Operationalizing the mentoring processes as perceived by teacher mentors


Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 28:3, 295-317

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study considering the development of the mentoring relationship in teaching addresses the gap in empirical evidence within initial teacher education in the Australian context.
Therefore, this qualitative study makes a contribution by exploring the development of the mentoring relationship, its progression and features in practice, with a focus on the when and how of mentoring processes from the perspective of the teacher mentor and more specifically addresses the following research question:
In what way does the mentoring relationship develop during professional experience?


Research approach
The authors focused on the mentors’ perspectives on effective mentoring practice.
Data were collected from a two-year study on improving the school professional experience in an Australian university.
Data were drawn from semi-structured interviews, with targeted, rather than random, qualitative samples.
Further, the interviews provided the opportunity to identify the multiple ‘cultural realities’ that exist in the complex school context (Sultana, 1991, p. 59).
The aim of the research was to provide qualitative evidence from within a school context to determine the operationalization of the mentoring relationship in connection with Kram (1983) and Mullen and Schunk (2012) research.

Context and participants
Six independent schools were identified as potential locations from which to recruit teacher mentors for the study.
Recruitment was supported by the Association of Independent School and the professional experience officer from the university.
Seven mentor participants, two males and five females, were selected from six schools across Sydney, Australia.
The six schools provided a range of contexts (e.g. single sex, comprehensive, co-educational, religious). The schools varied in terms of student cohort and size (medium to large enrolments) across the metropolitan area.

Data collection
Data were collected from two post-professional experiences.
The participants took part in an extensive semi-structured interview (duration 60–90 minutes) which addressed each participant’s perspectives of mentoring processes, expectations, and how they guided and supported the mentee.
The researchers adopted an open-ended interview protocol, whereby, the participants described his or her lifeworld – relationships, style of mentoring experiences and beliefs as a mentor.
The questions were developed based on feedback from earlier focus groups with pre-service teachers and informed by the literature review.
The questions asked were broad and designed to encourage conversation, trust and to establish rapport.
Interviews were used to explore the mentors’ experiences and perceptions of the relationship during professional experience.
This approach allowed the authors to acquire personalized information about how the mentor guided and supported the mentee during the professional experience.
This form of dialogue allowed the participants to offer opinions, experiences, and views, including personal stories.
The interview transcripts were returned to the interviewee for approval, they were recorded, transcribed verbatim and deidentified.

Findings and discussion
The development of the mentor relationships is complex and highly variable as the mentoring relationship moves between the phases of Initiation; Cultivation; Separation; and Redefinition.
Each phase was characterised by specific mentoring processes, incorporating effective experiences, developmental processes, and patterns of interaction that aligned with Mullen and Schunk (2012) model.
Movement forward or backward from one phase to another was defined by changes in the mentee’s confidence.
The expansion of the mentee’s connections increased trust in the relationship, and the augmentation of the mentor roles characterised by independence and/or separation in the relationship also defined phase movement.
The phases were not sequential rather they tend to be contextual and opportunistic in teacher education mentoring relationship.
For example, the opportunity to experiment helps support identity development, yet providing an opportunity to experiment may be limited by contextual/system factors or the mentors desire to ensure the mentee experience successful teaching.
The authors’ findings supported the view of four distinct phases, with processes that are interconnected and interrelated, that aligned with previous corporate mentoring research (Kram, 1983; Mullen & Schunk, 2012).
The findings contribute to a deeper understanding of how the mentoring relationship develops and what processes contribute to supporting confident, autonomous teachers.
The development of the mentoring relationship during professional experience differed from previous corporate mentoring research (e.g. Kram, 1983; Mullen & Schunk, 2012).
Key differences included the shorter time frame, the situational requirements of individual schools and mentors, and the overarching accreditation requirements for new teachers (e.g. TEMAG, 2014). These factors provided challenges for mentoring, with mentor and mentee under obligation to multiple stakeholders.
The mentoring processes in teaching played an important role in facilitating entry into the teaching culture and school context.
Within this context existed the often ad hoc nature of supervision (e.g. limited mentor training, no choice of mentor/mentee match, and the complexity of teaching in difficult to teach schools) noted in research (Banville, 2002).
A consequence is that the current mentoring model for preservice teachers can be viewed as developmental.
This understanding can enable better learning, confidence, and success for the mentee during professional experience, with the mentee more able to meet challenges.
The process of Initiation involved establishing common, professional understandings.
The mentor/mentee assessed each other’s expectations of the relationship and possible learnings.
For development to occur, trust and collaboration in the relationship were needed, as suggested in Crisp et al. (2018) and Liou et al. (2017) research.
This involved goal orientation–the goals that could and should be targeted within the specific school/classroom context and time frame.
Goal orientation involved negotiation and the development of help-seeking behaviours.
This behaviour was nearly always individual and involved social interactions influencing mentor/mentees subsequent behaviours.
There tended to be an urgency with goal orientation particularly, in terms of the short-term nature and the varied contexts of school professional experience.
Movement from Initiation was marked by the turning point of a substantial increase in the mentee’s confidence and the beginnings of trust in the relationship, which signalled that the relationship was working at the next phase–Cultivation.
Identified as a period of growth and maintenance, Cultivation continued throughout professional experience, with a focus on achieving established shared goals.
There needed to be agreement on expectations and the structure of the relationship; Aderibigbe et al. (2016) and Zachary (2000) refers to this as the process of negotiating, enabling, and coming to an agreement.
The teacher mentor supported growth by scaffolding teaching practices with specific rituals and processes (e.g. feedback, modelling, emotional support, team teaching).
This helped to develop comfort in the relationship, with the mentor using intuition and empathy to guide the mentees growing confidence and practice.
Cultivating confidence included providing social and emotional support in the relationship (Nguyen & Sheridan, 2016; Sheridan & Young, 2016).
Psychosocial support and the expansion of teaching ideas in the Cultivation phase occurred through opportunities to increase connections in the school (e.g. peers and other colleagues).
Expansion of connections has been identified as important for fostering growth (Grimmett et al., 2018; Mullen & Schunk, 2012) and marked as the turning point moving the relationship into the phase of Separation.
Separation involved the mentee taking ownership of their learning, thus gaining autonomy as a teacher.
The mentors viewed this as an important goal in the relationship.
Ownership indicated a growing trust in the mentee’s capabilities.
Trust enabled growth in interpersonal relations, expansion in teaching confidence, and increase teacher responsibilities, identified by Crisp et al. (2018) and Liou et al. (2017).
Due to the shorter time period available in professional experience, it would be unlikely to see a complete separation.
However, to some extent separation did occur, particularly for mentees in their final year or those who engaged in internships.
With early professional experience (1st and 2nd year undergraduate or 1st year postgraduate) Separation was more likely to involve the mentee making their own decisions on how and what to teach in consultation with their mentor.
As the mentee expanded their teaching role and took on new opportunities there was the need for ongoing negotiation on the boundaries of the relationships.
The realignment of the relationship from master–student to senior colleague–junior colleague indicated development of the relationship in an altered form (Grimmett et al., 2018).
Not all realignments would necessarily indicate mentee development.
Separation in some cases meant that the relationship had finished or stagnated and that mentoring was no longer progressing.
Negotiating of workloads, decisions around teaching, and the handing over of classes could signal potential movement into the Redefinition phase.
The most complex and elusive phase in the teaching professional experience was Redefinition.
Keller (2005) referred to this phase as dissolution, influenced by individual development and personality characteristics.
Full Redefinition would most likely occur post-professional experience, due to the short-term nature of teacher mentoring and specific policy/guidelines that guide the end of the relationship.
In some instances, the relationship continuing as the mentee leaves the school and starts their career, with mentoring shifting to a more peer supportive model (Gordon, 2017; Mackey & Shannon, 2014).
An important aspect of Redefinition was the evolution of the mentee’s teacher identity, indicating changes to the relationship (e.g. mentee seeking career advice from other colleagues).
This altered form of the mentoring relationship signals that the relationship had accomplished its purpose and usefulness.
The variety of school contexts and expectations suggest that full Redefinition would most likely occur once the mentee enters the profession; it is most likely to be the starting point, rather than an end-point.

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Updated: Jul. 14, 2021