Research mentoring; The Missing Link in Educational Research
(A longer version of this paper including my guidelines for research mentors can be accessed at www.TeacherResearch.net in the Teachers as Researchers Section)
I wish to preface my chapter with a tribute to Françoise Bodone. It takes a good educator to assist others in answering the big questions about research, but it takes a great educator to generate the questions to invoke excitement in enquiry, a curiosity-impelling leap. Françoises questions and encouragement frame my contribution. In a collection of chapters by distinguished authors, I am choosing to write about my passionate involvement in self-study action research as I integrate mentoring and action enquiry. I am a research mentor. I assist teachers in undertaking their own research within their practice as a means to further their own professional development.
This chapter is my account of what I do and my response to these big educational questions
What is happening in (my) education?
What are the outcomes of (my) educational research?
What difference(s) does (my) research make in the lives and experiences of the researched?
How is education as a whole different because of my work in qualitative inquiry?
What is my validated and valued research doing (or not doing) for education?
In my chapter, I set out to communicate a number of aims and objectives. First, I want to share my commitment to self-study enquiry as a means to professional actualisation. Second, I want to show how traditional conceptions of mentoring are a fruitful and inspirational basis for enabling learning through co-enquiry. Third, I hope to share through my narrative an account of my practice as a research educator in a way that will illuminate the potential of this particular professional relationship to facilitate learning through co-enquiry by the mentor and the mentee.
What is happening in (my) education?
I see practitioner action research becoming more popular as educators are increasingly being challenged to provide evidence, through quality assurance mechanisms, of the influence they are having on anothers learning. Competence statements are becoming the order of the day and initial teacher education programmes in the UK are characterised by the requirement to meet predetermined standards for qualified teacher status. Teachers become accustomed to seeing good teaching in the light of meeting competence statements and these can so easily detract from the genuine creativity and pleasure in spontaneous interactions in the classroom. Government interventions increasingly stipulate methodologies for teaching (the Literacy Hour in England is a case in point). But not all top down stipulations from government level are necessarily injurious. Some government stipulations open up exciting possibilities. The requirement from the Japanese government that teachers are expected to undertake action research is proving to be a liberating experience as I saw during my working visit to the Akashi Laboratory School in Kobe. Professor Tadashi Asada, at Waseda University and Professor Kei Sawamoto at the Womens University in Tokyo, are leading figures in enabling teacher to benefit from action research mentoring. At the University of Arizona too, research mentors Pamela Jewitt and Nancy Goldstein have supported a teachers group in developing stunning action enquiries. Thus, at national and international levels we can now access many fruits of School and Faculty collaboration at www.TeacherResearch.net,
'many British teachers lack a culture of collaborative professional learning by which they might work smarter.' The process of school improvement in a climate of external pressure to raise standards is thus severely impaired.'
Hargreaves, D. (2001) A Capital Theory of School Effectiveness and Improvement' in the British Educational Research Journal, Volume 27 (4) pp. 487 - 504.
We now have a way to empower teachers to balance external demands about how and what they should teach with a sense of personal ownership in developing their individual professionalism.
Defining Research mentoring
Research mentoring comes in a wide variety of guises and it is my conviction that its potential remains largely untapped in many Faculty programmes for the induction of new researchers. The apprenticeship model is still prevalent rather than the two-way enquiry process that can assist in building personal and professional development
Mentoring should unblock the ways to change by building self-confidence, self-esteem and a readiness to act, as well as to engage in ongoing constructive interpersonal relationships. Mentoring is concerned with continuing personal as a well as professional development and not just continuing professional development Mentoring is not synonymous with cloning because it means developing individuals strengths The mentee is as much an agent in bringing about effective mentoring as the mentor. Mentoring is about whole-school and whole HEI (Higher Education Institution) partnerships.
Fletcher, 2000, pp. 1-2
My definition of research mentoring is distinct because it focuses on self-study through co-enquiry. Both mentor and mentee are seeking to improve their work-based practice. In giving my account of the activity that I call research mentoring I am drawing on my own experience as a research mentor over the past three years within the DfES Best Practice Research Scholarships Scheme. My experience and definition of mentoring (2000) has developed through my experience as a mentor in initial teacher training, in continuing professional development, in working with business and sports coaches as well as in research mentoring and in considering mentoring models developed by others, including, Tomlinson (1995) and Furlong and Maynard (1995). I feel particularly influenced by Mullen and Licks (1999) definition and exemplifications of mentoring as a two way synergistic learning process, rather than kind of one-way apprenticeship,
Mentoring as a fruitful and inspirational basis for enabling two-way learning
Instead of enabling mutual learning, research mentoring is usually equated with a simple passing on of information from a mentor to a mentee and is still largely restricted to Faculty provision of support for undergraduate students, by Faculty members, or by student peers. Thankfully, there are notable exceptions. In Australia at research (or Academic) mentoring by a Faculty member working closely in school with teachers recognised as key to sustaining educational communities.
Sustained work with groups of key staff and an academic mentor is being embraced overwhelmingly as the key to developing a sense of professional learning community in schools.
Hunter, J. and Beveridge, S. (2002)
I have been assisting teachers in explicating a practice-based discipline of educational enquiry. In doing so teachers and I have validated our own and one anothers theorising using web-based technology (Fletcher, 2002) to examine explanatory principles we offer for our practice. In so doing, we have responded to an invitation by Hiebert (2002) to create a sustainable resource and demonstrate how sustained, systematic enquiry assists pupils in learning. I draw on the work of Whitehead (1989) and McNiff (2002) as I seek to deepen my understanding of the potentialities for practitioner research and from reflections on my own writings and I open up my practice to validation by sharing accounts of my practice on my web site. Bart McGettrick, (2000) sets out a triple focus for initial teacher training: professional values & commitment; professional skills & aptitudes; professional knowledge & understanding I use this triplic to develop Jack Whiteheads work (1989) in relation to creating living educational theories which show how embodied values are used by practitioners in action to give meaning to their educational relationships. In my experience, a focus on values alone, does not always help a teacher to develop their learning. I value Jack's work but incorporate his ideas around values in Barts triple focus. This basis of professional values, skills and understanding provides a foundation for my structured mentoring; the idea of structured mentoring is not mine. My own experience came from my CNAA award in structured mentoring as part of my participation in the Bedfordshire Licensed Teacher Scheme.
Reflecting upon my vision for research mentoring
Not only is it important for academics to assist teachers in explicating their knowledge there is a reverse duty of care here too school based teachers as researchers should also ask the kinds of questions about academics research that can move their thinking on. Academics need to take a proactive role in enabling teachers to write with them about classroom based enquiry, not as the researched on but the researched with. Educational journals like the one Wiltshire Local Education Authority provides an excellent opportunity to celebrates and disseminate teachers research but I wonder how many other LEAs or School Boards globally offer such a facility? Teacher researchers need to develop their leadership in research mentoring and generate a capacity within the teaching profession to grow more research mentors for other teachers. They need to develop skills to present their work alongside academics, and I hope to receive more invitations to co-present at major research conferences like the one a teacher sent me this week!
In my vision, Faculty will y run school-based programmes with groups of teacher enquirers like the one at Westwood St Thomas School in Salisbury, Wiltshire. (several MA enquiries from this school-based group are accessible at TeacherResearch.net in the Teachers as Researchers section. My vision is that Faculty will not only talk about research mentoring, they will actively embody its professional values, skills and understandings in their practice. So how can I explain how an accredited course about the theory and practice of mentoring becomes a living explanation of it? My response is to offer extracts from a narrative account of my Summer School MA programme in Mentoring where I found myself confronted with a crisis situation. One participant needed more than just professional assistance to gain his MA accreditation. He needed personal support to continue his studies and symbiotic learning research mentoring enabled us both to actualise.
My narrative an account of my practice as a research educator
I introduced myself to S. as he arrived for our week:
Hi! I am Sarah. I am your tutor for the mentoring unit
S. listened politely but he was clearly a million miles away lost in some awful reality of his own.
I have just been told by the Head of Research that if I dont get this unit completed by September (the norm is a year) I will fail my entire Masters degree I have been working on it for ten years now and thats the deadline ten years and I didnt know
My mind began to race that meant that we had to get a 4000 word assignment created and marked by the end of August and it was by now 23 July How could I possible help S. through this? How could I draw on the mentoring, teaching and research that had been the focus for so long in my own studies How might I use this experience to help me to live my professional values more fully, while developing my research mentoring skills and understandings? I was concentrating hard as I asked him about his teaching context. He hadnt really wanted to come on this unit. He would explain later how was he going to get this unit written up and passed in time? Did he really care if he completed a Masters degree no, maybe he didnt! and I sensed all the more that he did. I sensed courage in undertaking research. was it an actualisation, a fundamental need as an educator and how could I, a researcher, teacher and mentor, help?
It was by now 9.45 and the rest of the group would be arriving any minute. I sat down next to S.
Tell me what it is you want to research and as you tell me I will think about how I can help you. I will help you. I wont do the research for you. I am a research mentor. I will help you to do your own research. I will help you to access academic papers about your chosen focus and I will work with you to integrate what you know into the knowledge others have created. We will contextualise what you say within other professional and academic research in a way that will enable you and other teachers (and tutors like me) to share your knowledge and understandings .We can do it! I have worked to much tighter deadlines before and I know that we can get a pass grade if you trust me
S. made a contract with me. He would trust me and I would work with him and assist his knowledge creation in a rigorous and valid form.
What do you want to research?
I thought I would like to find out about Graduate Teacher Training.
Under this kind of pressure I needed S. to be researching an area I was more familiar with
How much do you know about it?
I probed and silently reflected, If S. knows, thats OK, I can work with his knowledge and I can help him communicate it in an appropriate form. If he doesnt know it is a hurdle for us both. As his tutor I can help him to pass this unit. I will ensure he meets the Universitys MA level criteria. As his mentor I was listening intently and using every sense to step inside his reality.
As I am working with S. on the outline I was thinking on different levels and beginning to get really excited! If I listen incredibly closely to what somebody is saying it is as if key points just leap out at me and actually fall into a scaffold format and I handed S. the outline and he cast a searching look at me that said, Can you help me? .. and You are not telling me what to do!
It was a battle of wills so I offered him a chance to take the lead, by asking
Do you want to walk away?
and he returned the compliment by offering me leave to lead him.
I will fight you but you must push me you have got my support.
This would be a joint venture. We would share the lead as we explored how to win through.
The week passed and S struggled to create an assignment to offer for accreditation for the unit. On the final day he (and the other participants in the mentoring group)) made a presentation to communicate what had been learnt about mentoring. S. started off the round of presentations.
I have written up what happened to me this week and heres the draft of my assignment
(and he passed photocopies of both documents round to each of us the group). And S. began,
I came up with this question When is mentoring REAL mentoring? What I have written here for you is Mentoring as friendship in crisis. I could see a lot of similarities between what Sarah was doing for me and some of the mentoring models we had talked about. Tutoring is about putting information but (she) revealed new possibilities mentoring is analogous to friendship it is friendship and relationship. A mentor has to know when to intervene even for good students good students can reach a plateau but the mentor has to intervene so they move on I am thinking about Tomlinsons thinking on mentoring (and his work on stress points and I was thinking last night that one of the roles of the mentor is to take him through stress points. ..
At this point in Ss presentation, as he recounted his reflections., one of the group intervened.
I know at the beginning of the week you were in a real dilemma about completing your MA. And you are going to carry on with it. Would you attribute this purely to Sarah?
and S. turned towards me, looked into my eyes, smiled gently and simply said . Yes!
I felt validated then as a research mentor by Ss response and when I read his affirming account. He offered this diary as a gift, knowing that I too was researching my own practice as a teacher.
Monday July 21st
This was the day I realised my ambition of achieving an MA might be in jeopardy. The immediate consequence to me was that I felt little point in staying to complete the mentoring unit. This had a direct bearing on my attitude in the first session. It was obvious to Sarah that I was not as involved in the group as she expected me to be. She was able to determine quite quickly that there was a significant problem. By the end of the morning Sarah had made it clear that her objective was to make sure that I had no excuse about getting the assignment done as quickly as possible by telling me an acceptable outline and how to move forward on it. She also made it clear that I should attend the sessions that were only strictly necessary to achieve this objective.
Tuesday July 22nd
This was the day that was set aside for me to attempt to put some words to the framework. Interestingly, my emotional state was that what I was doing was pointless because I could only see a mountain that needed to be climbed. However, what kept me going was the fact that Sarah had placed great expectations on me as well as having the flexibility to release me from some of the lecture sessions even though I felt guilty about it. The consequence was that I was able to produce 1,200 words of writing, which I presented to Sarah. Her enthusiasm on reading those words knocked me back and encouraged me to the point where I felt that the mountain was climbable. I spent the evening writing the next 1000 words as I felt I could move on confidently.
Wednesday July 23rd
The morning was spent working in the mentoring Group, looking at the issue of teacher training. However it was in the afternoon when another disaster struck as I realised I had lost the disc with all my writing on it. This was another low point for me. However, by this time Sarah and I had developed a meaningful relationship. I had been able to share the reason why I was running out of time and she had responded by enquiring exactly what my position would be for the university. It was this commitment that basically made me decide that I would rewrite everything that had been lost and add to it. By the end of Wednesday evening I had completed the 4000 words that were required, with what I considered was good writing though I was not sure about it.
Thursday July 24th
Sarahs response to my writing was even more enthusiastic it was in the process of seeing this enthusiasm that I was enthused myself, not just about the assignment but future possibilities. The crux came in my second meeting with the Head of Advanced courses. He made it clear that this level of commitment meant that he was happy to support me in getting the dissertation.
What difference does (my) research make in the lives and experiences of the researched?
I was fascinated to see that Ss summary of my practice associated my dual role as a research theorist and practitioner in mentoring with my educational influence. I had never made this connection until S. pointed it out. Now I can appreciate that the theoretical models of mentoring that I have been creating to express my research mentoring are perhaps framing how I mentor.
Sarah clearly showed that she was listening to my situation and helping me to grow within it. This must be due in part to her experience in mentoring both as a practitioner and a theorist. This makes me wonder what situation I would have been in if I had opted to do a different Masters level unit and had never met Sarah. I suspect I would have given up on Monday never to return.
Creating theoretical models of mentoring and sharing them with the 2003 summer school group as a basis for dialogue was one of the techniques I decided to experiment with to help us learn. Previously I relied on other theorist models of mentoring (especially Furlong and Maynards, 1995) and this time I felt confirmed to explicate my own models grounded in my own practice
I achieved my goal to bring research mentoring to life in the Summer School Unit. I learnt with S. that I could do without about handouts about mentoring and live it real time in a way that my students and I could experience research mentoring first hand and we could reflect together. I learnt how to evidence my claim that research mentoring helps teachers to research effectively.
I learnt that Text does not offer me a sufficiently flexible and dynamic means of representing knowing in action. With digital video, which can be engaged with, critically frame-by-frame we get closer. One of my roles as a mentor is to assist teachers in using digital video tin their research and I was able to learn how to model this during the week with my MA group. We videoed each presentation and now we can reflect individually and as group on how we came to work together. I learnt that words S. used to describe my influence sang as I watched him speak them on video. His textual account is wonderful but does not have that vital, exquisite sensitivity of our video.
How is education as a whole different because of my work in qualitative inquiry?
There are teachers creating knowledge that could enable themselves and others to learn to teach better, in every classroom, in every country. Small things matter, automatic behaviours that enrich learning environments, big things, insights into how they and students learn and this knowledge is largely untapped and unrepresented but things are changing. When Grant and Graue (2000) lamented the pitifully small representation of teachers knowledge in the Educational Review in all their time as editors they were stirring imaginations. In her 2001 presidential address to the American Educational Research Association, Catherine Snow called for systematisation of teachers knowledge. She was not asking for a palliative for teachers knowledge so much as actively advocating empowerment for teachers to speak in their own words. Yet, despite a shortage of time and funding, some teachers are finding their own voice and explicating their knowledge. Multi-media is assisting them and the virtual presentation by Simon Riding, Karen Collins and myself at the Learning Conference in London in July 2003 is a good example of this. The creation of an interactive database for teachers research, working with Becta (The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency), will be another example of how education change because of my work using multi media in qualitative enquiry.
What is my validated and valued research doing (or not doing) for education?
My role as research mentor is to bring teachers into research whether or not it is for accreditation, but some teachers dont have time and others dont see the point of co-writing academic articles. I meet teachers who dont see why sharing their knowledge is important enough to merit seeking accreditation. For some there is no local forum to share enquiry with other teachers, teacher researchers and academics. I cant always encourage teachers to do research, though I have had some success with Wiltshire Local Education Authority in providing research mentor support.
Teachers in Wiltshires schools can bid for money to buy in research mentoring and resources. A guide to Wiltshire Grants appears on ww.TeacherResearch.net along with a list of successful applicants for 2003-4. One hopes that other Local Education Authorities will soon follow suit
But despite the availability of funding from local education authority sources ad despite support from government in terms of Teacher Training Agency research bursaries reticence remains. When I visited a local school I was aware of some equating of research with gaining promotion:
I asked Rosemary
Why dont you take up Teacher Training Agency funding so you can study for an MA?
and she replied
What for? I am drawing near the end of my career. I dont want accreditation. I dont see the point. My research is for me and my students in my class. It may sound selfish but its how it is.
Though I was saddened by Rosemarys reply because I knew her work could be of MA standard I was pleased to hear that she would, nevertheless, be researching to improve learning in her class.
Her colleague, meanwhile, was making a transition that would have momentous implications in our conversation. Well, I want to go for an MA! She described in detail, how her research was assisting special needs children in reading. Using evidence from pupils exam scores over time and an clear account of her own intervention to boost reading skills she wove an impressive evidence based account of her developing work as a teacher. Sarah, I just wanted you to know how the work I have done since last time you and I met is developing. You know how reading is traditionally real hurdle well look at this! The scores for her group showed a reversal of the traditional pattern across the board. Her students were achieving far above the expected norm in their reading skills I will do an MA can you get me some details of how I can get finding?
In my mentoring experience, teachers are increasingly looking to undertake research but need support to help them approach enquiry as part of their work, rather than as a bolt-on extra.
They need modern technologies as a way to avoid collecting data by time-consuming writing. I use digital video extensively and encourage teachers to do likewise, as it captures the dynamic interactions and value-laden body languages in a way that written text alone cannot always do.
In addition to working with individual teacher researchers, I now provide research mentoring for several large school-based enquiry groups. These include communities at Staple Hill Primary School, Bristol, Westwood St Thomas School, Salisbury and Hayesfield School, Bath. The school groups I mentor with in 2003-4 are listed in the national research section at TeacherResearch.net As I bring this chapter on research mentoring to a close, I would like to share with you some of my favourite snapshots of my research mentoring relationships with individuals and groups: I want you to experience with me how research mentoring enable me to undertake my research too.
As I strive to answer my question,' Is research mentoring synonymous with MA tutoring? 'I ask teachers to explain how they experience my mentoring and how if it differs from my tutoring
Tony: What you do with mentoring is you draw the knowledge out of me, which is already there by asking questions where I have to answer how I feel very, very broad questions because the knowledge is all there. You ask a broad question, I get confused but my head starts putting it together and compartmentalising it and then if I am saying nothing you focus the question a little bit closer. I start speaking and you pick out the pieces and then work on those individual pieces. Thats how it works for me but thats something youve discovered by the way that my mind works in that I cannot see anything globally I compartmentalise everything. You see that and so in order to get at the different files you need to ask a very broad question if you asked a specific question you would only get the knowledge from one specific compartment. I am putting away this knowledge and you are helping me to gather it together into a more coherent form.
Karen: Tutoring versus mentoring. During the tutor stage, I kept a certain distance, professionally and personally. I didn't feel that I could impinge on your time further by asking extra of you, and also I felt that you had certain time periods when you were available as a tutor, but rather as a provider of knowledge to me, engaging in professional sharing, but perhaps not on an equal level.
I feel that now I can engage with you on a more equal level-as I feel that we are engaging in professional sharing as well as guidance, sharing in an area of common interest. I now see the distance between us as being narrowed, still within the unconscious boundaries of the mentor and mentee role, but able to drawn upon personal experiences and more vitally, wishing to share these. Before I would not have felt comfortable to share the problems of the mentoring relationship that I was experiencing through the examples that I sent, but now I feel confident to do so. I have developed trust, surely the most vital area for a relationship to develop?
Its not just the information that I appreciate; its the warmth and affirmation in these comments. I had no formal training for research mentoring but my skills and understanding grew as I adopted an action research approach to studying my practice. I know I could not have undertaken this mentoring when I became a lecturer in 1994 and I trust I am embodying the mentoring I needed.
Research mentoring empowers me to develop my own practice as a professional educator. I suggest that it has this capacity for other Faculty-based educators too. Research into this aspect of two-way learning is yet to be undertaken. A recent report by Furlong (2003) leaves no doubt that mentoring for school-based teachers is crucial in helping them to undertake their research;
for the vast majority of (Best Practice Research) Scholars, undertaking school-based research is a new and demanding enterprise we conclude that effective mentoring, is essential (p. 36)
the profession of teaching to realign awareness that knowledge created by practitioners can and does enhance everyones understanding of Education in its broadest sense. Structured research mentoring as enquiry by mentors and mentees addresses further big educational questions. No one educator or group of educators holds the key answer or universal truth in addressing these questions. Through listening closely to one another in co-enquiry sustained by mentoring teachers, academics and students reach new understandings and knowledge, develop new skills and capabilities, and live educational values as they co-enquire into questions of this kind
What kind of teacher do I want to see myself becoming? I am good at .
How does that enable my own and my students learning?
Do I have an area that I wish to improve?
What might it be like to have already improved my practice?
How can I improve my practice?
Who can work with me as co enquirer?
How we collect data?
How can we synthesise this data into evidence to support our claims?
How can we validate that evidence?
What are the outcomes of (my) educational research?
Until this years MA Summer School and my experience since 2000 as a BPRS research mentor, I held to my intuition that research mentoring is the missing link between School-based teacher research and Faculty-based research. Now there is digital video as well as textual evidence within my own practice that research mentoring does make a very positive contribution to education. With my assistance, teachers like S. at Summer School and those participating in enquiry through in-school groups are steadily providing the profession with a resource for teacher researchers. This resource at www.TeacherResearch.net is unique, for it represent teachers research which is not restricted to one kind of research methodology. Furthermore it explicates the process not only of initiating, but also of sustaining enquiry with and without accreditation. This website redefines mentoring as a new educational practice that enables School and Faculty to co-create knowledge.
Fletcher, S. (2000) Mentoring in Schools: A Handbook of Good Practice, London: Kogan Page
Fletcher, S. (2002) Improving mentoring with action research and digital video technology, Links bulletin No. 25, pp. 25-26, London: Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research
Furlong, J., Salisbury, J. and Coombes, L. (2003) Best Practice Research Scholarship for Teachers in England: What do teachers learn? Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Conference, Herriot Watt University Edinburgh, 11-13 September.
Furlong, J. and Maynard, T. (1995) Mentoring Student Teachers, London: Routledge
Hiebert, J., Gallimore, R. and Stigler, J. (2002) A Knowledge Base for the Teaching Profession: What Would it Look Like and How Can We Get One? Educational Researcher, Vol. 31, no. 5, pp. 3-15
Hunter, J. and Beveridge, S. (2002) Challenging Evidence in Evidence based Practice: Where are we with practitioner enquiry? presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference at the University of Exeter, 11-14 September, 2002,
McGettrick, B. (2000) The Scottish Standard for ITT accessed at www.Scotland.gov.uk
McNiff, J. (2002) Action Research: Principles and Practice, London: Routledge
Mullen, C. and Lick, D.W. (1999) New Directions in Mentoring: creating a culture of Synergy, London: Falmer Press
Snow, C. (2001) Knowing What We Know: Children, Teachers, Researchers, Educational researcher, Volume 30 (No. 7) pp. 3-9
Tomlinson, P. (1995) Understanding Mentoring: reflective strategies for school-based teacher preparation, Buckingham: Open University Press
Whitehead, A.J. (1989) Creating a Living Educational Theory from Questions of the kind How Do I Improve My Practice Cambridge Journal of Education, Vol. 19 (1) pp. 41 52
© All Work on this Site