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Looking at the Process of Mentoring for Beginning Teachers

Lawrence T. Kajs
Educational Leadership
University of Houston-Clear Lake
Houston, Texas
kajs@cl.uh.edu
Ramon Alaniz
College of Education
Texas A& M Intl. University
Laredo, Texas
ralaniz@tamiu.edu
Edward Willman
College of Business
Texas A& M Intl. University
Laredo, Texas
willman@tamiu.edu
Joan N. Maier
Geography Department
University of Houston-Clear Lake
Houston, Texas
maier@cl.uh.edu
Pamelia E. Brott
Educational Counseling
University of Houston-Clear Lake
Houston, Texas
brott@cl.uh.edu
Diana M. Gomez
Business Department
Clear Creek ISD
League City, Texas
dmgomez@n2.com

Index   [Top]
Abstract
Introduction
Relationship of Beginning Teacher and Mentor
Expected Knowledge and Skills of Mentors
Accountability
Conclusion
References
Authors

Abstract

The national trend in the United States is to provide first-year teachers with mentors. This is especially true with first-year teachers in the Alternative Certification Program (ACP). On-the-job nurturing and support by mentors can accelerate success and effectiveness among beginning teachers as well as prevent some of them from dropping out of the teaching profession. Because of its importance, campus/district administrators and university educators need to examine the elements of a successful mentoring program. Elements include the development of a viable relationship between beginning teacher and mentor, the assignment of a mentor who possesses specific knowledge and skills, and the use of an accountability system. Mentoring programs may wish to adopt the support team approach to the mentoring process, providing opportunities for beginning teachers to work with a group of individuals instead of one person.
[Index]

Introduction

The growing national trend in the United States is to provide first-year teachers with professional assistance and advice through mentoring (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 1995). Alternative Certification Programs (ACPs) require first-year teachers to have experienced mentors. Thomsen and Gustafson (1997) points out that an effective mentoring experience leads to beginning teachers’ increased satisfaction and competence in teaching, consequently, professional growth of mentored teachers outpaces non-mentored ones (Spuhler & Zetler, 1994). This, in turn, increases the retention level of new teachers. Before selecting mentors for first-year teachers, the principal and/or selection committee should first look at the process of mentoring. The mentoring process includes the relationship of beginning teacher and mentor, the necessary knowledge and skills of mentors, and an accountability system to ensure success.
[Index]

Relationship of Beginning Teacher and Mentor

A meaningful relationship between the teacher-mentor and the beginning teacher establishes an effective mentoring experience since the relationship mediates the experiential exchange (Covey, 1997; Hawkey, 1997). Compatibility between the two teachers is based on the interpersonal interactions that occur during the mentoring process (Cline & Necochea, 1997). If the personal exchanges between mentor and protégé illicit understanding, caring, and trust then credibility occurs.

The mentor and protégé’s understanding of each other’s roles and expectations is essential in establishing a basis for compatibility. While mentors tend to have their own ideas about mentoring because of previous experiences, the novice teacher may be uncertain about the mentoring process. Differences in expectations and viewpoints could result in stress and a dysfunctional relationship between mentor and novice teacher (Hawkey, 1997; Nelson & Quick, 1997).

The principal and/or selection committee could address roles and expectations with prospective mentors in two ways. First, the committee could provide prospective mentors with specific information about the mentoring position. This would include a job description outlining job responsibilities, expected working arrangements, continuing education expectations (e.g., technology skills), types of organizational support/resources, and an accountability system. Secondly, in the application process, the committee could ask prospective mentors to discuss in letter format their views and approaches to mentoring. This discussion would include prospective mentors’ needs, e.g., time, in carrying out the mentoring role. For example, the prospective mentor could ask if a substitute teacher would be available to handle the mentor’s classroom responsibilities when the mentor is conducting an observation of the first-year teacher’s classroom instruction and vice-versa.

To ascertain their prospective, the committee could also ask first-year teachers to write down their expectations of the mentoring program. Once completed, committee members and first-year teachers would discuss these expectations in light of the mentoring program’s format. Moreover, the search committee should also provide opportunities for the beginning teacher and prospective mentor to talk with one another about their background experiences and expectations of the mentoring process. These conversations may reveal evidence to determine whether a basis for a meaningful relationship exists.

Additional approaches can be pursued to establish a basis for a successful relationship between mentor and protégé. First, it may be valuable to have a selection committee comprised of individuals (e.g., principal, experienced mentors, and university faculty) familiar with the backgrounds of prospective mentors and first-year teachers to determine a perceived match of management styles and social interactions (Cline & Necochea, 1997). Also, the principal and/or committee should look at the natural selection approach in designating mentors for beginning teachers (Hadden, 1997). This occurs when an experienced teacher and a first-year one spontaneously begin working with one another forming a natural mentor and protégé relationship. Lastly, the principal and/or committee may wish to choose prospective mentors who are adaptive to role assignments and responsive to learning. Researchers have pointed out that "…relationships can be established or enriched by learning or encouraging mentor-like behavior rather than by selecting certain types of people…" (Papalewis, Jordan, Cuellar, Gaulden, & Smith; 1991, p. 6).
[Index]

Expected Knowledge and Skills of Mentors

The principal and/or search committee should outline a list of required knowledge and skills mentors should possess to assist beginning teachers’ needs. The following knowledge/abilities, while not an exhaustive list, can assist teacher-mentors in carrying out their assigned roles, e.g., model, guide, confidant. The acquisition of this information may require mentors to attend a professional development program. Mentors should view this continuing education both as preparation for their mentoring/supervisory role and as an opportunity to participate in lifelong learning (Kajs, Willman, & Alaniz, 1998).

First, mentors should be knowledgeable of the beginning teacher’s needs as they progress developmentally as a professional. Berliner (1988) points out that teachers progress through five stages of development: novice, advanced beginner, competent teacher, proficient teacher, and expert. Mentors are expected to adjust their mentoring roles (e.g., confidant, counselor, and guide) to meet protégés’ needs as they move through these stages (Crewson and Fisher, 1997). Effective mentors help first-year teachers deal with the personal issues that arise so beginning teachers can focus their attention on the matter of teaching (Spuhler & Zetler, 1994).

Secondly, mentors, as well as first-year teachers, should possess good interpersonal skills. The first year of teaching tends to be more of an affective experience rather than a cognitive one. In the mentor/beginning teacher relationship, mentors spend much of their time listening, counseling, guiding, supporting, and showing confidence in the novice teacher’s ability (Cordeira & Smith-Sloan, 1995; Covey, 1997; Furlong, 1997; Gilstrap & Beattie, 1996). While mentors provide support and understanding, they must also challenge first-year teachers to use their talents to strive for excellence in their teaching (Hawkey, 1997). Moreover, mentors should challenge beginning teachers to be change agents, transforming schools instead of maintaining their status quo (Cline & Necochea, 1997).

Thirdly, knowledge of adult education principles is extremely valuable. While teachers are formally prepared in the pedagogical implications of young and adolescent students, they may not have received strategies to work with adults. Adults need learning experiences "…that are self-directed, problem-centered, experiential, and role-related. Guiding students to engage in problem finding, not just problem solving…" (Weise, 1992, p. 22). Fourthly, first-year teachers need modeling and guidance in becoming more self-reflective. Reflective thinking allows teachers to analyze their pedagogical methods to improve their teaching performance (Schon, 1987). This is especially important since teachers tend to focus more on doing than thinking (Hawkey, 1997).

A recent study asked principals what abilities did classroom teachers need (Roden and Cardina, 1996). The results indicated five key areas. Classroom teachers must be able to (a) engage students in critical thinking, (b) develop students’ interpersonal abilities, (c) guide students in resolving conflicts in a respectful manner, (d) incorporate effective computer usage in pedagogy, and (e) implement appropriate alternative assessment techniques (Getty & Holt, 1993; Roden and Cardina, 1996). Grove (1992) also believes that teachers should be able to participate in collaborative inquiry to develop ways to improve classroom instruction. Mentors need proficiency in all these areas in order to model for and guide teachers during their induction year.
[Index]

Accountability

The principal and/or selection committee should establish an accountability system with procedures to ensure regular meetings and observations between mentors and beginning teachers. During these sessions, assessment of classroom teaching, constructive feedback and sharing, and modeling of sound pedagogical techniques would occur. This accountability process could take the form of ongoing, standardized, written reports or e-mails by both the mentor and the first-year teacher submitted to a designated person. Designated people could include the principal, an assigned campus/district coordinator, or a college/university faculty member. These materials could be placed in a professional portfolio to display teacher development and growth. In addition, face-to-face meetings between participants and campus, district and university participants would be valuable for accountability purposes. Reliance on a system of self-monitoring by mentors could result in laxness or even negligence of responsibility. Moreover, regular reports by mentors and beginning teachers provide opportunities to initiate self-reflection and dialogue with support group members (e.g., principal, other mentors, and university faculty).
[Index]

Conclusion

Prior to mentor selection, the principal and/or selection committee should review the components of a mentoring process, allowing these elements to serve as a basis for mentor selection. The process includes looking at the compatibility of the relationship between beginning teachers and mentors, discussing their expectations and roles, outlining the necessary knowledge and skills of mentors, and establishing an accountability system. A good fit between the mentor and beginning teacher will provide both parties a rewarding experience, in turn, strengthen their commitment to the teaching field. A successful teaching experience can also increase the retention level of first-year teachers, and, hopefully, encourage good teachers to remain at the same campus, lowering its turnover rate. A well-organized professional development program can effectively prepare mentors in their mentoring/supervisory role as well as meet their lifelong learning goals.

In conjunction with the mentoring process, the principal and/or selection committee could establish a support team that includes the mentor as a key member. This group, consisting of teachers and administrators, would bring a storehouse of knowledge and experience to address beginning teachers’ content and pedagogical concerns. Team members would consist of educational generalists and specialists in subject areas and skills development. This team could more readily provide the necessary information and feedback that a novice teacher may require. Also, it could reduce or eliminate a mentor’s feeling of inadequacy in striving to fulfill the various needs of a first-year teacher. For instance, Houston, Marshall, and McDavid (1990) found mentors unprepared to counsel beginning teachers who wanted to discuss their financial problems.

The support team approach could provide assurance to teacher-mentors that school administrators support the mentoring process (Ganser, 1995). It could provide a forum for mentors to discuss their professional responsibilities and receive constructive feedback. For instance, mentors could address their frustrations as well as their satisfactions in serving both as a classroom teacher and a mentor. The support group could demonstrate a teamwork approach, allowing campus and district administrators and university faculty to participate in the professional development of beginning teachers.
[Index]

References

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (1995). Teacher education policies in the states: A 50-state survey of legislative & administrative actions. East Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 384 590)

Berliner, D. C. (1998). Implications of studies of Expertise in pedagogy for teacher education and evaluation. Paper presented at the 1988 Educational Testing Service Invitational Conference on New Directions for Teacher Assessment, New York City, NY.

Cline, Z. & Necochea, J. (1997). Mentoring for school reform. Journal for a Just and Caring Education, 3 (2), 141-159.

Cordeiro, P. A. & Smith-Sloan, E. (1995). Apprenticeships for administrative Interns: Learning to talk like a principal. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.

Covey, S. R. (1997). Modeling and mentoring. Executive Excellence, 14 (4), 3-4.

Crewson, P. E. & Fisher, B. S. (1997). Growing older and wiser: The changing skills requirements of city administrators. Public Administration Review, 57 (5), 380-386.

Ellsworth, J. H. (1991). Electronically mediated learning among adults. East Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 337 704)

Furlong, J. (1997). Mentoring and developing practice in primary schools: Supporting student teacher learning in school. Journal of Education for Teaching, 23 (1), 99-101.

Ganser, T. (1995). What are the concerns and questions of mentors of beginning teachers? NASSP Bulletin, 79 (575), 83-91.

Gettys, C. M. & Holt, M. A. (1993). Survey assessment of Paideia teachers perceptions concerning professional staff development. East Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 369 742)

Gilstrap, R. L. & Beattie, K. (1996). The multiple roles of clinical faculty. East Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 406 370)

Grove, R. W. (1992). Integrating the beliefs of Dewey, Lewin, and Rogers into a rationale for effective group leadership. Journal of School Leadership, 2 (2), 201-211.

Hadden, R. (1997). Mentoring and coaching. Executive Excellence, 14 (4), 17.

Hawkey, K. (1997). Roles, responsibilities, and relationships in mentoring: A literature review and agenda for research. Journal of Teacher Education, 48 (5), 325-335.

Houston, W. R., Marshall, F. & McDavid, T. (1990). A study of the induction of 300 first-year teachers and their mentors, 1989-1990. East Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 338 558)

Kajs, L. T., Willman, E. & Alaniz, R. (1998). Technology education in a mentor-teacher professional program: A case study. In Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE) Proceedings, Charlottesville, VA.

Nelson, D. L. & Quick, J. C. (1997). Organizational behavior (2nd ed.). New York: West.

Papalewis, R., Jordan, M., Cuellar, A., Gaulden, J., & Smith, A. (1991). School administrators for the culturally and linguistically diverse: A formal mentor training program in progress. East Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 333 094)

Roden, J. K. & Cardina, C. E. (1996). Factors which contribute to school administrators’ hiring decisions. Education, 117 (2), 262-267.

Schon, D. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Spuhler, L. & Zetler, A. (1994). Montana teacher support program: Research report for year two 1993-94. East Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 390 802)

Thomsen, S. R. & Gustafson, R. L. (1997). Turning practitioners into professors: Exploring effective mentoring. Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, 52 (2), 24-32.
[Index]

 

Authors

Lawrence T. Kajs received his Ed.D. in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from Harvard University in 1988. Prior to his Houston assignment, he was on the faculty at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas. Dr. Kajs is currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in Houston, Texas. He teaches graduate courses in school law, management theory, and school personnel. He is cofounder of the Center for Excellence in Mentoring (CEM) at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

Educational Leadership
University of Houston-Clear Lake
2700 Bay Area Boulevard, Box 193
Houston, TX 77058-1098
281/283-3555 (office)
281/283-3599 (fax)
kajs@cl.uh.edu  [Index]

Ramon Alaniz received his Ed.D. in Bilingual Education from Texas A&M University at Kingsville (formerly Texas A&I University) He is a Professor of Bilingual Education in the College of Education at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas. He is a former President of the National Association of Alternative Certification.

College of Education
Texas A&M International University
5201 University Boulevard
Laredo, Texas 78041
326-2698 (w)
ralaniz@tamiu.edu  [Index]

Edward Willman received his Ph.D. from the University of North Texas. He serves as an Associate Professor of Statistics and Director of Academic Computing at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas. He has worked extensively in the preparation of teachers and mentors, especially in the area of technology, collaborating with education faculty.

College of Business
Associate Professor of Statistics and Director of Academic Computing
Texas A&M International University
5201 University Boulevard
Laredo, Texas 78041
326-2508 (w)
willman@tamiu.edu  [Index]

Joan N. Maier received her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Illinois State University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in Houston, Texas. Her area of specialization is geography education.

Geography Department
University of Houston-Clear Lake
2700 Bay Area Boulevard
Houston, Texas 77058-1098
281-283-3578 (w)
maier@cl.uh.edu  [Index]

Pamelia E. Brott received her Ph.D. in Counseling and Counselor Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Counseling Program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in Houston, Texas. Her areas of interest and research include professional identity development, narrative career counseling, and the process of counselor development in the training process.

Counseling Program, Box 35
University of Houston-Clear Lake
2700 Bay Area Boulevard
Houston, Texas 77058-1098
281-283-3541 (w)
brott@cl.uh.edu  [Index]

Diana M. Gomez received her MBA in International Trade from Texas A&M International University at Laredo. She is currently a Career and Technology Instructor at Clear Creek High School in League City, Texas. She teaches Business Computer Information Systems which includes Microsoft Office Professional and working with the Internet.

Career and Technology Department
Clear Creek High School
2305 E. Main St.
League City, Texas 77573
(281) 338-5600
dmgomez@n2.com  [Index]