4.2 Theme 1: Mentoring Policy – Illusion or confusion?
Selection, training and support
Findings suggested that there are gaps in the selection, training and support of mentor teachers in the participant schools’ induction and mentoring processes, highlighting a source of tension for both beginning and mentor teachers. Findings indicated schools’ commitment to meeting the obligations of the induction and mentoring guidelines varied, and it was likely that these schools may not be meeting the vision underpinning the guidelines for induction and mentoring (ECNZ, 2015). The document analysis of the Education Council (ECNZ, 2015) ‘guidelines for induction and mentoring and mentor teachers’, states that,
Mentors need to be carefully selected, provided with access to high quality professional development and support for their role, and assured of dedicated time to carry out their role (ECNZ, 2015, p. 15).
In the document analysis of the all the individual participant schools, I found no evidence to suggest that there was any formal training and/or support offered to mentor teachers, any information about the role, or, any responsibilities or accountability of the mentor teacher. Additionally, I found no evidence of procedures or policy for challenges or grievance between the beginning and mentor teacher.
Similarly, the beginning and mentor teacher interview data analysis confirmed this. The participants responded to open-ended questions related to the selection, training and support of mentors, thoughts on the value of mentoring in the workplace, and what type of additional support is required for mentor teachers? So, despite the national guidelines suggesting that mentoring required ‘carefully selected’ mentors, it appears that mentor teachers across all three participating schools assumed their roles on teaching experience alone. One mentor spoke about how they acquired their mentoring role in the following way.
The principal decided, we spoke about the best person for the job and the BT’s needs. (MT F)
The remaining two mentor teachers in this study were proactive indicating they had approached the school leadership asking for the role. The following comments provide evidence of this,
As leader of a team encompassing the beginning teacher I brought it to leadership’s attention and asked to be the mentor teacher. (MT D)
Selected as BT requested it and so did I. BT and I had worked together in the past and it went really well so wanted to continue with that. It was granted which is great. (MT S)
When the mentor teachers were asked about the type of training and support they had
received for the role, they all indicated they had received limited training, as evidenced in the following comments,
Training to be a mentor – nothing, no training, only read the guidelines. (MT F) I haven’t received any but the Principal has just started a coach thing, time is a barrier. Need training to be more effective though. Not sure what the school
could do but they do need to be a bit more proactive. (MT D)
This lack of training and support appeared to be a source of tension for the mentor teachers. Field notes taken during this part of the interview reflected discontent and some anxiety by all three mentor teachers. The following quote is indicative of the frustrations demonstrated by the mentor teachers when answering questions on training and support.
I receive no training and support, unfortunately. I just draw on my own
experience and what I have read and just what comes naturally (in a frustrated manner). (MT S)
Furthermore, and as evidenced, this raises questions about the quality of induction and mentoring processes and the implications in particular for beginning teachers. A beginning teacher made the following comment supporting the findings that there is a paucity of training and support for their mentor teacher.
Leadership should give her more support and feedback. Not sure how much feedback mentor teacher gets and leadership haven’t asked me for any feedback about my mentor teacher. (BT J)
Another beginning teacher abruptly supported the need for more training and guidance for mentor teachers with this comment.
Mentoring the mentors would be great! (BT M)
This beginning teacher has provided evidence of being mindful of the dual roles their mentor teacher must fulfil and further illuminates how mentoring is a complex social activity. Mentor teachers reported barriers of time and highlighted how the mentoring dyads largely operate as a separate entity from the wider learning community. Furthermore, the comments indicate a tension with how leadership may not be addressing their obligation to provide training and support for mentor teachers. These comments were made in regard to these sentiments and also evidence how the mentor teachers would like some systems of professional accountability within mentoring processes.
A better use of time to observe the beginning teacher and making it easier to observe. Time big problem, a bit more training and support from leadership. (MT D)
Would be great if school was a bit more involved. It’s nice to have autonomy but I don’t know that our school has any ideas what mentors are doing, or not doing, so some are having better experiences than others. Even just checking in to see what is being covered would be good for accountability and potential for PD would be good. (MT S)
Another area of confusion appeared to reside in the concept of educative mentoring, where, there was evidence suggesting that mentors were not truly cognisant with the concept of educative mentoring practice. The following comment was made by a mentor teacher when asked to define educative mentoring,
No not sure, think I may be doing educative mentoring. (MT F)
The national guidelines for induction and mentoring suggest a move from a traditional professional development model to one of professional learning and educative mentoring (ECNZ, 2015). In this view, educative mentoring requires expertise, skills and knowledge specific to mentoring. This is characterised by a shift from the traditional mentor-led approach
to one which encourages the beginning teacher to take more ownership of their own professional learning (ECNZ, 2015; NZCER, 2018). This is achieved through a collaborative approach with the mentor and can consist of, for example, self-reflection, goal-oriented learning and evidence-based feedback (ECNZ, 2015, p.25). However, there was little evidence of educative mentoring theory or application in any of the participating schools’ policy documentation on induction and mentoring. Although, it is acknowledged that Bluestone and Yellowpark schools both included a pdf copy and a URL link, respectively to the ‘Guidelines for induction and mentoring and mentor teachers’ (ECNZ, 2015), which contain educative mentoring detail. Despite this, there was some evidence to suggest that teachers reflected some characteristics of the educative mentoring process. However, this appeared to be ‘ad hoc’ and is more likely to be intrinsically driven by the mentor teachers as opposed to driven by school leadership and the related policy and documentation. For example, mentor teachers made these comments.
Having a collaborative partnership where we share ideas. (MT S)
We have a very open, honest relationship where we can have that feedback. Building a reciprocal two-way relationship and with all the teachers within the hub. (MT D)
Findings point to mentoring relationships ranging from the mentor teacher guiding and providing solutions/options about practice, through to both members of the dyad engaging in an educative mentoring approach emphasising collaborative inquiry. Moreover, the findings highlight the complexities and contested space of induction and mentoring processes in a primary school context.