Critical Thinking, Caring and Professional Agency: An Emerging Framework for Productive Mentoring

Nov. 01, 2011

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 19, No. 4, November 2011, 465–482.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article reports on a mentoring programme in a university at the Republic of Ireland, which provides an accreditation pathway to a master’s level qualification.

The article began by considering Hargreaves’ (2003) philosophical question on what kind of teacher we need to develop in these rapidly challenging times nationally and internationally.
The authors adopted three different and complementary lenses through which to consider mentoring as an academic and professional practice:
(a) the international literature;
(b) their own reflective and reflexive dialogue; and
(c) observations from mentor teachers’ efforts to interrogate their own professional practices.

Mentoring in the Republic of Ireland
The authors found that the international literature suggested that teacher professionalism is highly contested within a debate oscillating between empowering teachers to develop as learners or positioning teachers as the clones and drones of policymakers.
While the researchers within the literature highlighted some benefits of mentoring, they also noted the difficulty of establishing a model of mentoring with an inbuilt capacity for critical engagement.
Researchers who have studied in the Republic of Ireland consistently revealed a lacuna in the inquiry-oriented disposition of mentors.

The authors' reflective and reflexive dialogue

The authors have then positioned themselves within the mentoring debate and have argued for a model of productive mentoring based on the changing needs of mentor teachers working as professionals within a rapidly changing society.

A theoretical framework for productive mentoring began to emerge.
The framework, thus far, has evolved over the last four years from a robust interrogation of our practice, shared with one another and with our students, mentor teachers, school principals and tutors, from primary education through to upper secondary education.

The authors developed four key guiding principles for the study and, with observations from their interactions with mentors involved in the study:
(1) The holistic, learner-centered nature of teaching is supported within a commitment to caring for each person working within education. Interaction and dialogue are the preferred ways of sharing knowledge.

(2) Teaching is viewed as a profession with its own standards and codes of practice.
(3) Within the traditions of academia, participants on the mentoring course interrogate education in a critically reflective way.
The school-university partnership is celebrated as a mutually enriching relationship.

(4) The authors acknowledged the complexity of teaching and mentoring and confront the difficult issues which surround contemporary education within a rapidly changing and challenging society.


The evolving framework for productive mentoring was positioned within a philosophy of care, with mentor teachers as professionals and critical inquirers working within the complexity of a rapidly changing global society.

Teachers involved in this mentoring study were surrounded by teacher educators, researchers and policymakers and involved in dialogue that sought to bring a critical edge to a model of productive mentoring for teacher professional learning.

The authors conclude by arguing for productive mentoring, for sustainable change, as an academic, caring and professional practice that is contextually responsive.

Hargreaves, A. (2003). Teaching in the knowledge society: Education in the age of insecurity. New York: Teachers’ College Press.

Updated: Sep. 30, 2013