Exploring the Written Dialogues of Two First-Year Secondary Science Teachers in an Online Mentoring Program

Feb. 01, 2014

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Volume 25, Issue 1, (February 2014), p. 25-51.

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study was to investigate the changes and learning processes beginning science teachers made in their online mentoring experiences, specifically when written dialogues were used as the primary modes of communication between mentors and mentees.

Using a case study method, this study
(a) explored the patterns of written dialogues between the two new teachers and their mentors over the course of a year,
(b) documented pertinent topics of importance, and
(c) illustrated the new realities created in the mentees’ classrooms as a result of the online mentoring process.

Data gathered through archived online written dialogues of the two matched participating pairs, classroom observations, interviews, and application documents, helped delineate specific aspects of beginning science teacher change.

Penelope and Bradley, who taught at an urban school and at a suburban school respectively, were selected as subjects.
In particular, the cases of Penelope and Bradley illuminated the nature of participation patterns and topics of importance between the mentees and their online mentors and, finally, changes that translated into mentee teachers’ everyday classroom practices.

Discussion and Conclusions

The findings of this study reveal that the two pairs of mentee–mentors showed different participation patterns that affected the intensity of the creation of new realities, and affected whether the mentees tried and vetted new teaching practices suggested by their mentors.
For example, Penelope and her online mentor’s written dialogue patterns demonstrated an online collective inquiry, in that they were actively involved in the process of building shared knowledge.
More importantly, most of the initiated postings were discussed in-depth and focused on deliberate practices for the mentee.
However, Bradley and his online mentor demonstrated incongruent participation patterns, in that Bradley showed online mentoring as a resource-seeking activity, whereas his mentor tended to use online mentoring as a way of guiding a mentee via sequences of questions.

Furthermore, Penelope’s participation pattern indicated that she was at the socializing way of knowing in that she valued the suggestions and opinions of her online mentors and teachers at her school.
However, Bradley’s participation pattern showed that he was at the instrumental stage of knowing in that his participation was oriented to self-interests, purposes, wants, and concrete needs.

Yet, the findings of this study indicated that the two beginning science teachers shared teaching practices they had learned during their teacher education programs, and discussed how these practices were different from those currently in use by more experienced teachers at their schools.
The online science mentors related both beneficial and pleasant stories, as well as painful experiences and failures—from their own teaching experiences, and from other teachers’ recollections—in response to mentees’ questions.
As the two cases have illustrated, the two markers for a successful teacher community are the placing of students’ well-being as the foremost priority, and participating teachers clearly becoming true life-long learners.
Even, when the beginning teachers tried to take easy routes with grading, their online mentors consistently reminded them to keep focusing on implementing ways to maximize the meaningful learning for students.
During the online mentorship process in both cases, construction of knowledge was evident, through the successful resolution of tensions, and through the successful cultivation of allies. The two online mentors both possessed rich cultural and social capital about science teaching and materials, and were well ensconced within a strong network in the science community.

Finally, the science education-community as well as the teacher education community could benefit by gaining a deep understanding of a mentee–mentor teacher relationship through topics discussed over the year, as these can provide specific cases of beginning science teachers and provide useful information about how to support them within the broader visions of the teacher community.

These results suggest that online mentoring programs are an effective dialogical tool for transferring the knowledge of experts to novices, and for thus expediting the professional induction and growth of new science teachers.
Both Penelope and Bradley tried some teaching suggestions supported by interesting experiential stories made by their online mentors, regardless of whether these attempts led to the creation of new realities or not.

This study shows that the online mentoring program afforded, helped both pairs become surrounded with like-minded individuals, and a like-minded community.
Therefore, participating mentee teachers had a chance to build expert habits, while mentor teachers had an opportunity to renew their pedagogical content knowledge.


This study adds to the existent literature, and offers practical implications for the successful formation of teacher communities.
For example, incorporating technology as a communication tool holds a promising future for strengthening the teacher community.
The two mentor–mentee pairs studied, were able to participate in sharing, venting, retelling, reflecting, and negotiating stories that combined pieces from the past, present, and future.
This richer range of physical and cyber learning spaces can help both beginning and experienced science teachers expose and renew their knowledge of context, PK, and science subject matter, in a relatively safe and natural setting.
As the findings of this study indicate, the beginning science teachers may not be able to successfully maintain their activities and learning in an online mentoring program, if there is a cultural clash between the online mentoring community and the school community.

Updated: Dec. 15, 2015