Source: Teachers and Teaching, 27:1-4, 284-299
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The aim of the present study was to shed light on the ways in which novice teachers perceive the associations between their experiences of mentoring and their own sense of professional commitment.
The present study was qualitative (Hennink et al., 2020) in that it explored the meanings new teachers attached to their relationship with their mentors and their professional commitment.
The research context
This study dealt with state mandated professional mentoring of novice teachers in Israel.
During the last training year, interns attend an internship workshop under the responsibility of the training institute, and are assigned a school-related mentor to guide them at school.
This mentoring induction programme, which involves the mentoring of novice teachers during their first year of teaching by experienced teachers has operated in Israel for two decades.
This formal mentoring is composed of regular weekly guidance activities at the novice teacher’s school by a mentor selected from the staff by the principal.
The formal job requirements to be a mentor include at least five years of teaching experience and completion of a mentoring course (Schatz-Oppenheimer, 2017).
A recent reform in the Israeli public education system now mandates mentoring during the second year of teaching as well.
Whereas the first year of teaching in Israel is characterised by intensive mentoring, the second year of teaching is limited to 20 hours annually.
Participants and the research process
The sample was composed of 35 novice teachers in their second year (after internship) mentored by an experienced teacher.
The novice teachers were selected according to several criteria, which are partially identical to those imposed by the Ministry of Education for novice teachers:
(a) teachers in their second year of teaching mentored by an experienced mentor;
(b) teachers with at least a one-third position;
(c) teachers who are in the professional development programmes associated with the ‘Ofek Chadash’ (New Horizon) or ‘Oz LaTmura’ (Power to the Change) reforms.
Teachers were recruited via social networks of teachers’ groups and it was on a voluntary basis.
Semi structured interviews were conducted to probe the interviewees’ worldviews and the meaning they attributed to their experiences.
The advantage of structured interviews is that the structured protocol allows the researchers to cover the topics they are interested in as well as enable flexibility to insert additional questions as a function of issues emerging in interviews (Creswell & Poth, 2017; Flick, 2018; Patton, 2002).
The interviews lasted about 50–60 minutes.
All interviews were recorded and transcribed.
The data were collected from novice teachers; i.e., the individuals who experienced the mentoring phenomenon directly, and the focus was on how the participants perceived the phenomenon.
The data were grouped into descriptive and constructive ensembles of experiences (composed of significant expressions, sentences or quotations) to generate ‘clusters of meaning’ from the participants’ statements, to provide a better understanding of typical experiences (Creswell & Poth, 2017).
The authors’ aim in this analysis was to generate insights into the associations between patterns of mentoring relationships and professional commitment as experienced by novice teachers.
Results and discussion
Four patterns of professional commitment were identified (healthy/balanced, ambitious, sparing personal investment and burnout).
The terminology was borrowed from an empirical study by Kieschke and Schaarschmidt (2008), on business entrepreneurs and 7693 senior teachers.
Most of the participants (65.71%) in the current study reported high professional commitment: the healthy/balanced pattern accounted for three quarters of the high professional commitment group and was the most common pattern in this research.
Novice teachers who expressed high professional commitment described the job as a meaningful part of their life, which is consistent with previous research (Farkas et al., 2000).
In addition, similar to the Tyree (1996) study on experienced high school teachers, the present study also suggests that professionally committed new teachers express feelings of deep identification with teaching and often described it as a ‘calling’ and not just ‘work’.
The results showed that low commitment towards the profession is common among novice teachers (34.29%) in that slightly more than two thirds of them fit the burnout pattern and the rest described a sparing personal investment pattern, characterised by a lack of personal investment at work, emotional distance, but with a small tendency to resign, and a willingness to tackle professional challenges (Kieschke & Schaarschmidt, 2008).
Interestingly, the low professional commitment patterns (sparing personal investment and burnout) discovered here (34.29%) were significantly lower than in senior teachers as reported by Kieschke and Schaarschmidt (60%).
One possible explanation for this inconsistency might be related to the presence of support in the form of mentorship.
This study offers several contributions.
First, the study sheds light on why certain types of mentoring have become associated with different levels of professional commitment, and suggests that a sense of collegiality (i.e., support and warmth, professional growth, open communication) is a key mechanism in these associations.
The findings support prior evidence that collegiality is vital for new teachers’ successful assimilation in the school and in the profession (Gavish & Friedman, 2011; Patrick et al., 2010).
But whereas the work cited above was general, this study focused on the mentoring function in this process.
The authors showed the contribution of a functioning mentoring relationship to a sense of collegiality in the interactions with the mentor, and how in association with it, novice teachers experienced high commitment to the profession.
In doing so, they outlined a structured path for promoting experiences of collegiality for new teachers (Patrick et al., 2010).
The literature suggests that this process may be meaningful not only for new teachers but also for experienced teacher mentors because it promotes ‘reciprocal professional learning regarded as leading to a revitalisation of the professional culture’ (Patrick et al., 2010, p. 287).
Moreover, note that collegiality goes beyond individual contribution, and has a considerable organisational effect because it has been associated with successful schools and effective school improvement efforts (Little, 1982).
Second, the findings suggest that the existence of an association between their high commitment to the teaching profession and the mentoring relationship played a major role.
There was a strong association between a functional relationship and a healthy/ balanced commitment in that more than half of the new teachers experiencing a functional relationship reported a healthy/balanced professional commitment.
Moreover, when pooling healthy/balanced commitment and ambitious commitment over three quarters of the novice teachers who expressed high commitment and were in a functional relationship also described a desire to continue in the profession and/or empowerment due to the guidance that binds mentoring and commitment.
This is consistent with mentoring studies on new teachers, which have shown that new teachers who were mentored at the beginning of their teaching career exhibited greater professional progress, reported a higher sense of professionalism and efficacy, and increased professional satisfaction compared to their un-mentored peers (Canrinus et al., 2012; Veenman et al., 1998).
The finding is in line with the idea that effective teacher induction programmes promote continuity between trainees’ past and future experiences (D’Amico et al., 2018).
Third, the findings also suggest that low commitment towards the teaching profession is related to an absence of association in the mentoring relationship.
More than half of the new teachers reporting sparing personal investment or burnout professional commitment pattern patterns claimed to experience a lack of association between their commitment and their mentoring relationship.
All five novice teachers experiencing ambivalent and dysfunctional mentoring relationships and low professional commitment described their sense of the absence of an association.
These findings might suggest that the mentoring relationship has no impact on new teachers with low professional commitment, perhaps because the mentorship is viewed by them as irrelevant to their professional future.
The findings also have practical implications.
These stand out in light of the link the authors demonstrated between mentoring relationships, new teachers’ professional commitment, and their job retention intentions.
Teachers’ retention is a key challenge in educational practice and policy (Goodwin et al., 2019).
Given that the most common type of mentoring relationship was the functional type, principals and policymakers should provide novice teachers with mentors and create a supportive organisational environment (e.g., dedicated space for conversation, time resources etc.) that contribute to the development of a functional mentoring relationship.
This recommendation is further validated by the association between a functional mentoring relationship and healthy/ balanced professional commitment among novice teachers.
As found in the literature, the ability of a protégé to identify with a mentor may have continuing effects on the protégé’s commitment towards his or her career (Mitchell et al., 2015).
In the case of the absence of an association between the mentoring relationship and novice teachers who manifest low professional commitment, it would be worth considering other types of support and/or induction processes for new teachers that report or are identified as having low professional commitment.
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