The significance of mentor–mentee relationship quality for student teachers' well-being and flourishing during practical field experiences: a longitudinal analysis

February, 2021

Source: International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 101-117

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The present study investigated how the mentor–mentee relationship influences the wellbeing and the capacity to flourish of student teachers during field experiences.
It, therefore, builds on the conceptual framework of PERMA.
Seligman (2011) distinguished five building blocks of the well-being and capacity to flourish of individuals: positive emotions (P), engagement (E), relationships (R), meaning (M) and achievement (A).
While each of these five elements can be experienced and developed individually, it is argued that their combination (PERMA profile) in particular results in human flourishing, i.e. an optimal state of psychosocial functioning that arises from functioning well across multiple domains (Butler and Kern, 2016).

Research method

Evidence from existing studies support the proposition that mentors can be regarded as powerful gatekeepers, limiting or supporting student teachers’ opportunities to flourish during field experiences (Hobson, 2016; Kutsyuruba and Godden, 2019).
Hence, it is assumed that the quality of mentor–mentee relationship is a relevant factor that influences whether the rich learning opportunities of field experiences are accessible to student teachers.
Therefore, this research explores whether the quality of the mentor–mentee relationship influences the PERMA profile of student teachers.
Based on the reviewed literature, it is suspected that the quality of the mentor–mentee relationship significantly influences student teachers’ perception of PERMA (H1).
For the purpose of cross-checking, this research also explores the competing theoretical assumption that the flourishing (PERMA profile) of student teachers influences the quality of the mentor–mentee relationship.
However, as the review of literature did not support this association, it is suspected that student teachers’ perception of PERMA does not significantly influence the quality of the mentor–mentee relationship (H2).

The study was conducted at the University of Erfurt, Germany.
As regulated by federal law, Erfurt offers an academic pre-service teacher education programme under a consecutive bachelor’s–master’s degree system.
The University of Erfurt takes a very systematic approach to practical learning by incorporating ten practical phases (short- and long-term types) over the course of the bachelor’s and the master’s studies.

To test the aforementioned hypotheses, a study was conducted with a cross-lagged panel design.
This basically represents a longitudinal approach with the repeated measurement of at least two relevant variables.
The design is suitable when examining causal relationships of variables, as it enables the examination of longitudinal effects in both directions.
In accordance with the design approach, student teachers were surveyed at two intervals during the 15-week complex practicum.
The first interval was scheduled four weeks into the practical phase, allowing time for the mentor–mentee relationship to develop.
The second interval was scheduled six weeks later (ten weeks into the practical phase.

In total, 125 student teachers participated in the study; 116 participants provided data at both intervals.
All participants were enrolled in a Master of Education programme for either primary or secondary education.
By the time of the study (October 2019–February 2020), they were within their final year of studies.

To address the two hypothesis, two main constructs need to be assessed: (1) the quality of the mentor–mentee relationship and (2) the student teachers’ PERMA.
To measure the former, a scale originally derived from the field of mentoring in medicine was used after translating the items into German (Heeneman and de Grave, 2019).
The assessment of the five PERMA components was achieved by using the German version of the PERMA profiler (Wammerl et al., 2019).
To test the hypotheses, cross-lagged analyses were conducted, examining longitudinal effects in both directions.

Findings and discussion
The results showed that the quality of the mentor–mentee relationship at the beginning of the practical phase was significantly related to all five PERMA dimensions at the end of the practical phase.
The uncovered effects suggest that the quality of the mentor–mentee relationship positively affects the building blocks of well-being and flourishing.
The largest effects were present for the dimensions relationships (R) and meaning (M).
Conversely, the results of the cross-check analysis suggested that the quality of mentor–mentee relationship was generally not impacted by student teachers’ PERMA profiles. This finding supports the causal interpretation of the aforementioned effects.
Longitudinal findings In line with expectations, the quality of the mentor–mentee relationship can be regarded as a highly relevant predictor of student teachers’ PERMA development (i.e. quality and quantity of positive emotions, feeling of engagement, quality of relationships and sense of meaning and achievement in field experiences at schools).
Generally, this agrees with prior propositions and findings about the essential role of mentoring during field experiences (e.g. Fairbanks et al., 2000; Hobson et al., 2009).
Moreover, based on the findings presented here, the relationship with the mentor appears to be especially relevant to the student teachers’ experience of positive relationships and their sense of meaning within practical teacher education in schools.
In this respect, the current study adds some focus to the research discourse and may prompt future investigations.
Almost no causal links were detected between student teachers’ PERMA profile and the quality of the mentor–mentee relationship.
Once again, this was in line with expectations.
As an exception, however, the results hinted that student teachers’ sense of achievement appears to somewhat influence the quality of the mentor–mentee relationship.
Although the effect size was small, this finding might suggest that a positive mentor–mentee relationship requires active engagement on the part of the student teacher.
Student teachers who are of the belief that they will not be able to reach their goals during the field experience might not engage in and contribute to a healthy mentor–mentee relationship over time.
Conversely, student teachers with strong achievement motivation might engage and contribute to the relationship more actively.
This assumption would be in accordance with the findings of Butler (2012), which indicate that certain achievement goals are connected to the development of functional relationships; however, this proposition should be investigated further in future research.
To conclude, this research adds evidence to the scientific discourse, which yet again highlights the important role of mentoring in teacher education.
In particular, the results fortify more recent research establishing critical links between mentoring and the holistic well-being of student teachers.
Extending prior knowledge, the present findings suggest a high significance of the mentor–mentee relationship quality for mentees’ capacity to flourish during practical experiences.
As a consequence, this work encourages efforts to further examine concepts, conditions and contributing factors regarding the quality of mentor– mentee relationships.
In addition, this paper provides clear arguments for supporting the work and well-being of mentors within teacher education programmes.
This includes appreciation, appropriate preparation and the allocation of necessary resources for their work.

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Fairbanks, C.M., Freedman, D. and Kahn, C. (2000), “The role of effective mentors in learning to teach”, Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 51 No. 2, pp. 102-112.
Heeneman, S. and de Grave, W. (2019), “Development and initial validation of a dual-purpose questionnaire capturing mentors’ and mentees’ perceptions and expectations of the mentoring process”, BMC Medical Education, Vol. 19 No. 1, p. 133.
Hobson, A.J. (2016), “Judgementoring and how to avert it: introducing ONSIDE Mentoring for beginning teachers”, International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 5 No. 2, pp. 87-110.
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Kutsyuruba, B. and Godden, L. (2019), “The role of mentoring and coaching as a means of supporting the well-being of educators and students”, International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 229-234.
Seligman, M.E.P. (2011), Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, Free Press, New York, NY.
Wammerl, M., Jaunig, J., Mairunteregger, T. and Streit, P. (2019), “The German version of the PERMAProfiler: evidence for construct and convergent validity of the PERMA theory of well-being in German speaking countries”, Journal of Well-Being Assessment, Vol. 3 Nos 2-3, pp. 75-96. 

Updated: Jul. 14, 2021