Mentoring Student Teachers; A Vulnerable Workplace Learning Practice

Jul. 01, 2014

Source:   International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 3 No. 3, 2014, p. 201-218.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The focus of this study is the practice of mentoring as perceived by key participants, and the backdrop is the changing training context.
Particularly, this research aims to understand mentoring of student teachers as a practice-based learning process situated within the school as a workplace, and for the purposes of sustaining the working practices and staffing of that workplace.

This research is undertaken within an interpretative paradigm.
The participants were post-graduate student teachers hosted in placement schools, their subject mentors, and both university tutors and school-based professional tutors.
The case study was investigated over two years and included focus groups, interviews, questionnaires and content analysis.


Experiences of mentoring in this specific case study of initial teacher education vary but there are common constraints and affordances.
Student teachers in England are expected to demonstrate good and outstanding outcomes in relation to each Teacher Standard as defined by the inspectorate.
This research suggests that the wider value placed on mentoring within the workplace-orientated context of initial teacher education matters.
It is not just learning in the workplace, but also learning for the workplace.
Furthermore, the socio-cultural context within which mentoring occurs also has a significant impact, and indeed the extent to which the mentors are afforded the necessary time and mentor education to fulfil their role.
Mentors are part of the ecology of practice, and can improve student teachers’ abilities to engage in workplace and learning processes.
This was highlighted, for example, by the professional tutor who augmented the core training offer for students based on feedback from mentors about obstacles to their progress, thus altering the practice curriculum.

It was also commented on in relation to the restrictions placed on student teachers with respect to gaining experience of teaching examination classes.
Mentors can create productive and purposeful pedagogies which encourage students to both develop capacities for teaching and a proactive attitude towards experimentation, innovation, reflection and evaluation.
Learning from mistakes is essential in a complex practice such as teaching, but some mentors even reported that they were unlikely to openly critique their own practice, thus modelling restrictive and protective conversation rather than expansive or dialogic mentoring.

The case study suggests that mentoring in the workplace of schools is a vulnerable practice.
In articulating the nature of the dimensions of physical/temporal, semantic and social spaces in the mentoring in this case study, it is possible to determine major influences on it as a practice.
Students and mentors do this intuitively, and recognise the inter-dependency of the spaces, but perhaps without grasping the significance of the dimensions in altering the quality of experiences and student teachers’ professional learning outcomes.
A significant challenge in teacher education is how to make such conceptualisations of mentoring as a workplace practice more mainstream, when they are buffeted by a system driven by targets, standards and assessment regimes.

Implications for development of mentoring practices

The quality of mentoring in initial teacher educationwill take on even greater significance in jurisdictions,such as England, where the role of workplace learning is strengthened as a result of changes of government policy.

The role of universities in initial teacher education is diminishing and schools are expected to take more direct responsibility for the selection of prospective teachers, their training and support.
For the last two decades students have been mentored in their school placements, but the new policies place an increasing burden on teachers and their senior leaders engaged in this role, as student teachers become more dependent on members of the school community to fulfil functions previously shared with university colleagues.

By better understanding the alternative perspectives offered by participants in mentoring and those managing the process, and feeding the accounts of experience back in to the ecology of the initial teacher education partnership, it is hoped that more successful architectures of mentoring can be created.

Updated: Oct. 12, 2015