'It's All About Paying Attention!' … But to What? The '6 Ms' of Mentoring the Professional Learning of Teacher Educators

Mar. 10, 2010

Source: Professional Development in Education, Volume 36, Issue 1 & 2  (March 2010), p. 229 - 244
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Much of the international literature on professional learning in the field of education is predicated on the assumption that, for teacher educators and the teachers they work with alike, professional learning is a matter of rigorously applying the principles and strategies of 'reflective practice' and 'critical reflection'. Professional learning for teacher educators is not just, or even, a matter of attending conferences, or spending a day reading in the library, or, for that matter, conducting empirical research in schools and classrooms. Rather, it is a matter of undertaking potentially transformative and rigorous investigations of their own professional practices in order to improve those practices.

This article reports the findings of the authors' self-studies of their role as the mentors of groups of teacher educator colleagues, who were themselves engaged in action research on their work with teachers as their chosen mode of professional learning.

From these studies of mentoring the professional learning of teacher educator colleagues, the authors have developed a conceptual model for 'contextually responsive mentoring' in teacher education.

This model proposes that there are (at least) six core preoccupations of practice that tend to dominate teacher educators' thinking when engaged in these kinds of professional learning enquiries. The authors call these preoccupations 'the 6 Ms' of mentoring professional learning in teacher education.
These six preoccupations are divided into two groups: those focused on the progress or process of the enquiry itself, and those focused on the enquirer and the nature of the professional relationships that evolve among those taking part. The preoccupations are summarized as follows:

Reflection-inquiry-focused preoccupations

Meaning Preoccupations related to mentees/practitioners making sense of their practice and professional experience generally, but also making sense of the evidence gathered during reflective enquiries in particular.

Me-ness Preoccupations centred on keeping the focus in critical reflection on the mentees/practitioners themselves. This often had two particular dimensions: their identifying and critiquing their own practices, as opposed, for example, to the practices of others; and ensuring that the issues addressed were genuinely their puzzles of practice, as opposed, for example, to their institution's or to ours.

Manageability Preoccupations about logistical, organisational or workload issues (finding 'mental space', organising resources, sampling for data collection, etc.), but also significantly about the scope of the enquiry, especially identifying puzzles of practice or enquiries 'small' enough to be 'doable' but 'big' enough to be important.

Relationship-focused preoccupations

Momentum Preoccupations involving motivational or priority issues and issues around time and timing, especially maintaining, sustaining and negotiating a self-study or enquiry over an extended period of time, and in the face of other distractions.

eMpathy Emotional and/or cultural 'safety' Preoccupations, including feeling safe and secure about the mentoring process, ethical issues in the enquiry process, emotional responses to critique and judgement, adherence to cultural values, and the interplay of individual personalities within the group.

eMpowerment Preoccupations around the extent of agency, autonomy, dependence, professional status and relative contribution, as felt by individuals in relation to the group and in relation to the mentor, as these changed over time.

Although it originates from investigations of the professional learning of in-service teacher educators, the authors argue that the model has relevance for all those teacher educators, and indeed all those teachers, who might be engaged in mentored reflective practice, action research, self-study, and the like, as forms of professional development or learning.

Updated: Apr. 06, 2010