusing on content, which makes content mentoring extremely challenging because it can sometimes put different roles at odds (e.g. content vs. socio-emotional support roles).


This paper is significant for mentors and induction leaders in identifying a knowledge and practice base of subject-focused mentoring, and to researchers exploring what affordances and complexities arise in enactment of such mentoring. This study revealed the complex mentor knowledge/practice base needed to support novices’ content teaching which, current mentor development approaches may lack. The mentors not only had a strong content and teaching background in their disciplines, but were also matched with mentees in their same subject area, and engaged in ongoing professional development focused on content mentoring.

Professional development of mentors must attend to these multiple roles, identifying a repertoire of practices adapted to the needs of novice, students, content, and context. It must also address the inherent tensions among the different roles to support negotiating the kinds of challenges that James faced. These findings also highlight how mentors may need specific support in thinking about guiding novices in content teaching for diverse learners since so few respondents mentioned it in results part one.

Updated: Nov. 20, 2019
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