Mentoring for Early childhood teachers research Report 2012

Conceptual concerns, issues and tensions in mentoring

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Conceptual concerns, issues and tensions in mentoring

This section is a review of literature reviews on mentoring. It provides a sense of the changing trends in mentoring within the educational field: from the move from a competency model of mentoring to a reflective model of mentoring; a questioning of the value of conceptualising mentoring on the myth of the good mentor based on Homer’s Odyssey; and the re-conceptualisation of the mentor as a single person to a network composed of multiple networking partners.

The influence of cultural trends on models of mentoring
In the mid-1990s, Whitehead (1995) reviewed the literature on the use of mentoring in educational contexts, after government initiatives in England and Wales started mandating the involvement of practising teachers in the initial training of student teachers. Her review noted that, alongside mandates from the government, cultural trends, such as postmodernism, had reconfigured initial teacher training and brought mentoring into being. Postmodernism brought a decline in the dominance of intellectuals and accorded equal status to practising teachers through their increased involvement in the training of students. It also brought the liberating potential of pluralism and through mentors, greater democratisation (p. 130).
Whitehead noted a consensus on the knowledge and skills mentors need to support and challenge students – that is, that mentors should be able to examine and share the basis of their professional knowledge, while helping students to reflect and examine the principles informing their own developing practice. This pointed towards a reflective model of mentoring, which was seen as complementing the apprenticeship and competency models (the practical, technicist, ‘master teacher’ concept of mentoring). The reflective model of mentoring reconceptualised the work of teachers-as-mentors as a form of intellectual labour, with teachers critically questioning their pedagogy, as well as the nature of society and schooling that inform it. Whitehead concluded that as mentoring develops and evolves, the differences between the intentions of those who initiate/mandate mentoring as a requirement within schools (that is, government/policy makers) and those whose practices give it meaning (teachers) will emerge within the context of cultural trends.
The myth versus the reality
By the early 2000s, Colley (2002) noted that mentoring had become the ‘in thing’ – a favoured policy initiative in many countries, including Britain and North America, both as an element of professional development and in addressing social inclusion. As a professional development tool, mentoring has direct relevance to teacher education. As a tool for addressing social exclusion, it meant that teachers needed to liaise with mentors allocated to their students. Despite its popularity, Colley noted that mentoring is weakly conceptualised. She thus set about a review of the literature on mentoring in order to deconstruct it from its mythical and overwhelmingly favourable and celebratory conceptions.
According to Colley, the literature on mentoring from the late 1970s to 1980s tended to define mentoring in terms of the functions of the mentor, often using the figure of Mentor or the goddess Athene from Homer’s Odyssey as a rhetorical representation of ‘the good mentor’ - a wise and kindly elder, a surrogate parent, a trusted adviser, an educator and guide. The mentor is nurturing, supporting, protecting, role modelling, and possessing a visionary perception of his mentee’s true potential. As well, the role demands integrity, personal investment, with the relationship between mentor and mentee as based on deep mutual affection and respect. Based on the goddess Athene, the role has a ‘specialness’ – an inspirational character, selfless, caring, self-sacrificing, a commitment beyond ‘the call of duty’, a role ‘above and beyond’ (p. 260). However, Colley is critical of this uncritical view of mentoring. She notes that the notion of a kindly and self-sacrificing mentor is a modern creation, in actual contrast to the brutality portrayed in the Odyssey, and warns that ‘myths are commonly used to legitimate and secure consensus for dominant discourses…Myths deny the influence of context upon meaning, and conflate form and substance, as they represent historical phenomena as natural, and their contingent appearance as an eternal and immutable essence’ (p. 261).
Colley argues that conceptualisations of mentoring based on the myth of Mentor or the goddess Athene (who would sometimes disguise herself as Mentor) are hierarchical, directive and paternalistic, based on models of male development, even when applied to all female dyads. Colley therefore urges a feminist Marxist perspective on mentoring to counter this mythical view. This perspective, Colley points out, allows us to see that the increasing institutionalisation of mentoring is transforming a traditionally dyadic relationship into a triad, with dominant groupings (such as the government) inserting an invisible yet powerful agenda into the practice of mentoring, such as, for example, mentors becoming gatekeepers to the profession through policy prescriptions about teaching practices deemed acceptable or necessary for entry into the profession (p. 263). In this way, mentoring becomes a form of social control, where the aim is to fit mentees into society as it exists, rather than to equip them with a critical understanding of society and the means by which they may seek to change it (p. 268). The notion of a self-sacrificing mentor is also exploitative of mentors, with an ‘enslaving essence’ that is pervasive and deeply oppressive to those in the teaching profession, particularly for women (p. 269). In conclusion, Colley argues that current implementations of mentoring work against both mentor and mentee. She notes that mentoring within initial teacher education needs further investigation; she exhorts us to challenge ‘the easy currency which the term [mentoring] has gained in such contexts of professional development…[w]e need to know about the specific contexts of mentoring for student teachers, and about the ways in which mentors and mentees construct their roles’ (p. 270).
From single mentor to mentoring networks
A review of published literature on mentoring in the higher education context by Sorcinelli and Yun (2007) showed the emergence of a new model of mentoring. They noted that the traditional, one-to-one, top-down mentoring model where a single person was expected to possess the necessary expertise to help the protégé or mentee was being replaced by model that encourages a broader, more flexible network of support. The earlier model of a single, seasoned mentor was no longer realistic in the new complex academic environment. This precipitated the emergence of the latter model, in which early-career faculty members ‘build robust networks by engaging multiple “mentoring partners” in non-hierarchical, collaborative, cross-cultural partnerships to address specific areas of faculty activity, such as research, teaching, working towards tenure, and striking a balance between work and life’ (p. 58). This form of mentoring is a reciprocal partnership, benefiting both mentors and mentees. Janasz and Sullivan (2004, cited in Sorcinelli & Yun, 2007) call this the ‘multi-mentor network model’, while van Emmerik (2004, cited in Sorcinelli & Yun, 2007) calls it a ‘mentoring constellation’. However, van Emmerik notes that multiple mentoring contacts do not replace the traditional single mentor, but should be in addition to that core mentoring relationship. For example, Wasburn (2007, cited in Sorcinelli & Yun, 2007), describes an ambitious mentoring program for female faculty at Purdue University based on ‘strategic collaboration’ – that is, a hybrid of the traditional grooming and emerging network models.
In their review, Sorcinelli and Yun cited the various ways that the multi-mentor network model may be implemented, through:

  • a series of workshops and forums (Akerlind & Quinlan, 2001),

  • the creation of peer communities (Angelique, Kyle & Taylor, 2002)

  • peer-mentoring groups (Smith et al, 2001; Jacelon et al, 2003)

  • a year-long mentoring program involving mentoring across career stages (Pierce, 2001)

  • mentoring panels and workshops at conferences of professional associations (Hardwick, 2005)

  • a year-long seminar for incoming tenure-track faculty that is facilitated by second- and third-year faculty and ‘brokered’ by senior faculty (Reder et al, 2006).

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