Mentoring is a nurturing process in which a more skilled or more experienced person, serving as a role model, teaches, sponsors, encourages, counsels and befriends a less skilled or less experienced person for the purpose of promoting the latter's professional and personal development (Anderson and Shannon, 1988).As per the definition above, I strongly believe that mentoring programmes contribute to the effective teacher development as well as the professionalism of education.
My mentee, V, is one of my colleagues and friends at school, who is less experienced. He teaches science to prevocational students. I was aware that my relationship with my mentee was going to change from a friendly to a professional one. In order to maintain the friendship between me and my mentee, I realized that I should not be too dominant since "mentoring exists only in the context of a collaborative relationship based on a partnership in which neither party holds a position of power over the other" (Landay, 1998, in Awaya et al., 2003).
The mentoring process is not always clearly understood in education. I had to give my mentee a clear picture about mentoring and the mentoring programme and this was very important for both of us as a starting point. I explained to him that the mentoring process would be a journey where both of us would be learning from each other as Coombs (2005,) stated "as we assist mentees to develop their own professional practice, we are co-enquiring into improving our own".
Mentoring is a process whereby a mentor guides, teaches influences and supports a mentee; this was what I told my mentee about the role I would be undertaking along this journey. I also made him aware of my role as a "critical friend" and how this role would be helping him in his professional growth. What is important is the process of reflection by the doer, the mentee, so that they can learn more about the process and perhaps become their own "critical friend" (Peddler, 1983 in Woodd, 1997, p. 335). Self-reflection has been identified as a major part of becoming a professional educator so I explained to my mentee, the ALACT model of self-reflection to find a solution to any of his problems(Korthagen,1985). Mentees appreciate being given a clear sense of direction, in terms of advice and ideas with regular time table meetings for feedback and discussion(Hobson, 2002). Hence I had to inform V that it would be four weeks of mentoring sessions with four formal meetings whereby feedbacks and discussions would take place. My mentee seemed satisfied with the clear overview he got and found himself psychologically prepared and enthusiastic. I felt happy since we were starting the journey in a good and positive way.
My first class visit took place on the 21st June 2012. I sat at the back of the classroom watching my mentee at work. We were already good friends and maybe that is why my mentee was at ease in my presence. During mentoring, I found myself adopting the "critical friend" model as I was busy identifying and analyzing my mentee's mistakes and at the same time, learning from those mistakes. My mentee started his lesson straight away without giving a clear overview. I did not find the starter effective since the objectives and the purpose of the lesson was not provided for the students. At the beginning of a class, the pupils' concentration is at the peak and they were most receptive at that time, so a proper starter helps to capture the interest and concentration of the pupils and engage them fully in learning. We can refer to the starter as a mental 'warming up'. I was getting the opportunity to learn new teaching styles from my mentee, for example when he gave a clear well-structured demonstration using a drawing on the board as a visual display. Watching the students was in itself a useful experience. There was one pupil yawning at the back and I could see one looking outside the classroom. This clearly showed their disinterest in the lesson. Even if the students were not showing any interest, they remained quiet in the class as if they were respecting some rules that had been established. I realized that every classroom is different, because every teacher is unique. My mentee kept on his explanation and much of his talking took place from the front of the class. He did not move around in the classroom. At the end of the lesson, my mentee did ask some questions to the students to ensure if learning has taken place. However, this was done without using their names. Nearly all the questions were closed questions. Therefore pupils did not get opportunities to expand their ideas and engage in speculative discussion. I observed that most of the students were unable to answer those questions. Questions should be structured to match pupils' ability levels so that all are involved but here; it was always the same pupils replying. There was a lack of participation and mental engagement from the pupils' sides. This might lead to a feeling of dissatisfaction about their work and disinterest in the subject.
In my first review meeting with V, I had to provide him with feedback and ideas and also discuss them with him. Feedback is the most useful component of the program (Brandt, 2008, in Copland, 2010). According to the assumption of John Gilchrist, if the mentor has a declared believe in being sensitive to the student teacher's psychological state and converts this into particular mentoring approaches the professionalism learning will be facilitated, that's why I stated with the positive aspects in order to build up my mentee's confidence. He listened to me silently as if he was thinking deeply about what I was saying. Then I moved on to the negative aspects. As Maynard (2000) said: "mentors appeared reluctant to say anything which might hurt their mentee's feelings." I did feel exactly the same. However, I explained to myself if I wanted to help my mentee to develop professionally it was imperative to provide criticism. He started to justify for the lack of active engagement in the class, the reason being the pupils were already of low ability. I listened to his justification, after which I asked him what according to him could be done to make the pupils engaged. I wanted V to undertake self-reflection because "reflection is the ability to bring past events to a conscious level to make sense of them and to determine appropriate ways to act in future" (Barnett, 1990, in Woodd, 1997, p338). He kept thinking silently for a solution and then turned to me, expecting me to give him an idea but I was not ready for that. Bergner and Holmes (2000) believe that the person is someone important, who has within him a great potential for change, who has the capacity to be a change agent. So I asked V whether he agreed to consider changes in his professional development. He nodded. For that reason, I explained to him in detail the ALACT model. I also provided him with the steps written on paper, since I wanted to maximize my mentee's opportunities to learn and also guiding him to his solutions. I strongly believe that humour is a competence. Laughter can help people to see matters from a different perspective, in releasing emotional tension and for the mentor and mentee to enjoy the session together. In any case enthusiasm is far more closely associated with learning than boredom is. So we parted in a friendly and joking note.
Afterwards when I reflected on the meeting, I felt guilty and was asking myself "Wasn't I too harsh while listing the negative aspects?" Listing those aspects one after the other might have caused him to feel low and powerless for that reason, V gave those justifications. I realized that next time I should be more careful with the way I listed the negative aspects since "mentoring exist only in the context of a collaborative relationship based on partnership in which neither party holds a position of power over the other"(Awaya et al,2003).
During the second class visit, V was explaining flower structure and I noticed that he has progressed by making lesson objectives clearer. Still I could see the pupils not paying attention to their teacher. There were some who were talking when V was writing on board with his back to the pupils. All those behaviours were due to lack of participation of the students. If they had been engaged with their learning, there would had been no talking and looking here and there. This time too, my mentee just talked and talked during his explanation. Teaching (like medicine) requires application of knowledge, interpretation of evidence and its application to real-life situations, using critical thinking skills and previous experiences ( Harrison, J.K et al., 2005). Thus for teaching students on the flower and its structure, I thought V could have told his students to bring some flowers, which they could use to reinforce their learning and understanding. He needed to get the students to an analysis level as well as making the learning active rather than passive so that they could develop skills for lifelong learning. "Good teacher explanations, with appropriate examples will produce mental engagement and understanding. Understanding is a primary goal of education. Understanding is best thought of as having a representation or model in the mind that corresponds to the situation or phenomenon being encountered. Engagement is about helping pupils to develop those mental models (DfES, 2004). However I was conscious that mentoring requires time and patience and was confident that my mentee and I together would be able to bring about an engagement.
While working with my mentee I needed to remember the importance of Hamacok's comment: Consciously, we teach what we know, unconsciously, we teach who we are. (Hamachok, 1999, p. 209). A teacher's competencies are determined by the beliefs he holds with regards to learning and teaching and these determine his actions and every action that a teacher undertake has an effect on pupils. Feiman-Nemser (1983) states that teachers have themselves spent many years as students in schools, during which time, they have developed their own beliefs about teaching many of which are diametrically opposed to those presented to them during their teacher education -for example, they may have developed the belief that teaching is transmission of knowledge and most teacher educators find this belief not very beneficial to becoming a good teacher. Thus I should be careful not to impose on my mentee's beliefs if not the benefits from the relationship would be severely limited. Unless teachers act on their reflections of themselves and their beliefs then no development would take place. Thus I should gradually led my mentee's way towards self-reflection. I saw my mentee moving around among the students while explaining. Before ending the lessons, my mentee asked closed questions to the whole class to see if they had understood. Unfortunately the questions being asked to pupils remained unanswered since the learners had not been engaged and learning had not taken place. V felt somewhat disappointed. During mentoring, I became aware of the importance of questioning and realized that it is highly effective when it is structured to match pupils' ability levels so that all are involved. Teachers improve their teaching when they make an effort to learn their students' names and get to know them personally. So questions should have been asked individually by calling them by their names. The class ended up with a classwork derived from their textbook. V moved around in the classroom while the pupils were at work. This would be a good method I could implement in my teaching to ensure that the work was being done. Finally the mentoring was proving beneficial for me since I was learning from my mentee.
When we met, I asked my mentee how he found his class. My interrogations were meant to demand reflection and to place impetus on my mentee to think and to explain. An effective mentor is one who recognizes and reacts in an appropriate way to the mentee's state of mind. Therefore I did not want to repeat the mistake of listing negative feedbacks since I knew my mentee would be feeling bad about it. He showed his dissatisfaction with the lack of response from the students and asked for my suggestions. I could sense that V recognized that his teaching had not been effective and that he wanted to receive constructive criticism, support and solutions. Mentors hope to support their mentee while working together with them to learn new ideas that they can implement. (Abell et al., 1995, Koballa et al., in Bradbury and Koballa Jr, 2008, p.2142). There was a need for talking since talking is an important way of learning. So I talked about active engagement, making the pupils participate rather than the teacher kept on talking nearly the whole class period. I told my mentee to reflect on what could be done to get the students involved so that learning could take place. That was the advantage of having mentoring review meetings which" enable mentee to reflect deeply on their experience of teaching and to arrive largely at their own conclusions" (Martin, 1995, in Cain, 2009). V came up with the same idea I had of bringing flowers to have demonstration on structure of flowers. I smiled since our thoughts matched as if he had read my mind. The mentoring was taking a good turn since my mentee and I were seeing things eye to eye. Thus I seized this opportunity to elaborate on suggestions and advices. I agreed with him and suggested that he could introduce group learning, dividing the pupils into groups, where each group would observe, discuss and talk about the structure of flowers. Group learning is beneficial since it involves all of the pupils allowing sharing of information and development of communication skills. The mentoring process and the mentoring meetings are time consuming and demand lots of patience so I should not rush my mentee. We would have to address the negative aspects little by little and bringing changes gradually.
At this stage of the mentoring process, my mentee and I were looking forward to the following class visit as we were about to experiment with a new idea and the classroom was as if the laboratory. Unconsciously, my mentee and I were learning the mentoring culture, which encourages mentors and mentees to view each other as collaborators and fellow decision makers rather than figures holding unequal positions in a hierarchical structure. V got the pupils into groups. Nearly all the pupils had brought all types of flowers indicating their eagerness and enthusiasm. As planned, my mentee got them into groups and instructed them to carry out observation, followed by discussion and sharing without making noise. It was a pleasure to see the learners at work. They were all very much engaged and were respecting their teacher's instructions. My mentee looked pleased with the outcome of his experiment. While the pupils were engaged, the teacher was moving among the groups. Suddenly, V got busy answering the questions of his pupils, who seemed very interested and motivated to acquire new knowledge. After completion of this session, V asked one pupil from each group to stand up and talked about their observations and about their learning. The class was quieter than ever when their friends were presenting the data they had collected. From the above experimentation I concluded that it is imperative for a teacher to involve engagement in order to achieve good class management and improvement in pupils' behavior. Pupils are more likely to be engaged in their learning when the teacher provides opportunities for them to construct solutions, learning or answers that they can back up with plausible reasons (DfES, 2004). This was what my mentee and I had experienced and discussed during the feedback session. This time the meeting was different. Mentoring was progressing in a team work. It seemed that my mentee was also benefitting from the mentoring since he was coming up ideas and wanted my opinion. If either mentors or mentee feel that they are getting nothing for their efforts, the relationship will falter and die. V was planning to have a class of questioning and discussion for the next time. I told him that it was a good and new strategy to promote engagement. Engagement is about promoting approaches to teaching and learning that help pupils understand subject knowledge and its application and that demand their active participation (DfES 2004). I reminded him that questioning should be a mixture of open and closed questions.
The mentoring journey was about to come to an end. Steps are better than leaps. My mentee and I had moved on gradually and patiently. I feel my mentee's teaching was improving. I was confident that this last class visit would differ from the first one. The pupils' interest had already been aroused since the previous class. Thus there was no muttering and they were answering questions one by one as their teacher was calling their names. Open questions were leading to discussion and deeper learning. It created a real learning and teaching atmosphere.
It is commonly accepted that pupils welcome praise and that recognition of success motivates them to continue learning (DfES 2004). In the last feedback meeting I told my mentee that in order to keep on engagement, pupils have to be praised and rewarded. He approved and told me that he would definitely consider this when teaching.
During the mentoring, I realized that mentoring plays a great role in improving the professional knowledge and skills that teachers need in order to teach and prepare students for the twenty first century. During the journey, my mentee and I had maintained a friendly, humorous, collaborative and working relationship. But at times I got confused, when to sit back and when to offer help as the journey involves the building of an equal relationship characterized by trust, the sharing of expertise, moral support and knowing when to help and when to sit back (Awaya et al.,2003). Once I also felt guilty when my mentee expected that I would give him solutions for the negative aspect presented to him but I did not. Maynard (2001) found that trainees sought the approval of their mentors and adopted their teaching styles and language use, without fully understanding their mentor's concept. Thus I wanted him to reflect on these aspects and get at least some solutions by himself and adopting his own concepts. But finally I was happy that I did not intervene and allowed my mentee to find means and ways for improvements since this proves that self-reflection has been attained. Mentors hoped to support their mentee while working together with them to learn new ideas that they could implement (Abell et al., 1995, Koballa et al., in press in Bradbury and Koball Jr, 2008, p. 2142). Therefore I had learnt new ideas and strategies which I can try out in my own teaching practice. My mentee felt that, in his experience, mentoring is an essential part of learning to teach effectively. Both my mentee and I found that our relationship was of mutual benefit where both of us got opportunities to share good practice, different perspectives and ideas.