An Analysis of Beginning Mentors’ Critical Incidents in English Post-Compulsory Education: Navigating Stormy Waters

December 2016

Source: International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 5 No. 4, 2016, pp. 304-317
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examines the barriers and dilemmas faced by beginning mentors in post-compulsory education in the Southeast of England.
It aims to investigate ways in which mentors’ own values, beliefs and life experiences affected their mentoring practice.

The participants were 21 mentors, who enrolled to a specialist master’s-level professional development module. The majority of the participants were women and most worked in colleges. In addition, over 71% of the participants were white and 28.5% were black minority ethnic.
The authors used critical incidents methodology )Tripp, 2012) to categorize different types of professional experiences that mentors encountered and describes the strategies and rationales mentors used to support mentees.
The authors analyzed 42 critical incidents.

The results reveal that the highest percentage of critical incidents related to the observation of teaching.
The participants gave four different examples of the use of observation as “performance management”. These themes include: the controversial nature of teaching observations, the importance of managing behavior for new teachers, mentors feel they must be very cautious, and the emotional labor of mentoring.

The authors found the use of observation of teaching primarily as a tool of performance management problematic, as it clashed with their values of fairness, impartiality and professional integrity.

Another significant theme which emerged related to concerns over behavior management.
The authors found that 19% of critical incidents related to managing students’ behavior, often seen as a crisis point for mentees who felt distressed by such occurrences.
The participants wrote about their use of questioning, listening, observation and reflection to pinpoint the problems and to prompt potential solutions.

A third theme examined the mentors’ role in “walking the tightrope” between institutional demands, mentee and learners’ needs and the mentors’ own beliefs and life experiences.
The mentors reported that they demonstrated skills in listening, questioning and re-framing problems, so that mutually satisfactory solutions could generally be found.
The results show that in five of the 42 cases, mentees found challenges overwhelming and questioned their own efficacy as teachers.

Another theme focused on the emotional labor of mentoring, as the management and regulation of feelings has become an important workplace skill. The mentors are judged, not just by their expertise or intelligence, but also by the exercise of their interpersonal skills.
The mentors noted that discussing the dilemmas confidentially, as well as writing about them had been helpful.

Finally, the authors argue that in some cases mentoring can be seen as a form of career capital where professional and personal efficacy can be derived from the interactions of mentees and mentors.
In addition the results demonstrate that just over 85% of the mentors in the research wrote about the mutual benefits of mentoring in terms of improved skills and practice for the mentee, and professional growth for the mentor.

The authors conclude that the case studies represented examples of the dilemmas that mentors faced in post-compulsory education and demonstrated that mentoring is complex, and mediated by mentors’ motivation and values.
This study helps to identify ways in which mentors’ professional development needs can be met through reflection on critical incidents.
The authors suggest that in order to improve teacher education overall, institutions could ensure that those who mentor teacher trainees or more experienced lecturers have access to timetabled remission and professional development. 

Updated: Apr. 22, 2018