Analyzing Mentor Narratives of Reflective Practice: A Case for Supporting Adult Learning in Hungarian Initial Teacher Education

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Published: 
2020

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 28:3, 318-339

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this small-scale study, the authors investigated the gap between recommended and actual practice by exploring
(a) how mentors conceptualize mentoring processes and their role within those and
(b) what kind of reflective practices mentors apply and how these relate to the adult learning processes they support.
They assumed a certain degree of interconnectedness within the conceptualization of their own professional (teacher and mentor) identity and how this conceptualization may be affected by external conditions of mentorship within the Hungarian context.

Methods

Research Design and Research Questions
In their research design, the authors relied on phenomenography (Marton & Booth, 1997) as an effective approach to discovering the variation in how mentors experience and understand the mentoring process.
Phenomenography is widely used in qualitative studies that investigate teachers’ or students’ conceptions (e.g. Trigwell, Prosser, & Taylor, 1994; Roberts, 2003; Paakari, Tynjala & Kannas, 2011).
Their research questions explored
(a) how mentors conceptualize mentoring processes and their role within those and
(b) what kind of reflective practices mentors apply and how these relate to the adult learning processes they support.

Data Collection
The method of semi-structured interviews was deliberately chosen for collecting data in this research due to the flexibility of the technique that can result in rich data collection in small scale studies similar to this present study (Drever, 1995).
Participants Interviews were conducted with highly qualified, senior mentor teachers from various Hungarian institutions (primary and secondary schools).
These senior mentor teachers are experienced mentors, and all hold teacher mentor certification or an equivalent.
They regularly support pre-service and/or in-service teachers in their early career phase.
The interviewees (n = 10) were from eight different Hungarian institutions (four from rural and six from urban settings) in a gender composition that mirrors the Hungarian teacher community.

Instrument
The interviews were organized around a set of predetermined open-ended questions and were completed with other questions emerging from the dialogue between the mentor teacher and the interviewer in order to try to elicit information about the concepts and practices of mentors (DiCicco-Bloom & Crabtree, 2006; Johnson, 2001).

Findings and Discussion
Similar to the findings of Reid and Jones (1997) related to mentors’ role concepts, mentors in this study tried to balance the contradiction between their conceptualization of mentoring and their actual practices.
They did this either by appearing or performing to be ideal in order to keep up a spotless image or by maintaining a respectable position in the teaching community and making the teaching career desirable for novice teachers.
Further, the authors understand that their actual practices and the language they used to reflect on those also revealed a contradiction.
Namely, mentors’ narratives, although aiming to demonstrate a commitment to developing mentees’ autonomy in teaching and an application of adult learning strategies in their reflective practice, more often encompassed features of the apprenticeship model.
Hence, narratives reflected a dynamic where knowledge was transferred from expert to novice in a one-directional, formalized relationship with strictly defined roles (Paradise & Rogoff, 2009).
This contradiction between being aware of the need to support mentees’ autonomy in teaching by using adult learning strategies and the lack of this approach in actual practice raises the issue of authenticity concerning mentors’ role concepts and their verbalization of mentor behaviors.
In other words, there is a clearly identifiable gap between how mentors conceptualize their work, grounded in the ideal-theoretical notions of mentoring and how they are able to accomplish this vis-à-vis factors, such as willingness and/or opportunities to develop as reflective practitioners.
Therefore, mentors’ authenticity, that is, being genuine and self-aware of one’s professional identity in teaching and mentoring (cf. Kreber, 2013) is inhibited by this discrepancy.
This may thus prevent them from becoming critically reflective of their own practice, even if examples of self-awareness occurred in their narratives.
Further, this tension between the ‘ideal’ and the ‘real’ becomes even more evident if mentors’ authentic behavior is placed in a context that has high and often too idealistic expectations towards a ‘good’ mentor.
External expectations of colleagues, university representatives, students, and even mentees may thus discourage mentors to pursue authenticity in their work as reflective practitioners.
Hence, performativity, understood as inauthentic behavior of teachers necessitated by pressures of external educational (policy) context (Ball, 2003) may take priority over authenticity.
In this study mentors’ inauthentic behavior was associated with time pressure rooted in the external context.
This constant feeling of incompletion may have hindered mentors’ authentic reflective practice (encompassing also providing support and sufficient time for mentees’ growing autonomy in teaching) and put a constraint on the mentor-mentee relationships.
Development of mentees’ autonomy in teaching and their professional identity was thus constrained by insufficient time.
Mentors also shared the notion that deep learning comes through discussion and this is achieved by raising the dialectical reflective level of their mentees (Taggart & Wilson, 1998), which enables novice teachers to evaluate and reflect on their professional work.
As the authors found, reflection on action rather than reflection in action (Schön, 1983) is integrated with the consolidation phase of mentoring with the purpose of performing at least some of the practices that constitute authentic self-inquiry into one’s teaching.
Interestingly, however, explicit corrections were referred to as effective mentoring strategies for scaffolding mentees’ advancement as autonomous teachers as opposed to formative assessment that may support mentees’ autonomy in teaching.
Through self-assessment and self-inquiry mentees may become more autonomous in their teaching and be better equipped to identify critical issues in their own practice.
However, explicit corrections, as the authors assume, may be associated with the conception that best describes the mentor as a senior expert and mentoring as a one-directional process. Reflective practice, instead of being embedded in cross-fertilization and a mutual learning process, was, thus with this small sample, characterized by fragmentation rather than an overarching flow of collaboration among mentors, mentees, students, school and university staff.
In other words, fragmented episodes of learning how to teach characterize mentees’ development, which does not provide for an ongoing and integrated process of internalization and reflection that is supposed to be supported by and modeled through mentors’ authentic reflective practice.
In this research, mentors’ self-reported reflective strategies that are, to a certain extent, aligned to mentees’ adult learning processes seem to be dependent on students’ actual, often ad hoc needs and curricular obligations and thus are hardly reconciled in the complexity of the authentic teaching self.
These strategies exist in distinct forms associated with either teaching students or mentoring adult learners.
Hence, mentees’ autonomy in teaching and in learning to teach is supported, but only as far as it is perceived by the mentor as a positive influence on the pupils’ learning process.
This is a major contradiction the authors found in terms of mentors’ conceptualizations; namely, that there is an identifiable need for authentic and autonomous teachers who should be the ultimate ‘outcome’ of the mentoring process, but this is seemingly constrained by lack of clear adult learning strategies that facilitate mentees’ self-regulation and autonomy in teaching and a supportive (institutional and legislative) context that allows for time that is needed for such a transformative learning process.

References
Ball, S. J. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215–228.
DiCicco-Bloom, B., & Crabtree, B. F. (2006). The qualitative research interview. Medical Education, 40(4), 314–321.
Drever, E. (1995). Using Semi-Structured Interviews in Small-Scale Research. A Teacher’s Guide. Edinburgh: Scottish Council for Research in Education.
Johnson, J. M. (2001). In-depth interviewing. In J. Gubrium & J. Holstein (Eds.), Handbook of interview Research (pp. 103–119). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.
Kreber, C. (2013). Authenticity in and through teaching in higher education: The transformative potential of the scholarship of teaching. London and New York: Routledge.
Marton, F., & Booth, S. (1997). Learning and Awareness. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Paakkari, L., Tynjala, P., & Kannas, L. (2011). Critical aspects of student teachers’ conceptions of learning. Learning and Instruction, 21(6), 705–714.
Paradise, R., & Rogoff, B. (2009). Side by side: Learning by observing and pitching in. Ethos, 37 (1), 102–138.
Reid, D., & Jones, L. (1997). Partnership in teacher training: Mentors’ constructs of their role. Educational Studies, 23(2), 263–276.
Roberts, G. (2003). Teaching using the Web: Conceptions and approaches from a phenomenographic perspective. Instructional Science 31, 127–150.
Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. USA: Basic Books.
Taggart, G. L., & Wilson, A. P. (1998). Promoting reflective thinking in Teachers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.
Trigwell, K., Prosser, M., & Taylor, P. (1994). Qualitative differences in approaches to teaching first year university science. Higher Education, 27(1), 75–84. 

Updated: Jul. 14, 2021
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