Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 40, No. 5, 717–739, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of an induction programme, based on individual mentoring, had on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) teaching for both novice teachers and their mentors in primary schools.
The current paper constitutes part of a large research project on using mentoring for the induction of teachers to ESD in Cyprus. Out of 13 pairs of primary education mentors–mentees that participated in the research the authors chose the five most representative couples for the purposes of this paper: two mentors working with three newly appointed teachers, and two mentors working with two novice-in-ESD experienced teachers.
Data were collected through reflective diaries and interviews.
The findings indicate that both participating mentees and mentors benefitted from this intervention and viewed it as an opportunity for their professional development. Specifically, for newly appointed teachers the induction programme resulted in higher professional efficacy and skills. They all acknowledged that the collaboration with mentors helped them identify their own teaching attributes, reflect on them and improve their practice. Teaching aspects that improved through mentorship relate to methodology, class organisation, lesson planning, access to information and time management, especially for the newly appointed teachers.
Another interesting finding in this study was the benefit of mentorship for the mentors. Mentorship is an opportunity for self-assessment, reflection upon mentors’ own pedagogies and up-to-dating. It also strengthens mentors’ emotional well-being by enhancing communication and trust with colleagues and breaking out of the classroom routine.
Impact on school culture is another finding in this study. In some cases, mentee–mentor collaboration raised other school teachers’ interest and resulted in sharing practices. Teacher collaboration and close partnership between colleagues has been established as an important factor in enabling professional learning to occur. In general, school culture and a whole-school approach to teaching and learning play a pivotal role in improving quality of new teacher performance. our study indicates the potential of mentorship to foster the development of a climate of collaboration and support within the school.
Concerning benefits of the mentoring system (mentor–novice teachers) in the domain of implementation of ESD the authors have interesting findings in different ways. The mentors’ presence was essential for the development of the lessons, the implementation of ESD techniques in the class as well as the implementation of the school’s policy for ESD. They empowered the mentees and helped them overcome the fears and insecurities they felt due to their lack of experience in ESD and teaching. The intensity of the collaboration gradually declined, emancipated novice teachers and empowered them to implement ESD. As a result they raised their confidence.
The mentors’ role was equally important in helping novice teachers understand Sustainable Development (SD) and ESD concepts as well as perceiving ESD as values and action-based education. Furthermore, mentoring helped teachers raise their own awareness of SD issues and reflect on their own beliefs and values, as well as on their classroom practice. All teachers expressed the view that they felt more equipped to deal with the teaching of SD; there was a development of their understanding of the skills, values and the pedagogical approaches consistent with ESD.
All mentors acknowledged respect to be a fundamental element of the mentor–mentee relationship. Mentors working with the newly appointed teachers found it more difficult to express respect as they felt that they had to maintain a very delicate balance between respect and collegiality on one hand and authority and professionalism on the other.
According to these findings, duration and time issues are also influential factors for effective mentoring. In this induction programme on ESD, the duration (four months) was not sufficient to achieve all the set aims. Mentors faced time constraints also due to the fact that they were already engaged in full-time class contact. Motives, mentor training and support by the school principal were also considered by participants as important factors for successful mentorship. In general the findings of this study stress the role of organisational context in enhancing and supporting mentorship.
Collective learning as a supportive means for professional development was also prompted by novice-in-ESD teachers who considered the value of acquiring teaching competencies from experiencing teaching, guidance from expert teachers and proposed collaborative development of lesson plans, teaching or watching videotaped lessons as opportunities for discussion and reflection within groups of novice teachers.
The results point towards mentoring as a meaningful and effective approach to teacher education for ESD with potential for integrating forms of professional learning communities. Mentoring and professional communities of learning are grounded on the common assumption that learning is constructed through the daily lived experiences of teachers and best understood through critical reflection with peers.
The novice/experienced teacher mentoring relationship developed within the ESD induction system implemented during this research highlights the positive implications for both the novice teachers and the mentors. Mentoring can provide a supportive and challenging forum for both intellectual and affective interrogation of practice . A transformative mentoring system that can trigger the creation of professional learning communities can most effectively promote the philosophy of collaboration, collegiality, solidarity, reflection, critical thinking, values and action orientation as well as the change that ESD seeks to achieve in schools and society, within teacher education.