BEYOND INDUCTION INTO THE TEACHING PROFESSION:
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE APPLICATIONS OF EFFECTIVE MENTORING IN AN EDUCATIONAL
Westwood St Thomas School,
Most of the literature about mentoring in education concentrates on its
use in inducting novice and newly qualified teachers into the profession
but mentoring has a much broader application than this and the technique
can be productively employed, either formally or informally, in several
other contexts in schools and colleges. In particular I believe
the process of mentoring can be used to produce school improvement in
What is mentoring?
Mentoring is defined by Stephens (1996, p2) as making "the art
of teaching accessible for others." Obviously here the primary focus
is on its role in initial teacher training but the basic idea of making
expertise available so as to facilitate the acquisition of new skills
or enable the fine-tuning of existing ones is true of mentoring at any
stage and thus of value in many other contexts. Stephens also says, with
broader applicability, that mentors are "experienced and trusted
guides and advisers" (1996, p1) and Smith echoes this when she says
that mentoring provides "work related guidance and support"
(Smith and West-Burnham 1993, p2). Teachers are themselves learners as
they "continue to learn about their craft, about the classroom and
about the needs of the children" (Holly and Southworth 1989, p8).
These authors continue by saying that "teachers can learn by looking
at learning" but I think to take part in a structured, supportive
mentoring process will do even more to promote their continuous professional
development by providing regular learning opportunities, frequently monitoring
progress towards mutually agreed goals and giving positive constructive
feedback. Mentors, so long as they have been carefully selected and trained,
are an invaluable resource because they possess "intelligent practical
knowledge" (Stephens 1996, p97) which they are able to share with
the learner with the intention of improving practice. The process of mentoring
"opens up areas of professional competence to critical scrutiny for
both the mentor and the mentee" (Smith in Tomlinson 1997, p50). However,
it must be recognized that "definitions of the term differ widely
and its use in different contexts denotes quite different activities"
(Brooks and Sikes 1997, p16). It certainly appears to be true from my
reading of the literature that, as there are several models of mentoring,
there is little common agreement on who should be a mentor or what exactly
the role encompasses. In addition, since mentoring is a relationship-based
activity so it will (and should) vary according to the particular individuals
involved. It will also alter according to the precise needs of the situation
in which it is being employed. Nevertheless (whilst I accept that other
models of mentoring may be of value in particular instances, such as the
early stages of initial teacher training) in my opinion by far the most
versatile is the reflective practitioner model. In this the mentor helps
the mentee to develop a skill that will be of value in a variety of contexts
for, as the Posters state (in Kydd et al 1997, p156), "Few people
are wholly capable of judging their own capacities, strengths and weaknesses
without... a catalyst." Reflection is here being used "as
a tool for self-development" (Brooks and Sikes 1997, p23). But mentors
need to be skilled reflective practitioners themselves if they are to
empower others by nurturing this ability to evaluate their own progress
objectively and plan realistic goals for themselves "Effective mentors
are dispensers of know-how, but they're contemplative too..." (Stephens
This model of mentoring includes elements of counselling and coaching
for in both processes the aim is to empower the recipient by triggering
self-awareness. Pratt and Stenning (1989, p78) distinguish the two in
the following way: "...counselling interventions tend to occur irregularly
and are focused upon a particular issue, whereas coaching is a continuing
activity perhaps over the course of many months or indeed years."
These are the two most common variations of the mentoring process although
the latter is somewhat closer to my own definition - particularly since
the authors then add the final telling phrase: "Here, the coach in
essence provides the link between learning and doing" as this is,
in my view, the main value of mentoring: to enhance performance by engaging
people in reflection and supporting them in their natural desire to develop
their application of skills.
Pre-requisites for effective mentoring
The literature agrees that two essential elements are sufficient time
and skilled personnel. The success of any formal scheme thus requires
a firm commitment on the part of management to make the necessary time
available and to provide the requisite training. This represents
an open declaration of intention and importance. The context also
needs to be appropriate if mentoring is to be totally successful.
There needs to be a general acceptance within the organization of the
idea that however good things are now they can always be improved.
Staff need to be motivated and involved, willing to share and confident
enough to admit and then learn from mistakes. To enable this the
culture needs to be supportive to individuals; focused on looking for
solutions together rather than people to blame. To some extent the
process of mentoring itself can play a part in creating this type of collaborative
organizational climate which, I strongly believe, has the potential to
raise morale, reduce negative stress and bring about sustainable whole
The mentors themselves need to be credible practitioners; they need to
have a "good reputation" and "good interpersonal skills"
(Pratt and Stenning 1989, p78). Crucially, they need to have excellent
listening skills. The social and emotional support offered by the
mentor is often a key factor in the creation of a successful mentoring
relationship. The "quality of the relationship...and [the]
standards of behaviour established" are vital to its effectiveness
(Smith in Tomlinson 1997, p50). At the very least it is essential
that the mentor and mentee trust and respect each other and that they
communicate their expectations, hopes and fears. For the mentoring
to be successful both must have a clear and agreed understanding of what
they are anticipating as the results of the process. The mentor
also needs to have sufficient empathy to be able to understand what is
motivating the learner and how s/he will learn best. It is also
very important that the mentor has the ability to analyze and comment
on the mentee's strengths and weaknesses objectively.
Pratt and Stenning's warning about coaching: that it "...requires
intense commitment and sustained effort by both coach and recipient"
(1989, p78) is true of mentoring in general as both sides in any partnership
created need to be willing to take the time and make the effort to work
hard. However one of the main benefits of the mentoring process
is that "Each will learn from the other..." but only if
they are open and receptive. This latter point may seem to indicate
that it is best to involve only volunteers as reluctant or hostile participants
will not be able to achieve the desired results. The process of
mentoring can indeed seem overly intrusive, even perhaps threatening,
unless handled sensitively and clear guidelines about confidentiality
for both partners must be established from the start.
Applications of mentoring beyond induction into the teaching profession
i) Orientation to a new
One valuable application that I have seen in operation was in helping
the orientation of new staff. Newly appointed staff experience many
of the same stages of adjustment as NQTs despite being what one might
call 'experienced beginners' and deserve to have the same sort of support
made available even if it is required for a shorter period of time.
One group in this category with particular needs would be re-entrants
to the profession. A sympathetic mentoring scheme could play a vital
role in helping their rapid assimilation (Smith in Smith and West-Burnham
This sort of mentoring could come from management (the Senior Management
Team and/or Heads of Department) or, as I have seen it done, from a 'buddy'
(a peer - usually a recently appointed staff member who remembers what
was difficult about settling in) but I feel strongly that it should be
provided by both (i.e. that the mentoring should be shared) as the two
mentors will be able to assist in different ways with the various aspects
of the process of integration - namely the structural and the cultural.
Both the organization and the individual will benefit from a successful
and speedy assimilation into the culture of the school as this allows
the teacher to perform more effectively, more quickly but this process
requires that the new member of staff be given at all times honest "guidance
about the expectations of the school" (Fidler in Tomlinson 1997,
ii) Orientation to a new
Another possible application could be in aiding the adjustment of staff
who have been promoted to a position new to them, be it in their current
school or in a different organization. Mentoring would be a way
of encouraging them to reflect on the demands and potential of their new
role. It should enable them to question and develop their practice
in a supportive environment. The key to successful adjustment is
to have the confidence and skill to analyze and adapt one's existing practice
to suit the new context. This form of mentoring might be done by someone
in a position of authority above them but I believe it could more usefully
be done by someone in a similar position but with slightly longer experience
of the role. I believe this latter type of mentoring is currently
being provided for head teachers as part of the Headlamp programme (Busher
and Paxton in Tomlinson 1997, p130). I think it is important when
choosing the partners to try to match the profiles of the participants
so that there are some similarities in their situation.
Mentoring in these two guises is being used to ease a period of transition.
The mentors are acting as guides and protectors during the early stages
of preparation, induction and development. They are sharing knowledge
about 'good practice' and the culture of the organization as well as helping
the mentees in the task of better understanding and improving their practice.
Support and encouragement, by creating frequent opportunities for success
but at gradually more challenging tasks, are key elements of good mentoring.
Hence the process can also be used to create opportunities for staff development
- for both mentees and mentors in my opinion.
iii) Professional development
This is what is meant by the term mentoring outside the teaching profession.
A 'high flier' is 'sponsored' and becomes the prot˙©g˙© of someone more
experienced who is almost certainly older. The sponsor's role is
to create opportunities for the mentee to 'impress' as s/he is being groomed
for promotion. I believe it often involves shadowing the person
already in the position aspired to. I would have thought that this
could cause problems if the mentee is being prepared to take over from
the existing post holder as this would appear to make it difficult to
create what I would consider the ideal mentoring situation of a 'partnership.'
In schools, despite the fact that it would seem natural to have Heads
of Department mentor the staff in their department, the idea of the line
manager as mentor may cause problems due to the hierarchical nature of
the relationship. The issue is complicated further by the unfortunate
tendency in the educational world to think that mentoring only happens
when someone more successful steps in to advise someone who is 'failing.'
In addition I think the HOD's potential to act as a mentor for people
in their department has been severely undermined by the increasing demand
for them to monitor and report on their staff's performance. Thus,
despite the evident links between mentoring and appraisal, due to the
hierarchical and judgemental nature of much the latter done in schools
I believe the two systems are best kept separate. As I understand
it, mentoring (at least in the post-initial induction phase) is a wholly
formative process (leading to negotiated future development targets) whilst
appraisal in contrast is often in practice a summative activity
(and therefore not likely to bring about changes) - a basic difference
which will increase if performance related pay is introduced.
For these reasons I feel that a model of staff appraisal targeted at
development rather than accountability could more usefully employ a system
of peer review to provide continuing professional development to both
members of staff involved in this equal partnership. This approach
would make use of aspects of mentoring since the intention of the appraiser
is to encourage the member of staff being appraised to reflect on their
practice and help them to think of possible ways to develop the teaching
and learning in their classroom as well as their career. This is
best achieved by explicitly recognizing and building on positive features
of their performance as well as, if necessary, attempting to improve any
less positive aspects by regularly monitoring progress towards negotiated
and agreed SMART targets.
Based on my experience of a peer review scheme I would agree with Pratt
and Stenning (1989, p79) who say "...coaching by one's peers can
be extremely effective especially where there is a mutual empathy between
the individuals involved." I think this is probably because
there are fewer inhibitions between peers who trust each other.
There is no 'conflict of interests' (no issues of promotion, power or
pay to muddy the waters) and so the participants are more open and thus
more receptive to the learning process. This is particularly true
if a mutually supportive relationship already exists between them but
I do not believe this to be an essential pre-requisite. Hopkins
et al claim (1994, p119) that it is "fairly well established that
teachers learn best from other teachers and take criticism most easily
from this source." I would be tempted to add that this is only
true if there is already a climate of mutual trust and respect in the
school but Holly and Southworth (1989, p89) note that "As evaluations
were exchanged, teachers developed more respect for the ability of their
colleagues to make sound judgements and were more willing to be evaluated."
Thus in this instance the scheme itself created the positive atmosphere
necessary for success.
It is usual in this process for the partners to "select each other
and work on problems voluntarily" (Hopkins et al 1994, p120).
Also it is the mentee who normally chooses the focus and the evaluation
criteria of the investigation. Confidentiality is very important
in this model of appraisal as the purpose is supported development and
not judgement. The scheme I helped establish heeded Hopkins' advice
(1994, p21) that "All data gathered become the property of the teacher
observed." We interpreted this to mean that anything written
during the process would be kept by the mentee. However a final
agreed summary of any development requests needed to be passed on to the
staff development co-ordinator. It was stated at the commencement
of the scheme that if any common needs were identified then these would
be addressed with some whole school INSET.
I think the crux of this system was that it was clearly understood that
the mentor was not the omniscient 'expert' who would have all the answers
to every 'problem' but that members of staff were choosing to work together
in partnership with someone whose expertise they respected and whom they
trusted to be honest and supportive so as to bring about their mutual
development. I also think it was vital for the success of the scheme
to stress that the mentors were not looking for 'mistakes' - the heart
of the process was the self-review and staff were encouraged to be positive
when reflecting on their practice. We liked the idea of the mentor
as "a critical friend... who acts as a sounding board for
a colleague's assessment of their own abilities, progress and worth"
(in Kydd et al 1997, p156).
However I believe even a traditional line management model of appraisal
may result in mentoring for "...a review of the appraisee's
performance and aspirations should ideally illuminate those areas where
the individual could benefit most from coaching, or indeed his or her
potential to act as a coach" (Pratt and Stenning 1989, p78).
These applications provide explicit opportunities for staff development
to mentees since someone is spending time with them encouraging better
practice by supporting and challenging their existing practice.
Possibly rather less obvious are the ways in which this collaboration
can also provide opportunities for professional and personal development
for the mentor. They too may be placed in the situation of having
to justify their assumptions about their practice. If they are receptive
they can gain a fresh perspective from the mentee and also develop a variety
of new skills by being responsible for another adult's learning.
A belief in this reciprocal learning is what lies at the heart of the
'mentoring school' in which all members of staff share responsibility
for the continuing development of teachers as suggested by the 1972 James
Report referred to by Smith (in Smith and West-Burnham 1993, p8).
Staff are encouraged to want to be 'continuing learners' and to accept
that much of their learning will be done "with and from each other"
(Harris and Russ 1995, p10) for it is acknowledged by everyone in the
organization that any improvement in pupil learning "rests on the
success of teacher learning" (Holly and Southworth 1989, p9).
But all these texts go on to say that this concept does not apply just
to staff in the organization - all members of the 'learning community'
should be included - which leads us on to other possible participants
in active mentoring relationships.
v) Mentoring pupils
There are two possible applications here - academic and pastoral.
The former has always been done informally by effective subject teachers
who are knowledgeable about and sensitive to the students in their classes.
These teachers take account of individual needs and goals when planning
their lessons to ensure that each pupil in their class receives the care
and attention needed for their development. However this is now
becoming more formalized and particular pupils are being targeted for
extra attention - typically in most secondary schools those who are borderline
GCSE passes. This often means the HOD having a more active role
in supporting the learning of these particular students - possibly by
arranging extra lessons so as to clear up misunderstandings and provide
opportunities for extra practice with immediate feedback focused directly
at the individual's particular difficulties.
There are elements of mentoring in the teaching of special needs pupils
whether because they have learning difficulties or because they are academically
very able. Both these categories of student often also encounter
behavioural problems too brought on by their frustration in the classroom.
Hence the need for pastoral mentoring. The latter is usually done
by form tutors and year heads - counselling is the form it often takes
but it is usually more active than passive as the pupils are strongly
encouraged to reflect on the consequences of their actions not just on
themselves but on others in the school and the wider community.
Pupil-to-pupil mentoring can also play a role in helping to overcome
bullying. Some schools arrange for the victim to be 'mentored' by
a fellow pupil who has more confidence and greater social acceptability.
I have taught in schools that encouraged older pupils to take responsibility
for younger ones - either in lessons via such schemes as paired reading
or through vertically organized pastoral systems such as houses.
As with staff a 'buddy' system could play a useful role in easing the
induction of new pupils into the school. Our ICT co-ordinator has
just established a system whereby older students were 'interviewed' for
the job of 'consultant' to specified small groups of younger pupils.
I think this could easily develop into a type of mentoring as the older
students guide the younger ones and seek to challenge them to extend their
skills. Miller and Packham (1999) discuss an informal student-led
mentoring scheme which was designed to support the academic and social
development of first year university students. They describe it
as "a support mechanism to facilitate student-centred learning."
It is two-way learning however as the final year mentors are themselves
coached in the necessary mentoring skills by the PASS co-ordinators.
They also receive a formal letter of appreciation which "provides
evidence of core social and communication skills to potential employers."
At my current school, which is an extremely conservative girls' school
in the Arab world, we are pioneering a work experience scheme. It
is intended that each participant will have a teacher-mentor to guide
them in their reflections on the experience so that individual students
will gain as much as possible from the opportunity they have been given.
vi) Mentoring parents
Effective schools recognize that the best way to achieve student learning
is to create a collaboration between staff, parents and pupils in which
the focus is on the individual's needs and goals (Hopkins et al 1994,
p47). Through a formal pairing of staff and parents the latter could
be helped to understand better what they can actively do to support their
children in their learning at school and at home. This sort of partnership
would also be a way of offering the encouragement and reassurance that
Hopkins et al (1994, p137) suggest parents need from schools. I
think in most schools this process is probably attempted informally at
parents' evenings but, in my experience, there is a limit both to how
many parents attend these occasions and to how much guidance can realistically
be shared in these infrequent and usually brief time slots. A key
idea here I believe is that parent and teacher are equals as both bring
different kinds of knowledge to the partnership - the teacher has educational
expertise whilst the parent has a more detailed understanding of the child.
I also wonder if mentoring could be expanded to include parents who are
having difficulties managing their children's behaviour. This could
be contentious for, as said before, any partnership needs to be entered
into voluntarily if it is to be effective. In any case the key idea
would be not to offer blanket advice but individual support. The
mentor's role would be to reflect parental actions so as to enable greater
thought by the parents on the likely consequences of their actions on
the child. However some parents could perceive mentoring in
this situation to be either intimidating or patronising so a support group
might be a better initial alternative with individual mentoring relationships
possibly developing gradually later. This idea sprang in part from
my reading of an article based on research into what type of support parents
wanted from schools (Brown 2000) in which 'managing children's behaviour'
was consistently in the top three requests.
Advantages and disadvantages of these applications
i) to individuals involved
I think it is important to escape from the concept of mentor as the sole
dispenser of knowledge and the mentee as simply a passive recipient.
It is ideally a dynamic equal partnership with a negotiated and mutually
agreed purpose. The 'troubleshooting' approach is to be avoided
and the mentoring process should be seen as an integral part of the supportive
ethos within an organization and a natural element of continuous staff
development. In order to motivate people to take part it is essential
that the idea is widespread and clearly understood that mentoring is active
and shared learning - both partners should feel they are developing
professionally and personally as a result of engaging in the process.
Mentees can receive such benefits as:
* the opportunity to gain new ideas from the mentor and so develop a
larger repertoire of teaching/management strategies.
* the opportunity to be supported in their learning - to try out ideas
in a safe environment (with the mentor providing a safety net).
* affirmation and stimulation (support and challenge).
* a structured challenge which is limited to manageable and obtainable
targets. This should lead to increased clarity and definition of
goals as well as increased confidence.
* increased motivation and performance as well as a more flexible approach
Mentors can receive benefits such as:
* the opportunity to gain new ideas from the mentee.
* the opportunity to reflect on their own practice. The process
of mentoring often forces mentors to clarify to themselves why they are
doing things in a particular way. (Mentoring thus provides an opportunity
to recognize and break bad habits!)
* time to practise and improve such skills as observation
and counselling, target setting and action planning.
* development of their ability to take an overview.
Mentoring can give participants a better overall sense of the organization's
aims. The process usually encourages people to take a wider perspective
and thus escape tunnel vision.
* a sense of self-worth since the organization has demonstrated
trust in the individual by entrusting an important task to them; the organization
has shown faith in the mentor's ability to deliver.
* a sense of satisfaction - a feeling of a job done well.
(This raises the question of whether self-knowledge is sufficient? It
is much better I think if there is explicit recognition of the time and
energy expended and praise for the mentors from someone in authority.)
* increased motivation and raised standards of performance.
It is unfortunately often forgotten how vital it is that the organization
of the process includes someone to mentor the mentor to ensure these gains
are highlighted to them. Mentors often feel isolated
and need someone to support them and their learning too (Smith in Tomlinson
1997, p50). This mentoring of the mentors enables them to grow as
mentors by encouraging reflection on their current practice as mentors
and thus challenging them to refine their existing skills and to develop
new and varied approaches. Mentors should also meet periodically
with other mentors to share their successes, problems and brainstorm ideas.
This can help boost their confidence, which is of particular importance
in the early stages.
As a result of the changes in initial teacher training Stephens (1996,
p3) says "...mentoring is becoming an important means of professional
development for those outstanding classroom teachers who still want to
remain frontline practitioners." I think it needs to be more
widely recognized that this is an achievable goal in many other educational
contexts too. In particular I feel that the vital role mentoring
can play in continuous school improvement should be elaborated.
ii) to the organization
It needs to be explicitly acknowledged by schools that the advantages
of collaborative mentoring outlined above are not just of value to the
teachers concerned but that the pupils and the host organization benefit
greatly too. Indeed I believe anything which enhances good relationships
and improves communication between staff is going to be valuable.
If the staff are supportive of one another then this sets a good example
for the students. In addition professionally developed and fulfilled
personnel will undoubtedly contribute more and possibly stay longer within
the organization. However this requires a sustained effort on the
part of the organization "...to reflect on [the learning] experience,
to distill from it those lessons which seem most important and to spread
emerging patterns of knowledge and skill...to all members of staff."
(Bollington et al 1990, p93) This is I think the essence of performance
management and is vital if the school is to achieve its full potential
in developing student learning.
In a school where there is a system of effective mentoring which is routinely
undertaken and participated in by all staff (and ideally all pupils too)
the end result must be improved teaching and learning. There will
also be better relations between pupils and staff; as well as between
members of staff, as the latter will be more accustomed to sharing expertise
and looking after one another professionally. I believe this forms
the basis of the 'Learning School' and the notion of collegiality which
are two features often referred to in the school improvement literature
(Hopkins et al 1994, p71). Another benefit should be a much better
understanding of other staff's professional concerns and priorities as
there will have been a greater degree of interaction and more professional
discourse. This may also result in a greater consistency of approach
by staff which is another feature commonly found in effective schools
(Hopkins et al 1994, p46).
This essay has shown that there are many educational contexts in which
mentoring can be a powerful tool in helping individuals (staff and pupils)
develop their potential to the benefit of both them and the organization.
To fully benefit however it is vital that the mentoring is effective
and that demands time, skill and a desire to learn - on both sides
of the partnership.
Amongst other applications it has been proposed that the process of mentoring
can be used as a way of helping whole school management create a climate
of 'continuous improvement' and thus an 'effective' school by assisting
in the formation of a positive collaborative culture. The process
can also be used as a way of creating synergy between individual and organizational
development. Both of these will result in raising the performance
of pupils and staff and thus improve the quality of teaching and learning
in the school for, as Hopkins et al (1994, p66) rightly comment, "The
important point is that all this development should focus on and have
some impact on student learning."
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Brown, S. (2000) Your Parents' Voice Managing Schools Today vol.
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Harris, A. & Russ, J. (1995) Pathways to School Improvement Department
Holly, P. & Southworth, G. (1989) The Developing School Lewes,
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an Era of Change London, Cassell
Kydd, L., Crawford, M. & Riches, C. (ed.)(1997) Professional Development
for Educational Management Buckingham, Open University Press
Miller, C. & Packham, G. (1999) Peer Assisted Student Support (PASS)
Mentoring and Tutoring, Vol. 7 no. 1, pp 81-95
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London, Van Nostrand Reinhold (International)
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in Schools London, Paul Chapman