Source: International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 103-118
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
In this paper, the authors investigate differences in perceptions regarding leadership and mentoring among leaders in Norwegian ECEC centres as they emerged from research interviews focussing on their mentoring practices with NQTs.
The leaders described varying mentoring practices and expressed differing views on leadership and how professional development in the ECEC centre was organized.
This study focused on mentoring provided by leaders employed in the same organization as the NQTs.
In the present study the authors explored the views expressed by leaders in their dual role regarding how they catered to the individual needs of the NQTs and the needs of the organization.
Their guiding research question was:
What perspectives on mentoring are exhibited by leaders of ECEC centres in mentoring with NQTs?
The study was based on semi-structured interviews with eight leaders in ECEC centres in two Norwegian counties.
The approach was chosen to explore the leaders’ views and experiences of mentoring with NQTs and to gain new knowledge through nuanced descriptions from the informants (Kvale and Brinkmann, 2009).
An interview guide was developed, with an inventory of topics predetermined by the researchers, and was supplemented by follow-up questions that emerged from the interviews.
All interviews were recorded and transcribed by the researchers.
Thereafter, using conventional context analysis, the texts were read and reread for emerging themes.
Initially, 19 empirically induced themes were identified.
The themes were further condensed into six thematic categories or topics.
Findings and Discussion
The authors relate to their initial research question:
What perspectives on mentoring are exhibited by leaders of ECEC centres in mentoring newly qualified teachers?
Their main finding was that some of the leaders had a more individual orientation in their mentoring, while other leaders were more organizationally oriented.
The first issue is the leaders’ attitudes towards organizational structure and arrangements.
Individual and organizational orientations may entail different “mental models” (Senge, 2006), in effect, worldviews and underlying assumptions about ECEC centres.
More individually oriented leaders appeared to take the existing organizational arrangements for granted, as the way things were, and tried to organize mentoring activities within existing frameworks.
Leaders who were more organizationally oriented deliberately introduced novel aspects of structure, such as new kinds of meetings and meeting places, creating spaces for collective reflection for the entire staff, including the NQTs.
The second issue is the leaders’ perceptions of meeting places for mentoring.
Individually oriented leaders were content with providing an open door, indicating that the leader’s office may be taken for granted as the natural or normal place for mentoring. In contrast, organizationally oriented leaders seemed inclined to choose meeting places deliberately as a strategic element in organizational work.
The opportunities that were facilitated in an individualized “open door” arrangement seemed very different from the possibilities that may be provided in “reflection meetings”, where organizational learning was deliberately placed on the agenda.
The third issue is the leaders’ views on mentoring.
Individually oriented leaders appeared to emphasize care for the individual novice professionals, protecting them from what they perceived as excessive strains and hardships of daily work, including critical colleagues and parents.
Underlying the concern may have been a fear that the newcomer would quit the job or, even worse, leave the profession.
Organizationally oriented leaders seemed able to care for the individual within a collective perspective.
They delighted in good feelings of sharing and togetherness around topics involving learning and change.
Care in this sense may contribute towards feelings of collegiality, supporting belongingness, participation and identity in relation to a learning community (Wenger, 1998), rather than being alone with problems.
The fourth issue regards the topical content of mentoring sessions, both in individual mentoring and mentoring in groups.
The authors’ findings show that individually oriented leaders may be inclined towards facilitating mentoring based upon the NQT’s present needs; the mentee decided the topics.
By contrast, the organizationally oriented leaders tend towards collective decisions regarding topics or take a stronger position as leaders in view of the overall vision for the pedagogical work, based upon needs for organizational change.
The fifth issue concerns the leaders’ views on leadership.
Individually oriented leaders emphasized relations primarily at the individual level, working within well-established, taken-for-granted organizational routines and practices.
A relationally oriented style of leadership values close relations between leader and individual members of staff as crucial for achieving the goals of the organization (Skogen, 2013).
By contrast, organizationally oriented leaders deliberately and consciously prioritize pedagogical leadership with the staff as a whole over administrative work.
Aspects of administration are sometimes delegated to other employees, giving the leader more time to focus on organizational development.
As concerns new members of staff, including NQTs, leaders want to keep and develop good people as part of developing the organization.
Put simply, the individually oriented leader as mentor tries to meet the organization’s needs by working through the individual, while the organizationally oriented leader as mentor tries to meet the individual’s needs by working through the organization.
None of the leaders in the larger ECEC centres conceptualized their role as leaders through one-to-one relationships, which suggests that institutional size is a factor that influences the possibilities for developing leadership based upon closeness to individual employees.
However, a small ECEC centre does not automatically result in the leader emphasizing close relationships.
The final issue is how the leaders conceptualized their own roles as leaders and their position as mentors as a function of leadership and organization. Individually oriented leaders believe in giving NQTs room for trial and error as a necessary condition for personal professional development, shielding them from excessive pressures early in their careers.
Organizationally oriented leaders tend to emphasize reflection and learning collectively (Flores, 2004; Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012; Stjernstrøm, 2014; Stålsett, 2009).
They show a self-consciously reflective and explicit role awareness and express this awareness verbally, often in professional language learned in leadership courses.
There seemed to be limited concern for integrating theoretical concepts and reflections with practical activities.
The NQT’s theoretical knowledge seemed to be taken as adequate, but the language of “the way we do things around here”, as phrased by Deal and Kennedy (cited in Bolman and Deal, 2017, p. 258), seemed to dominate the discourse among individually oriented leaders.
Eik (2014) remarked that professionals in ECEC institutions show actor competence but lack commentator competence.
The discourses among individually oriented leaders focus on helping NQTs master institutional activities and could be discussed as “judgementoring” (Hobson and Malderez, 2013).
By contrast, leaders oriented towards organizational change appeared to introduce new words deliberately, with other meanings and references, in attempting to change practices, although novel practices do not necessarily accompany new words or new professional jargon.
They discussed differences in views between themselves and their mentees, indicating that the language of their discourses may involve a need to use more theoretical, political and value perspectives.
This may indicate an inclination towards more use of professional language among some leaders as mentors, or what Stjernstrøm (2014) referred to as “indirect mentoring”.
New practices and accompanying discourses have to be collaboratively constructed, tried out, revised, evaluated and implemented to become sustainable as collective practices if organizational learning is to occur (Senge, 2006).
The authors presume that emphasis on organizational development changes the discourses within the organization.
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