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Mentoring for Professional Learning
“Mentoring is a highly valuable development activity implemented in many organisations. At the core of the activity is the relationship between the mentor and the mentee, where the development of the mentee is the key focus” (Chamberlain, 2015). Most schools in the Pacific have little to no existing mentoring programs in place. Therefore, this, as in many other countries, according to Boreen, Johnson, Niday and Potts accounts to “nearly 30% of beginning teachers, leaving the profession within the first 5 years of their career (as cited in Vierstraete, 2005, pg. 1), and according to Gonzales and Sosa (1993, as cited in Vierstraete, 2005, p. 381), it is often the most creative and talented new educators who exit the profession.
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Here we can see that mentoring is essential in the retention of new quality educators however, it is not common in most educational institutions. Therefore, in this essay we will consider some of the underpinnings of having an active and effective mentoring program in a school environment. We will discuss some of the characteristics essential for being a good and effective mentor, the importance of mentor training, matching mentor and mentee, the causes of high attrition rate of teachers, a few conflict areas and finally explore the importance of critical reflection in any mentoring program.
The characteristics of a good, quality mentor include being trustworthy, friendly, honest, understanding, empathetic, caring and willing to share ideas (Podsen & Denmark, 2000). “A great mentor is above all a good role model. Reveal the tricks of your trade – how to be a teacher, a researcher, or whatever it is you are great at through modelling (http://teachingcommons.stanford.edu).” The best mentors also show interest in the mentee’s personal development, help mentees grow academically through constructive feedback, and also assist with goal setting and celebrate achievements with mentees. They must possess sound knowledge of the curriculum content, teaching strategies as well as other issues in education.
Most mentoring programmes focus solely on the development of the mentee and neglect the fact that mentors too need to be trained in order to effectively serve their purpose. This aspect is often undervalued, however, plays an important role in the success of a mentoring program. “Such mentor trainings help selected mentors become good mentors” (Guggenheim, 2019). Usually, effective experienced teachers are chosen as mentors. However, effective teachers do not necessarily make effective mentors (Genser, 2002). “Mentors need guidance and training as they develop the skills necessary to become effective mentors” (Upson, Koballa, & Gerber, 2002, p. 4). “. In Australia, the Mentoring for Effective Teaching (MET) program is one of the dual components of Teacher Education Done Differently (TEDD) project funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Work Relations (DEEWR) which esteemed to facilitate such initiative (Murray et.al, 2011 November, p. 3). MET is a professional development initiative designed to enhance teacher education through positive and purposeful mentoring experiences. It allows mentor teachers to gain insights into successful mentor practices and enhances their knowledge and skills.
Matching mentors and mentees is the core activity when managing a mentoring program. Without starting with a sturdy match as your foundation, the structure of the mentor relationship could prove futile. “The mentee could pick their own mentor, or they can be assigned a mentor from the program administrator. Statistics however show that mentees that pick their own mentor tend to have more successful outcomes” (Corner, 2016). This may be the case since the mentee may be more likely to commit to the mentoring relationship if it is a mentor to their choice. Mentors can also either be matched with mentees by subject area or by specifically trained mentors (Waterman, 2011). As well as deciding on the matching mechanism, other considerations when matching mentees and mentors might include management chains where it is often best to avoid matching mentees with their immediate line manager or close colleague and the experience gap where it is essential to consider and make sure that the experience gap is not too large as it might have an effect such that the mentor might seem un-relatable or intimidating for the mentee (James, 2017). According to Thomas (2016; p. 35), mentor teachers must be selected according to specific criteria, rather than merely by the years of teaching experience such as valid teaching credentials, achieved regular employment status, at least 10 years of direct classroom teaching experience, demonstration of effective classroom management and discipline strategies, have a positive working relation with peers, demonstrate effective communication skills, receive good ratings on past three teacher evaluations and have a positive attitude about other teachers observing him or her teach.
Teacher attrition rate is the percentage of teachers at a given level of education leaving the profession in a given school year. The shortage of teachers is a significant contributing factor that had widened equity gaps education access and learning. Assessing and monitoring teacher attrition is essential to a sufficient supply of qualified and well-trained teachers as well as their deployment, support and management. A review of literature on attrition by the Queensland College of Teachers reported a wide range of estimates described in the Australian literature: from 8% to 50% (Queensland College of Teachers, 2013). Some of the contributing factors to the rise in attrition rate are the lack of appreciation from students, parents and colleagues (Gavish & Friedman, 2010), low salary, unsatisfying workplace conditions, inadequate teacher preparation (Darling-Harmond, 2010) and/or considering themselves unsuited for the professional (Cooper & Steward, 2009). It is estimated (Darling-Hammond, 2010) that the high attrition rate for early-career teachers cost approximately US$2.1 billion per year.
In countering such high attrition rates in our schools, an Australian survey study of 133 teachers and former teachers found that retention strategies should be linked to improving relationships in the school, addressing workload, greater job security and providing opportunities for professional development (Howes & Goodman-Delahunty, 2015).
In any good mentoring relationship, both the mentor and the mentee will benefit. However, this is not always the case. There are a few conflict areas that may exist in a mentoring relationship that can hinder progress and effectiveness of the programme. A few of these issues may include ineffective mentoring pairs, meeting schedules and unfair manipulation on the part of the mentor.
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Whatever the method used for pairing mentors and mentees, ineffective pairing can still happen. A pair may not work out for a variety of reasons such as lack of commitment from one of the parties, learning styles not matching, a change in job assignments, and even at times, the pair just do not work well together (7 Common Challenges in Mentoring Relationships, 2018). If faced with this situation, one or both parties should speak to the mentoring program manager as soon as possible.
Both the mentor and mentee usually face the challenge of meeting as scheduled. It is usually the case where they continuously postpone scheduled meetings because of other commitments. Failing to meet as scheduled over time may have a negative effect on the foundation of the relationship and can in the end forfeit the whole purpose of the mentoring program.
The final conflict area is the unfair manipulation on the part of the mentor. This usually occurs in a situation where the mentor may ask the mentee to complete his or her work under the guise that the mentee will learn better if he or she actually does the task. Although practice in ‘real life’ situations is best for learning, there’s a huge difference between practicing a skill and doing someone else’s work (7 Common Challenges in Mentoring Relationships, 2018).
Avoiding harm or discouragement is the most fundamental ethical obligation mentors have to their mentees. Certainly, a mentee can be harmed emotionally or physically. When a mentee is neglected and ignored, tasked with challenges for which he or she is ill-prepared, the mentee is harmed (Johnson & Ridely, 2008).
In any mentoring programme, it is always important to allow time for critical reflections. Some teachers that leave the profession, do not leave because of their lack of knowledge or skills, but simply because they feel that they cannot cope with the demand of the work and lack the motivation to excel in it. Steffy and Wolfe (1998, as cited in Vierstraete, 2005, p. 385) suggested that, with proper encouragement and mentoring, teachers at this stage maintain the euphoria of a beginning teacher in education. Vierstraete (2005), further stated that “if new teachers avoid withdrawal and continue to reflect on experiences, renewal and growth can soon lead the novice teachers to the next level, that of being considered professional teachers.” Here, mentees are encouraged not to wait for the mentor but to use self-reflection as a means of helping themselves out as well. “Through reflection, they acquire craft knowledge and internalize meaning about their skills and knowledge” (Vierstraete, 2005, p. 387). Administrators, especially principals, are key players in creating mentorship programs that can help assist new teachers find success.
In conclusion, it is essential that mentors to possess characteristics critical for effective mentoring. Every school should have a culture of co-mentoring others, especially novice educators. These assumed mentors should be strengthened through professional bodies and programmes like the MET. Such programmes can equip mentor teachers and qualify them for proper matching with the right mentee. There is ample research evidence in literatures that mentoring can lead to reducing attrition rate of novice teachers. However, when mentors are not facilitated with the correct tools and approaches, their efforts may be in vain. It is also important to take note of the conflicting areas that may exist within a mentoring programme and to prepare well with strategies which can be used to counter them, having in mind that critical reflection on past experiences is equally important in ensuring a positive effective relationship within the mentoring program.
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