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S. Berry

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 various ways.   

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 1996, p2).

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 school improvement. 

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 school

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 1993, p2).

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, p166).

ii)  Orientation to a new post

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.  

iv)  Appraisal

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 to tasks.

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."


Brooks, V. & Sikes, P. (1997) The Good Mentor Guide  Buckingham, Open University Press

Brown, S. (2000) Your Parents' Voice Managing Schools Today  vol. 9 no. 5, pp.10-12

Bollington, R., Hopkins, D. & West, M. (1990) Introduction to Teacher Appraisal,  London, Cassell

Harris, A. & Russ, J. (1995) Pathways to School Improvement  Department of Employment

Holly, P. & Southworth, G. (1989) The Developing School  Lewes, Falmer Press

Hopkins, D., Ainscow, M. & West, M. (1994) School Improvement in 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 

Pratt, K.J. & Stenning, R. (1989) Managing Staff Appraisal in Schools, London, Van Nostrand Reinhold (International)

Smith, P. & West-Burnham, J. (ed.) (1993) Mentoring in the Effective School, Harlow, Longman

Stephens, P. (1996) Essential Mentoring Skills  Cheltenham, Stanley Thornes

Tomlinson, H. (ed.) (1997) Managing Continuing Professional Development in Schools   London, Paul Chapman



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