Mentoring for Early childhood teachers research Report 2012

Summaries of Research Evidence

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Summaries of Research Evidence

There are three summaries included in this literature review:

  1. Mentoring in Early Childhood Contexts;

  2. Mentoring in Schools;

  3. E-mentoring (also called online mentoring or telementoring).

Each summary is based on information contained in the Appendices. The table in Appendix 1 contains the details of empirical research on Mentoring in Early Childhood Contexts that were published from 2000 to 2012 (presented in chronological order). The column headings of the table reflect the appraisal criteria explained earlier in the section 2.1: A modified BES approach. The summary or synthesis is presented in narrative format. The other two summaries have been produced using the same methodology.

Summary 1: Mentoring in Early Childhood Contexts
Twelve studies are included in this synthesis, as reported in 12 journal articles and one doctoral dissertation. They are all small-scale, with the number of participants ranging from n=1 to 78. The study with just one participant is a single case study of a mentor (Ryan & Hornbeck, 2004). The study with 78 participants was an interview-based study of early childhood centre directors who mentored their staff into pursuing higher education qualifications. The rest of the studies were conducted with both mentors and mentees as participants. Three studies in particular (Cassady et al, 2003; Puig & Recchia, 2008; Uttley & Horn, 2008) pointed out that their participants were all female, as is typical in the field. The following sub-sections summarise the lessons learnt from these studies.
Principles/components for a successful mentoring program
The principles/components of a mentoring program that can inform the development of an effective mentoring program in the early childhood context include:

  • Orientation meeting for mentors and mentees – to explain and establish the goals of the program, define the roles of mentors and mentees, and manage the expectations of both mentors and mentees (Pavia et al, 2003; Gallagher et al, 2011a, 2011b)

  • Mentor training – mentoring is a set of skills that need to be learnt and experienced practitioners are not necessarily ready or skilled to help someone else develop professionally; therefore some programs provided direct training to mentors (Stanulis & Russell, 2000; Pavia et al, 2003) or mentors were enrolled in a university course on mentoring or leadership (Uttley & Horm, 2008)

  • Mentor support – either a mentor group or a Mentor Coordinator; this acknowledges mentors’ need for mentoring and support during the mentoring process (Stanulis & Russell, 2000)

  • Planned meetings – of both mentors and mentees together, of mentors only, and of mentees only:

    • mentors saw a mentors-only meeting as a forum for an exchange of ideas (Pavia et al, 2003)

    • the mentees saw the mentees-only meeting as an opportunity to discuss and share their concerns regarding working with children (Pavia et al, 2003)

    • collaborative dialogue sessions enabled discussion of beliefs, ideals, and the role of the teacher (Elliott, 2004)

  • Planned visits to each other’s centres/workplace (Pavia et al, 2003)

  • Time for the mentoring relationship to flourish, which includes:

    • Contact time for mentor and mentee to get together

    • Time to build a relationship in order to build trust between mentor and mentee (Stanulis & Russell, 2000)

    • Funding for time release to allow time for the mentoring to happen (Pavia et al, 2003)

  • The concept of ‘mutual mentoring’ where there is collaboration between university-based and school/centre-based participants in the process of mentoring (Stanulis & Russell, 2000)

  • Individual meetings with mentors at the end of the program to gain feedback (Stanulis & Russell, 2000)

  • Pairing of mentors and mentees should take into account geographical proximity so as to allow for the development of successful relationships

  • Goals should be established by both mentors and mentees to provide direction and purpose

  • A third party may provide the necessary link between mentor and mentee in order to facilitate the development of the mentoring relationship (Pavia et al, 2003)

  • Each mentoring relationship is unique, therefore, mentoring programs should allow for individualised mentoring in order to accommodate each participant’s developmental needs (Pavia et al, 2003)

  • Team teaching, reflective practice and an action-research project provided for collaborative dialogue, reflection, and the importance of theory (Elliott, 2004)

  • The availability of full-time, onsite mentors (that is, mentors freed from their own classroom responsibilities) available to provide support to the beginning teacher in ‘real time’ enables a beginning teacher to go from novice to ‘more expert’ in just one year (Davis & Higdon, 2008)

  • Mentor-apprentice model of mentoring – collaborative teaching resulted in higher levels of satisfaction for both mentors and mentees particularly when they worked in the same classroom and worked with the same-age children (Uttley & Horm, 2008)

  • Financial recognition of the mentors’ work through reimbursement of expenses – also seen as a recognition of the mentors’ service (Gallagher et al, 2011a, 2011b).

  • For the mentoring of newly-hired teachers by veteran teachers in the same centre (Beaunae, 2009), the mentoring program included:

    • a tour of the buildings

    • introductions to all staff

    • review of employee handbook, accident/incident report procedures, parent handbook, the centre’s philosophy and mission statements

    • mentee shadows the mentor for a few hours

    • regularly scheduled meetings between mentor and mentee

    • mentor to be available to answer questions and concerns

    • mentor to make the new employee welcomed and valued

    • mentor to act as advocate or advisor for mentee when mentee is faced with challenges in the classroom, with the children, and other teachers.

Problems to watch out for
The studies also include information on problems to watch out for when establishing a mentoring program in an early childhood setting:

  • Mentor-mentee matching: pre-arranged pairing may be problematic due to incompatibilities in responsibilities, life stages, personalities, working experiences, type of service/program, socio-economic status of families and children (Pavia et al, 2003)

  • Forced or pre-arranged pairing of individuals does not always work: the pairing of individuals in such a close relationship requires expertise (Pavia et al, 2003). Pavia et al also suggested that a group meeting prior to the mentoring happening should allow for a more natural pairing

  • Finding the time for mentor and mentee to meet: trying to find a mutually available time to meet or observe each other’s classrooms was a challenge for mentors and mentees, who still had ongoing responsibilities in their own workplaces (Gallagher et al 2011a, 2011b)

  • Mentees felt pressured to ‘perform’ (Gallagher et al, 2011a, 2011b), or to have a ‘problem’ for the mentor to solve (Pavia et al, 2003)

  • Mentors were cautious about being the ‘know-it-all’ or imposing themselves or their ‘styles’ on mentees (Pavia et al, 2003)

  • The name used to designate the mentees became a problem in one study (Pavia et al, 2003): the term ‘protégé’ was resented due to implied unequal roles; mentees, who were experienced teachers, wanted to be seen as peers with the ability to give support to the mentor as well

  • A mentor without the necessary experiential base from which to draw examples and to model changes were resisted by teachers who had more experience (Ryan & Hornbeck, 2004)

  • Reform initiatives cannot be handed top-down (from policy makers to teachers) through mentoring programs: teachers’ perspectives regarding reforms have to be taken into account for them to have ownership, ‘buy into’, or act on these initiatives (Ryan & Hornbeck, 2004)

  • Choice versus obligation to participate: the program may suffer when participants do not have an ‘obligation’ to participate consistently and continuously with the program’s elements (Puig & Recchia, 2008)

  • Costs of program may need to be balanced against participation: when participants are not obliged to participate in the program, it may result in such a small and/or sporadic participation rate such that it is not worthwhile to run the program (Puig & Recchia, 2008)

  • First year teachers are so overwhelmed by their work that despite good intentions and interests, they may not have the time or energy to participate in mentoring programs. Second and third-year teachers may be more suitable participants for an obligation-free mentoring program (Puig & Recchia, 2008).

Who were the mentors?
The mentors included:

  • Experienced teachers (Stanulis & Russell, 2000; Cassady et al, 2003; Elliott, 2004, Beaunea, 2009)

  • Supervising teachers during placements were re-conceptualised as mentors in the sense of mentors-as-guides (Stanulis & Russell, 2000)

  • Principals (Heung-Ling, 2003)

  • Curriculum specialists or staff developers (Ryan & Hornbeck, 2004)

  • Centre Directors (Deustch & Tong, 2011)

  • University lecturers/supervisors/professors (Puig & Recchia, 2008).

Who were the mentees?
Mentees included:

  • Student/preservice teachers (Stanulis & Russell, 2000; Heung-Ling, 2003; Cassady et al 2003; Elliott, 2004)

  • Beginning/apprentice/less experienced teachers (Pavia et al, 2003; Puig & Recchia, 2008; Uttley & Horm, 2008; Beaunea, 2009; Gallagher et al, 2011a, 2011b)

  • Experienced teachers (Pavia et al 2003; Ryan & Hornbeck, 2004)

  • Newly-hired teachers (Beaunea, 2009).

Building successful mentoring relationships
Many of the studies reviewed suggested that the essence of a successful mentoring program lies in the mentoring relationship between mentor and mentee. As such, relationship-building is a critical part of the mentoring process. Three of the studies reviewed focused on this particular component of the mentoring process (Pavia et al, 2003; Heung-Ling, 2003; Beaunea, 2009). Some aspects of relationship-building have already been discussed above: initial orientation meeting, group meetings, planned contact time between paired mentor-mentee, and care in the pairing up of mentor and mentee. Additionally, Heung-Ling listed the following dimensions of an effective tutoring relationship: a high comfort level, respect, trust, openness, encouragement, ongoing support, regular communication, mentor’s expertise, level of commitment and time availability. Heung-Ling noted that these dimensions were probably interrelated – for example, the mentor’s level of expertise contributing to the mentee’s comfort level with his/her mentor.
The most critical element in building a successful mentoring relationship is time. As mentioned, the ‘time’ element includes: the length of time that the mentoring program is run should allow for trust to be established between a mentor and mentee so as to build a successful mentoring relationship; contact time between mentor and mentee should be pre-planned in the program so that the mentor and mentee can get to know each other and build a relationship; and there should be funding for time release to allow the mentor and mentee some time-off from their regular duties/responsibilities and thus carve out some space for the mentoring to occur.
Cassady et al (2003) also noted that a successful mentoring relationship depended on both mentors and mentees having a clear understanding of the role of the mentor. This meant that there had to be a clear definition of roles and responsibilities, which should be established early on during the mentoring program.
Beaunea’s (2009) doctoral research project focused on theorising the interpersonal relationships between mentors and mentees. She noted that mentoring relationships were focused on and strongly influenced by four aspects of the early childhood environment: physical, professional, social and emotional environments, and weakly influenced by the personal characteristics of participants. Her diagram in Figure 1 below, (taken from Beaunea, 2009, p. 99) illustrates the details of what is included in each of these environments and their relationships to each other.
Gallagher et al’s (2011a, 2011b) study used mentoring as an ‘intervention’ to combat shortage and high turnover rates of early childhood teachers. Their study emphasised building a trusting relationship with the mentee through ongoing support for the mentee during an entire year. To facilitate this type of mentoring, the researchers matched mentors and mentees based on classroom geographic proximity (also suggested by Pavia et al, 2003) and professional compatibility.

Figure 1: Beaunea’s model of teachers’ perspectives of influences on mentoring relationships
(2009, p.99)

Benefits of mentoring
There were benefits to both mentors and mentees in the mentoring process:

  • Mentoring of beginning teachers helps in teacher retention and alleviate the shortage of qualified early childhood teachers

  • Mentoring is a process of socialisation into the field for a beginning teacher

  • Mentors noted that being a mentor enhanced one’s view of one’s own professional identity (Pavia et al, 2003) and made them realise their own ‘personal faults’; they also mentioned that being able to provide help, support, listening to and getting to know others, and accomplishing goals as benefits (Gallagher et al 2011a, 2011b)

  • Mentees were encouraged to pursue higher education qualifications in order to receive better pay (this addresses two issues typical of early childhood staff: they are lowly paid and not highly qualified)

  • Mentees noted the improvement of their classroom environments through new ideas and better methods as benefits of mentoring (Gallagher et al, 2011a, 2011b)

  • For mentoring that involved collaboration by mentor and mentee in classroom teaching, there were improved outcomes for children. This was shown empirically by Gallagher et al (2011a, 2011b) wherein children in classrooms where their teacher was not mentored showed decline in social functioning towards the end of the year. Gallagher et al theorised this outcome as suggesting that beginning teachers need support throughout the year to prevent decline in the classroom environment over the course of the year

  • Gallagher et al’s study also emphasised the deepening of mentees’ knowledge and conceptual understanding, promoting a sense of self and purpose, and increasing intentional application of newly acquired knowledge to teaching skills.

Summary 2: Mentoring in Schools
This summary is based on information contained in Appendix 2, which contains the details of empirical research on Mentoring in Schools from 2000-2012. The column headings in Appendix 2 reflect the appraisal criteria explained earlier in section 2.1: A modified BES approach.
Mentoring of new or beginning teachers is a more developed initiative in the school context than it is in the early childhood context. Thus, there is more focus on the nuances of the mentoring process itself, as well as more research into what it means to be a successful mentor. This is reflected in the research papers published on the topic and summarised here.
Most of the studies are small-scale with a few that are single case studies (Feinman-Nemsar, 2001; Orland, 2011; Certo, 2005a), reflecting a focus on identifying mentor characteristics and strategies that contribute towards a successful mentoring process. There were two relatively large-scale studies: a study that included 77 novice teachers and 11 mentors (LoCasale-Crouch, 2012) and one that involved 136 participants using a survey instrument (Clark & Byrnes, 2012). One interesting paper (Orland-Barak & Rachamin, 2009), which reported on the use of video for reflective mentoring, is described in more detail in this summary.
It is worth noting that one paper (LoCasale-Crouch, 2012) suggested that, aside from investigating the mentoring program itself and the mentors, the school’s culture and novice teachers’ strengths and stressors should also be investigated to determine the effectiveness of mentoring or induction programs.
Principles/components for a successful mentoring program
The principles/components that are necessary in the development of a successful mentoring program include:

  • Mentor training:

    • Feinman-Nemser (2001) noted the importance of mentor training to:

      • learn how to support beginning teachers

      • learn to be more direct, and

      • broaden ideas about teaching children.

    • Holloway (2001) proposed that prospective mentors need to undergo training that includes:

      • professional development about the mentoring process

      • understanding what is expected of them as mentors

      • support and opportunities to discuss ideas, problems and solutions with other mentors.

    • Mentor training programs should include developing mentor questioning skills and encouraging reflection in beginning teachers (Certo, 2005b).

  • Time:

    • Mentoring programs should also include time for beginning teachers to observe their mentors – i.e., the inclusion of ‘modelling’ as a mentoring activity (Certo, 2005b)

    • Release time for common planning and for the mentor and mentee to be able to observe each other’s teaching (Clark & Byrnes, 2012)

    • Novice teacher spending time with a mentor – the more time spent with a mentor, the better the outcomes, although the authors caution that it is important to know the ‘what’ that happens during these interactions, i.e., more work is needed to measure the ‘what’ that occurs between mentors and mentees (LoCasale-Crouch et al, 2012)

    • Full-time mentors are able to support their novice teachers better than part-time mentors, although this may be due to issues of training and support for part-time mentors (LoCasale-Crouch et al, 2012)

    • Novice teachers who felt supported in their relationship with their mentor reported higher levels of self-efficacy and reflection (LoCasale-Crouch et al, 2012). This is directly related to mentoring time and quality of relationship between mentor and mentee. However, the authors caution that the ‘intensity’ of relationship needs to be looked into further.

  • Mentor characteristics:

    • Mentors must be whole-heartedly motivated (Lindgren, 2005)

    • Be a good listener and be encouraging during times when the mentee is experiencing self-doubt (Clark & Byrnes, 2012)

    • Ideally teach the same grade or content as the novice teacher – this relates to the novice teacher’s positive sense of support and instructional support (LoCasale-Crouch, 2012).

  • Mentoring activities appreciated by the mentees:

    • Mentor discussions that address mentees’ concerns (Lindgren, 2005)

    • Mentoring that emphasises educational discussions (Lindgren, 2005)

    • Mentor modelling of behaviour, in particular, professional behaviour when communicating with parents (Clark & Byrnes, 2012)

    • Assistance with teaching content and planning units (Clark & Byrnes, 2012)

    • Providing a bridge to existing school culture (Clark & Byrnes, 2012)

    • Modelling effective techniques of instruction (Clark & Byrnes, 2012).

  • Mentoring activities noted by mentees as not helpful (Clark & Byrnes, 2012):

    • encouragement to self-assess teaching practices; and

    • modelling reflective teaching by examining and questioning teaching practices.

Clark and Byrnes (2012) note that the above findings suggest that novice teachers may find emotional support and direct information and assistance more useful than engaging in reflective conversations with their mentors about practices. This probably reflects the fact that teachers are in ‘survival mode’ during their first year, and their most immediate need is to be socialised into the profession.

  • Aims of the mentoring program must be clearly defined – awareness of goals and expectations would facilitate the mentoring process (Lindgren, 2005).

  • Mentoring handbook – a mentorship handbook is helpful in guiding the mentoring process in terms of setting target goals and ongoing evaluation of the progress of the mentoring process (Certo, 2005a).

  • Mentees must take responsibility for a productive mentorship (Lindgren, 2005).

  • A facilitator is needed to oversee the mentees’ tutoring experience to ensure there are no communication problems between mentor and mentee (Lindgren, 2005).

  • Support from administrators of mentoring programs to ensure that the necessary resources are available to support the mentoring process – for example, providing release time for common planning and for the mentor and mentee to be able to observe each other’s teaching (Clark & Byrnes, 2012).

Analysing successful mentors
Some of the research papers reviewed were single case studies of particularly successful mentors (Feinman-Nemser, 2001; Orland, 2001; Certo, 2005a) that helped the researchers develop an understanding of what it is to be a good mentor. These studies are detailed below.
Feinman-Nemser (2001) followed one particularly ‘thoughtful’ mentor for two years while he mentored beginning teachers in Michigan, USA. She wanted to understand the ‘insides’ of mentoring by this particular mentor, so as to understand the influence of mentoring on novices and their teaching. She also wanted to develop and understand mentoring as an educational practice – what she calls ‘educative mentoring’ (Feinman-Nemser, 1998), which builds on Dewey’s concept of educative experiences. Educative experiences are experiences that promote future growth and lead to richer subsequent experiences (Dewey, 1988). She notes that the promise of educative mentoring lies, not in easing novices’ entry into teaching, but in helping them confront difficult problems of practice and using teaching as a site for learning.
In following one particularly thoughtful mentor for two years, Feinman-Nemser sought to document an example of what is possible, rather than what is probable. These are her findings:

  • The mentor can be conceptualised as a ‘co-thinker’ rather than the expert. By engaging novice teachers in ‘productive consultations’, the mentor gets to know what beginning teachers think about an issue.

  • The mentor is an ‘educational companion’. The mentor offers personal support and professional perspectives to novices, which are tailored to the novices’ individual needs and purposes.

  • Strategies used by successful mentors include:

    • Finding openings – finding fruitful topics salient to the novice, which can lead to discussions about basic issues that all teachers should be thinking about

    • Pinpointing problems – based on the notion that problems are constructed rather than given, problems must be pinpointed and identified, rather than vaguely constructed

    • Noticing signs of growth – mentors should notice and give specific feedback regarding individual accomplishments, and unique strengths and needs of the novice teacher, rather than giving general praise

    • Focusing on the children – the focus of educative mentoring is on the learning of the children in the classroom (which, of course, leads to learning by the novice teacher on how to teach to learn)

    • Reinforcing understanding of theory

    • Giving living examples of one person’s way of teaching, and

    • Modelling ‘wondering’ about teaching.

Orland (2001) also followed one mentor in Israel as she went about her mentoring tasks. The study was meant to shed light on the process of learning to mentor as it develops over time – that is, to understand the character, process and consequences of mentoring from the perspective of the mentor and in relation to their occupational contexts. In her study, Orland concluded that the transition of an experienced teacher into a mentor of teachers was similar to the developmental stages of a novice teacher.

In Orland’s study, the mentor, of Anglo-Saxon background, was mentor to 14 teachers of English as a Foreign Language; the mentees were all from a Russian background. The mentoring program became an intervention project geared towards introducing experienced immigrant teachers into the school system in Israel, in the use of communicative approaches to teaching English, in working collaboratively with peers, and on reflecting on their practice. Orland’s participant mentor used the notion of ‘reading a mentoring situation’ as an organising metaphor to describe the forms and meanings of ‘learning to mentor’. Orland analysed ‘reading a mentoring situation’ as entailing the following five themes:

  • transferring the mentor’s assumptions as a teacher to the mentoring context

  • comparing different mentoring contexts

  • analysing how systemic conditions affect mentoring

  • developing awareness of how the mentor’s own educational views influences her mentoring agenda, and

  • analysing how interpersonal, organisational and professional aspects of the mentoring context operate integratively.

Certo (2005a) also conducted a single case study by following one mentoring dyad – both second-grade teachers in an urban elementary school in Virginia, USA. Certo’s aim in conducting the case study was for teacher-mentors to learn from this case study on how to be a mentor, and for teacher-educators, policy-makers, administrators and prospective mentors to become aware of the tremendous amount of time, energy and requisite skills that are required to become a ‘quality mentor’.

Certo’s analysis noted that a mentor’s activities could be divided into three types: supportive, challenging, and two-way/reciprocal (each party learning and taking ideas from each other), as detailed below:

  • Supportive activities included:

    • checking in (e.g., asking at the end of the day, “How was your day?”)

    • listening

    • reassuring

    • providing information – e.g., nuances of curriculum and instruction, explanations of rules, expectations and procedures, and system-wide policies

    • providing structure – e.g., managing workload and paperwork, and

    • mentor sharing instructional resources and supplies with mentee.

  • Challenging activities include:

    • planning together

    • developing assessments

    • inviting experimentation

    • providing insight and feedback, and

    • questioning / encouraging reflection.

  • ‘Two-way street’ (reciprocal learning) activities included:

    • mentoring contributes to the mentor’s own professional development

    • reduces feelings of isolation for the mentor

    • triggers reflection of the mentor’s own practice, and

    • mentor also learns from the protégé.

Reflective mentoring using video
One interesting study (Orland-Barak & Rachamin, 2009) used two levels of video-taping to examine the mentoring process:

  • Video-taping of the mentee while teaching – used for reflection during the mentoring session; and

  • Video-taping of the mentoring session – used to prompt the mentor to reflect on her mentoring practices.

The study drew from the literature on reflection, mentoring, and the use of video in an action-research project, to examine the forms and meaning that reflection on learning takes through the use of different forms of reflection. It also took advantage of video as presenting a mode of ‘delayed reflection’ with an opportunity for detachment from the immediate experience, which allowed for a deeper analysis and reflection.

From their study, Orland-Barak and Rachamin conclude that:

  • Reflective mentoring allows the mentee to shape her own process of mentored learning (i.e., it empowered the mentee to shape her own learning)

  • Reflective mentoring means combining guidance with facilitation

  • Reflective mentoring extends the mentors’ cycle of learning

  • Reflective learning allowed for reciprocal learning

  • There are reciprocal connections between learning to teach and learning to mentor (a double loop)

  • Video can be used as a reflective tool that allowed for new angles of observation into learning to teach and learning to mentor, and

  • Video allows for critical self-examination.

Summary 3: E-Mentoring
This summary is based on information contained in Appendix 3, which contains the details of empirical research on e-mentoring from 2000-2012. The column headings in the Appendix reflect the appraisal criteria explained earlier in section 2.1: A modified BES approach.
E-mentoring is also called online mentoring or telementoring in the literature. This review will use the term e-mentoring because it suggests a more inclusive form of mentoring that includes emails and other electronic-based forms of communication, as opposed to online mentoring, which suggests website-based synchronous communication, and telementoring which suggests video-conferencing. As Kealy and Mullen foretold in 2003:
The distant mentors of tomorrow will not only need to pioneer original ways of defining and expressing the roles of “mentor” and “protégé”, they will also need to devise imaginative ways to encourage peer collaboration (Kealy & Mullen, 2003, p. 8).
A review of the literature on formal/structured e-mentoring programs by Single and Single (2005) noted that e-mentoring could ‘level the playing field’ by providing mentoring to those who would otherwise not be able to receive mentoring. On the other hand, they noted that e-mentoring was not a panacea, nor an inexpensive version of face-to-face mentoring. They advise that e-mentoring should only be provided when face-to-face mentoring is not available, feasible or appropriate. Their review of available research also showed that, similarly to face-to-face mentoring, e-mentoring succeeded only when there were adequate programmatic supports to facilitate the establishment and maintenance of the mentoring process.
Single and Single (2005) also noted that e-mentoring can be thought of as an alternative mode of mentoring that facilitates the expansion of mentoring opportunities, particularly to those who are left out of informal networks. Their findings suggest that the benefits of e-mentoring are the same as that of face-to-face mentoring, which are: informational, psychosocial and instrumental. In addition, e-mentoring offers benefits that are not necessarily facilitated in face-to-face mentoring, such as: impartiality and the fostering of inter-organisational connections through electronic communications. Finally, unlike face-to-face mentoring, e-mentoring does not need to rely on traditional mentoring models: e-mentoring models include communal or group e-mentoring.
Presented below is a synthesis of research findings. The final subsection specifically looks at a doctoral research project (French, 2004), which looked at the nature of mentoring in an online context. It provides an insider perspective of the processes involved in e-mentoring and is thus worthy of a lengthy discussion of its findings.
Principles/components for a successful e-mentoring program
The principles/components that are necessary in the development of a successful e-mentoring program include:

  • Ready access to technology (Single & Single 2005) and technical support (Kealy & Mullen, 2003)

  • Technology that supports individual learning (Kealy & Mullen, 2003)

  • Face-to-face orientation prior to the start of the e-mentoring process (Boyer, 2003; Phillon, 2003; Cassady et al, 2003) – face-to-face meetings are crucial to establishing a sense of community and facilitating virtual interactions (Phillon, 2003)

  • Occasional face-to-face meetings (Boyer, 2003); early and regular meetings (Cassady et al, 2003)

  • Individual contracts and clear roles to reduce anxiety (Boyer, 2003)

  • Training (Single & Single, 2005), instruction and practice on the use of technology (Phillon, 2003); training that is mandatory (rather than optional) increases involvement, satisfaction and benefits (Kasprisin et al, 2003)

  • E-training (that is, training provided in an online environment) that is focused on:

    • identification of potential benefits and outcomes

    • alignment of program goals with participant expectations

    • establishment of expectation and parameter of mentor-protégé relationship

(Kasprisin et al, 2003)

  • A need to be able to ‘measure’ involvement, through:

    • Number of emails exchanged between mentor and protégé

    • Level of comfort and satisfaction on aspects of the e-mentoring experience

    • How the mentoring experience affected the protégés

(Kasprisin et al, 2003)

  • Participant characteristics for effective involvement in e-mentoring:

    • willingness of participants

    • access to and ability to utilise equipment and resource

    • positive attitude of conversation as a community of learners

(Price & Chen, 2003)

  • Mentors assigned to mentees based on geographical proximity to allow for geographically-based gatherings for networking purposes and working with peers (Cassady et al, 2003)

  • Online mentors should seek to foster the same democratic environment as in face-to-face mentoring – that is, to take the initial lead, then hand over to their protégés while providing support (Kealy & Mullen, 2003, p. 10)

  • Email-based models, rather than online conferencing or online forums: email allowed students to get more direct advice and for tutors to respond more quickly (Hawkridge, 2003)

  • Moderator or facilitator – required, particularly for peer-mentoring models (Hawkridge, 2002), and to direct discussion and frame the learning (Boyer, 2003); and to facilitate communication (French, 2004)

  • Use of videos or two-way video conferencing allowed for ‘technologically-mediated observations of distant classrooms’ or ‘virtual field experience’ that made it possible for (1) mentors to observe novice teachers while teaching and give feedback (Phillon, 2003; French, 2004), and (2) novice teachers to observe experienced teachers teaching (Phillon, 2003).

Problems to watch out for
Other than problems already covered in the section ‘Mentoring in Early Childhood Contexts’, there are problems that are unique to e-mentoring, such as:

  • The immediacy of feedback possible via internet, email and e-chat raises unrealistic expectations for rapid feedback. As well, electronic availability of the mentor outside of the academic environment encourages a demand for counseling on matters outside of academic/professional development concerns. Thus, technology means that ‘mentoring roles have become intensified and redefined’ (Kealy & Mullen, 2003, p. 9).

  • E-mentoring is not a substitute for face-to-face/traditional forms of mentoring. As noted above, e-mentoring is not a panacea, nor an inexpensive version of face-to-face mentoring, and should only be provided when face-to-face mentoring is not available, feasible or appropriate (Single & Single, 2005). Dyadic mentoring is still necessary/useful, as students need to have mentors who know them well enough to advocate for them and write detailed letters of recommendation (Packard, 2003).

  • E-mentoring can succeed only when there were adequate programmatic supports to facilitate establishment and maintenance of the mentoring process (Single & Single, 2005).

Benefits of e-mentoring
E-mentoring provides the same forms of benefits as face-to-face mentoring, such as information, psychosocial and instrumental benefits. In addition, e-mentoring may provide the following benefits:

  • ‘Near instant contact’ is possible and contributes to, and is valuable in, the ‘caring and managing’ of mentees (Hawkridge, 2003)

  • Preservice teachers who may not have exposure to diverse student populations due to the physical distance of such schools, are able to be mentored through ‘virtual field experience’ providing them with access to these diverse student cohorts (Phillon, 2003)

  • Flexible contact time, flexible location, and availability of resources for different needs (Price & Chen, 2003)

  • May reach a cohort who would not normally participate in formal face-to-face mentoring (Cassady et al, 2003; Single & Single, 2005),

  • E-mentoring does not need to rely on traditional mentoring models; e-mentoring includes communal or group mentoring (Single & Single, 2005).

The nature of the mentoring process in an online context
French (2004) conducted a doctoral research project that looked specifically at the process of mentoring in an online context. Her research question was ‘What is the nature of the mentoring process in an online context?’ For her study, French examined a program that offered graduates of a university teacher preparation program access to a mentor through a facilitated private email list. French analysed the email exchanges of six ‘teams’ (dyads) of which she was facilitator, over the course of one semester. Her study aims were to (1) examine the process of meaning-making as manifested in the online talk of mentor-mentee pairs; and (2) explore mentoring as a joint activity in which participants constructed shared meaning. Her findings are presented below.
French noted the following characteristics of e-mentoring (or online mentoring, as she prefers to call it):

  • Asynchronous communication solved the problem of face-to-face mentoring in finding a mutually suitable time

  • Informal speech discourses were used in a text-based medium (email)

  • E-mentoring allowed mentors time to formulate and reflect; yet the time between responses was minimised

  • Electronic conversational narratives were characterised by their flexible, fluid and purposive nature – these worked because the mentor and mentee shared a body of knowledge (as teachers, and from previous email conversations)

  • Online mentoring supports the statement-to-statement (or moment-to-moment) reflective process on issues that teachers think are important.

French noted that teachers discussed many of the same issues as identified in face-to-face mentoring (such as classroom management techniques, behaviour of students as a group, teaching materials, current and future teaching assignments), but focused much of their talk on storytelling – that is, much of the problems they posed were told as ‘stories’. Although the storytelling was text-based, the structure was not formal (as in traditional written discourse) but in more informal conversational forms. These narratives (or stories) were fluid and reflected the purposes they served, which included:

  • Relating

    • Phatic – building and strengthening the interpersonal relationship between mentor and mentee (‘social talk’).

    • Grounding – grounding the communication between mentor and mentee, affirming common understandings which assist in building a shared set of knowledge.

  • Illustrating

  • Venting

  • Reflecting.

Figure 2 shows a diagram of French’s conceptualisation of these electronic narratives (French, 2004, p.111):figure 2 from french 2004 page 111

Figure 2: French’s (2004) conceptualisation of the purposes of narratives in e-mentoring exchanges
French analysed exchanges, which could be very short or could go on for months, and derived the following typical sequence of exchanges between mentor and mentee:

  • A teacher (often the mentee) telling a problem in the form of a story

  • Mentee and mentor examining one or more of the aspects of the problem posed in the story

  • In the case of a mentee posing a reflective statement at the end of the story, the mentor extending the reflection, shifting back and forth between different aspects of issues.

French was able to distinguish reflective narratives from the non-reflective narratives which include illustrating, venting, relating (as shown in Figure 2) because of the couplet (narrative + reflective statement at the end). The ending reflective statement was meant as a ‘reflective bid’ to the mentor, who would then respond with a reflective response. Thus reflection was a collaborative process. French noticed that reflective exchanges were almost exclusively initiated by the protégés and grounded in the problems they were facing. However, she noted that not much critical reflection occurred during e-mentoring, which led her to conclude that e-mentoring is not a suitable context for this type of reflection. Critical reflection calls for questioning of the underlying assumptions (for example, the received / perceived goals and practices of one’s profession) on why the problem being discussed is considered a problem at all. French concluded that e-mentoring is good for pragmatic (practical) support with day-to-day problems during the ‘survival years’ of the novice teacher, and could improve practice, but it is not the context for deep (critical) reflection on underlying assumptions (theories) regarding practice.

Finally, French suggests the following components for an e-mentoring program:

  • Shared understanding or shared knowledge base is needed for coherent communication – this must be preceded by introductions

  • There is a need for facilitators within the program to help and encourage participants to continue communicating with each other, especially after a length of time has elapsed between exchanges

  • If distance is the motive for using e-mentoring, then video could be added to allow mentors to observe the novice teacher and provide feedback (which is not possible in a totally text-based mentoring context).

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