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4.3 Theme 2: Mentoring Practice in Action

4.3.2 Learning conversations: Collaborative learning or gatekeeping?

Another subtheme to arise, has its genesis in my interpretations of the words and language used to describe the mentoring process and the experiences of the beginning and mentor teachers. While it appears in the above subtheme that the beginning teachers and mentors were attuned to the concepts of collaboration, being supportive, where learning is viewed as reciprocal and the result of a two-way dialogue, the interview data was littered with examples that contradicted these concepts. Often, the words and descriptions used, appeared to be more reflective of the traditional, one-way knowledge transfer dialogue. In this sense, the mentor is the expert, and controls what knowledge constitutes effective teaching and learning. Therefore, the mentor teacher assumes the role of ‘gatekeeper’ and controls what knowledge is learned, and in which direction it flows (Bennett & Fyall, 2018; Bradbury & Koballa, 2008; Fyall, Cowan & Galvan, 2018). The field notes taken during the interviews also suggested that both the beginning and mentor teachers were unaware of the contradictions in their interview comments and assumed that this was normal mentoring practice. This appears to be at odds

with the language and intent of the national policy guidelines that reflects a two-way collaborative approach where learning and knowledge transfer is reciprocated between the mentor and the beginning teacher. For example,

I like someone with a bank of knowledge to impart on me and has experience. (BT J)

The mentor will say what went well, and then go through what can be improved. (BT J)

Mentor teacher will say what area would you like me to look at and schedule it. The MT sits and writes notes, looks at planning but I don’t think I have seen any data. More of a summary and will give suggestions and we reflect on these things together. (BT J)

Another, beginning teacher stated,

…driven by the MT. MT’s drive has rubbed off on me, demonstrates the commitment of a true professional. (BT M)

My mentor supplies the skills and knowledge to go and work on. (BT M) The mentor teacher is quick to give a solution but does sometimes give me time to ponder (BT M)

The third beginning teacher also used similar language, when describing conversations had with other beginning teachers.

BT’s, I talk to, talk about how mentors have shaped their practices and outlook on teaching. (BT B)

The beginning teachers also used language that suggested that the mentor teacher took control over the content discussed and the direction of the conversation.

Somebody who guides me to where I’m supposed to be heading – especially if I’m heading in the wrong direction. (BT B)

I attend meetings six times a term with other beginning teachers in the school and a HOD presents topics and tips that will be useful in our development. (BTB)

The mentor teachers’ articulations of the mentoring process during the interviews also appeared to contradict the notion of a two-way, collaborative inquiry process that underpins educative mentoring as it is reflected in the national policy guidelines (ECNZ, 2015). All of the mentor teachers were in leadership positions in the respective participant schools and this appeared to have some impact on their mentoring approach. When questioned around the role of power, and the imbalances that can occur in the mentoring relationship, all mentor teachers inferred that it was sometimes difficult to not take control of the mentoring conversations and offer their experience and advice without including the beginning teachers’ thoughts. The following is indicative of the three mentor teachers’ comments on this matter.

Being in leadership it does sometimes automatically change that balance of power. It is a challenge to not let the leader part of me come out. (MT F)

Additionally, the following mentor teacher comments further outline the illusion of being collaborative and two-way, and unwittingly taking control over the mentoring environment.

Imparting my knowledge through suggestions … They need answers and usually pretty quickly. (MT D)

I work alongside the beginning teacher to impart knowledge of teaching of learning for the students, knowledge of school and parents. (MT F)

I tell her ideas and give my opinions I’m just there to give suggestions to help her tick the boxes and feel comfortable in her classroom. (MT S)

As mentioned in these findings, the field notes provided a valuable source of data and also a means to record my own intuition during interviews to make poignant observations. One such instance was a mentor teacher having an ‘aha’ moment as evidenced below.

Sometimes I talk too much, so should listen more but I can work on this…I learn when I talk. (MTS)

This mentor teacher during the interview realised they may be unwittingly taking over a learning conversation and how this may be detrimental to the learning taking place. Another mentor teacher had a similar moment articulating how the interviews had made her realise her lack of knowledge about mentoring. As illustrated below,

The interviews have opened my eyes and super excited about looking forward. (MT F)

In summary, in this chapter I have identified the participants and their respective schools’ perceptions as to how the ‘Guidelines for Induction and Mentoring and Mentor Teachers’ (TCNZ, 2015) have been interpreted and implemented within induction and mentoring processes. Despite the illusion that schools believed they were addressing mentoring in an appropriate way it was evident that there was some confusion at a school level with the interpretation of National Policy Guidelines (ECNZ, 2015) and further confusion associated with understanding the idea of ‘educative mentoring’. Beginning and mentor teachers’ perceptions of mentoring as a means for professional learning was positive especially when underpinned by strong interpersonal skills. Participants viewed mentoring as a developmental partnership involving both collaboration and reflective practice. However, while this is heartening to hear, the findings suggest that there were contradictions in the beginning and mentor teachers articulated experiences of educative mentoring and professional learning, and also concepts such as collaboration and reciprocal learning. Unwittingly, their perceptions of the mentoring experience appeared to be more reflective of the traditional, one-way knowledge transfer dialogue where the mentor is seen as the expert and ultimately controls what knowledge constitutes effective teaching and learning (Fransson & Grannas, 2013). The findings in this section will be used to generate discussion in the following chapter.

Chapter Five: Discussion

5.1 Introduction

In this chapter, the reported qualitative findings are addressed through a narrative discussion. A discussion that specifically focuses on mentoring during the first year of induction for three pairs of beginning and mentor primary school teachers. Specifically, the discussion explores how the national policy guidelines ‘Guidelines for Induction and Mentoring and Mentor Teachers’ (ECNZ, 2015) that underpin this process are interpreted and implemented within the participant schools (Miles & Huberman, 1994), and also a discussion on the perceived benefits and challenges experienced by the participants. In doing so, I want to invite the reader to engage with the text and draw comparisons to their own professional contexts, specifically those who work in primary schools.

The two main themes to emerge from the findings of this study were: 1) Mentoring Policy – illusion or confusion?

2) Mentoring Practice in Action.

These themes (and subthemes presented below) directly relate to the research questions underpinning this study. This is achieved by weaving the literature presented in Chapter Two, with the findings presented in Chapter Four.