Mentoring and Professional Development in Rural Head Start Classrooms

From Section:
Mentoring & Supervision
Sep. 01, 2015

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 23, No. 4, 293–310, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study reports on the development of a small-scale, professional development program aimed at preparing preschool teacher assistants to earn the Child Development Associate (CDA). The study examined both the participants’ and mentors’ perceptions of the program.

The participants were eight teacher assistants worked at the same rural Head Start program. All eight of the teacher assistants were African-American women.
Data were collected through a focus group discussion and participants' responses to written prompts.


The results revealed overlapping themes across teacher assistants and their mentors, including readiness for the CDA credentialing process, mentoring support/relationship-building, and mutual respect.
First, both the teacher assistants and the mentors discussed the relational (e.g. mentoring and relationships with co-participants), developmental (e.g. transformational growth), and contextual (relevant to their work in the classroom), all of which are necessary for building respectful and reciprocal relationships among teachers, teacher assistants, and the children they serve.
Furthermore, four mentors were available to assist and tutor participants on the use of required technology to achieve their learning goals and to complete the assignments.
Three of the mentors were involved in the creation of the professional development program and one other was the preschool director. The availability of laptop computers allowed the participants the ability to contact mentors in real-world time for online mentoring in conjunction with face-to-face sessions and evening phone calls. Mentoring also allows for reflective practice and the transfer of skills and expertise from more experienced and knowledgeable practitioners to less experienced individuals.

In addition, participants commented about the program’s provision of opportunities for repeated instruction in both the classroom and during the individual and group mentoring sessions. Participants also perceived the program as non-threatening and adaptive and believed that it addressed their unique needs and was attuned to the opportunities and challenges of a rural ecological context. They also reported that they valued the collaborative approach to learning and the inclusion of multiple opportunities for communication across work and home environments. All of the participants commented that they were ready to take the CDA exam.

Finally, mentors’ perceptions of their experiences paralleled those reported by the participants in that they also witnessed greater readiness for the CDA credentialing process and heightened confidence and competence in the early childhood classroom. Mentors also recounted their commitment to self-reflective practice. In particular, they all commented that their beliefs about the importance of the multidimensional mentoring model for training early childhood professionals were verified by the training experience and by the fact that all eight of the participants successfully completed the training and later earned the CDA credential.

The authors conclude that the mentoring provided as part of the program involved training and the provision of resource materials in a structured course format as well as one-on-one mentoring, support that was confined to the duration of the program. Further, the mentoring aspect of the program was mandatory and it is possible that voluntary mentoring may have provided a different experience for the participants. At the same time, focusing on the narratives of all those who participated has yielded important information for future program development in this area, particularly with regard to geographically isolated paraprofessionals working as teacher assistants in early childhood classrooms. This is important because many individuals living in rural areas appreciate the sense of belonging and community connection that rural living provides and innovations for how to make sure that high-quality teachers are available in these areas should be a high priority.
The authors see great potential in their model and look forward to expanding their efforts to meet the rising demand for increased training requirements for early childhood teachers, especially those located in rural areas so that they have the necessary confidence and skill to perform effectively in their roles and the motivation to seek out additional professional development opportunities.

Updated: Nov. 20, 2019
Attitudes of teachers | Mentors | Professional development | Student attitudes | Teacher student relationship