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Teacher Head Educational

This document reviews a range of literature on the topic of mentoring in an educational context with a main focus of teachers and head teachers.

The origins of the term ‘mentor’ according to numerous literatures (Colley 2000, Roberts, 1999) come from Greek mythology in Homer’s poem the odyssey, telling the story of Ulysses and how in preparation for time away fighting in the Trojan war he entrusts his house and son Telemachus into the care of his old friend Mentor. However Mentor failed in his duties.

Pallas Athene (goddess of war and wisdom) helped Telemachus in the odyssey during his search for his father appearing in different human and animal forms including that of mentor. Whilst appearing in the human form of mentor she acted as a wise trusted adviser and counsellor to help Telemachus to gain courage, experience and maturity.

Nonetheless the attributes of a mentor according to Roberts (1999), Woodd (1997) are rooted in the story of Les Aventures de Télémaque (1699) by French writer Fénelon. Which they regard as the attributes of what we today would recognise as those of an experienced, trusted advisor, and not that of Homer’s rendition .

The Oxford online dictionary of phrase and fable in mythology supports their rendition and quotes:

“Mentor =  in Homer's Odyssey, the character in whose guise Athena appears to the young Telemachus and acts as his guide and adviser; the familiarity of the story was reinforced by Les Aventures des Télémaque (1699) by the French theologian and writer Fénélon. From the mid 18th century, mentor has been used to mean an experienced and trusted adviser.”

Defining Mentoring

A clear and concise definition of mentoring is not available from examining literature in the last decade, as no commonly accepted conceptualisation appears to have been agreed by researchers (Merriam, 1983; Broadbridge, 1999). Carmin (1998) tried to define mentoring using a set of complex statements which formed a type of check list whereas Moses,(1989), Zey,(1984) Jacobi,(1991) have defined mentoring by the context of which it applies which does vary according to the situation, this therefore leaves some ambiguity as to an accurate definition, while Garvey and Alred (2001) consider that mentoring is an activity to address short, medium and long term goals.

The term mentoring was adopted in the 1970s to describe someone who encourages career development and personal skills (Levinson et al, 1978)

Philip Jones (1982) goes on further to define modern day mentors as “individuals who are influenced people who significantly help you reach your major life goals”.

Similarly Clutterbuck (2001) suggests that the origins of modern day mentoring are in the concept of apprenticeships. And describes how young apprentices are guided and nurtured by the older, wiser and more experienced craftsmen who prepare them for working in the commercial world, teaching them knowledge and key skills.

Mentoring appears to have gained a strong footing in many organizations (Megginson and Clutterbuck, 1995) but the concept of mentoring seems to change each decade. Stodgill (1960) described a mentor as an ‘ambitious authority figure’ in the 1960’s. During the 1970’s Levinson (1978) defined a mentor as a ‘transitional figure in a man’s life’. The 1980’s view of the mentoring process was more of ‘managerial guidance’. This view has now become inappropriate as individuals are more self reliant and organizations flatter.

Hay (1995) describes mentoring as a ‘developmental alliance ‘; a relationship between equals in which someone is helped to develop themselves. This is the model that seems to match comfortably within the Higher Education sector.

Numerous authors suggest that the reasons that there is no universal definition of mentoring is largely attributed to two models in operation: one emanating from the US, the other from Europe. The emphasis of the two models is very different - with 'sponsorship' being the US focus and 'development' being the European (Hamilton, 1993; Clutterbuck 2001).

According to Kram (1985), mentoring includes, on one hand, a career progress-oriented dimension and, on the other, psycho-social development functions, which incorporate counselling and friendship. Similarly, Bush et al (1996) also note that mentoring may include ‘peer support, counselling, socialisation and coaching

Defining Coaching

Coaching is often seen as a form of mentoring, or as an aspect of mentoring which has a narrower focus, especially in relation to individual’s job-specific tasks, skills and capabilities (Hopkins-Thompson, 2000). Green et al (1991) suggest that coaching involves ‘skills and competencies in action and feedback on performance’ as focal points (Green et al, 1991), similarly Megginson and Boydell (1979) describe coaching as:

‘an on the job activity which refers to the process where one person gives guidance to another so as to help improve his or her performance.’

Finn notes that ‘mentors act as coaches to help develop protégés’ skill and capabilities’ (Finn, 1993).

Clutterbuck agrees with the conceptualisation of mentoring and coaching outlined above stating that ‘coaching often reverts to mentoring when discussion and dialogue move onto other wider and personal issues’ (Clutterbuck, 1998).

One the other hand not everyone subscribes to the ‘mentoring broad/coaching narrow’ conceptualisation, some practitioners appear to use the terms interchangeably. Popper and Lipshitz (1992), for example, suggest that coaching involves not only a focus on ‘competencies and skills’, but also on ‘psycho-social’ aspects via which focusing upon competencies and skills might be more productive:

‘Coaching has two components:

(1) improvement of performance at skill level

(2) establishing relations to enable a coach to enhance his trainee’s psychological development.’

It is also important to recognise that mentoring and coaching might take many forms in practice which may be influenced by a wide range of things, for example the level of knowledge and experience and the expertise of both the mentor and mentee, Their personal characteristics may also be influential. In particular, due to the relatively ‘equal standing’ of both parties (Bush et al, 1996), the mentoring of one headteacher by another may differ from other mentor/mentee relationships, such as those in initial teacher training which are often characterised in ‘expert-novice’ terms.

Mentoring & Coaching – Popularity

The influence and use of mentoring in business has been followed by a growth in use in an educational context, especially in relation to training of new teachers in schools (Tomlinson, 1995; Hobson, 2002), also in the induction/training of leaders in education, most notably with regard to pre-headship training. Singapore has a compulsory training programme for those individuals that aspire to become principals, mentoring by other experienced headteachers is a main feature of the programme (Coleman et al, 1996; Low, 1995; Walker et al, 1993). Programmes have also been developed in Chicago and New South Wales (Bush and Jackson, 2002).

Mentoring and coaching in businesses and organisations has become a huge business in recent times, increasingly in the UK (Clutterbuck, 1999). Forrett et al agree with this, stating that formal mentoring programmes in organisations has grown markedly. On the other hand, Belasco concludes that ‘coaching now occupies a place of honour on the management stage and is destined to be the leadership approach of the twenty first century’ (Belasco, 2000).

Coaching and Mentoring in an Educational Setting

The use of mentoring and coaching as a way of assisting professional development of new headteachers raises a number of issues and concerns. Research indicates that new headteachers experience a variety of problems, including addressing issues around education policy of national government, managing their time, dealing with low morale, coping with a range of tasks and commitment (Bolam et al, 2000; NCSL 2002).

Other research has also called into question the usefulness of previous/existing means of inducting and assisting new heads. For example, Earley et al (2002) found in their research that only about one in six (17 per cent) of new headteachers thought that they were ‘very prepared’ for headship, nearly one in ten indicating that they were ‘not prepared at all’. On the basis of inspections of the arrangements for the induction of new headteachers in 43 LEAs and visits to 165 headteachers during the academic year 2000-2001, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI) concluded that:

‘The quality of induction support was judged to be good in 10 LEAs, satisfactory in 14, unsatisfactory in 14 and poor in five.’

(OFSTED, 2002)

Whilst this evidence suggests that the training and induction of new headteachers could be improved, it does not make a specific case for the use of mentoring and/or coaching as one means of attempting to make such an improvement.

Factors Influencing the Effectiveness of Mentoring

The anticipated success of mentoring programmes for teachers can be influenced by a range of factors.

Along with lack of time and a potential disparity between mentor and mentee, Bush and Coleman (1995) reported that the risk of over-dependency on the mentor was a major factor that would most likely undermine the mentoring process. It follows that both mentors and mentees might be given strategies to assist them to avoid such a development.

Bolam et al (1993) noted that some new heads could have a desire for specific advice rather than enabling support which could lead to tensions during the process. The authors conclude that mentors should be flexible: ready and willing to offer practical guidance in relation to specific problems where requested but also encourage their partner to make the eventual decision.

Both Blandford and Squire (2000) and Monsour (1998) wrote of the importance of needs analysis / assessment to ensure mentoring is tailored to mentees individual needs. (Bolam et al, 1993; Blandford and Squire, 2000; Hopkins-Thompson, 2000) all pointed out that it is important to ensure that those providing mentoring are subject to monitoring and evaluation.

According to Bush and Coleman, (1995) ; Monsour, (1998) evidence suggests that headteacher as mentees are more likely to reject an ‘expert-novice’ mentoring relationship in favour of one of ‘peer support’. (Bolam et al, 1993; Monsour, 1998) further concluded that a relationship based on confidentiality and trust is an aspect of mentoring identified as important by participants.

Benefits for Mentors

Most literature and articles that have been I reviewed mainly focus on the benefits of taking part in mentoring for mentees. However, some studies also refer to the benefits of the process for mentors (Bolan etc al, 1995; Bush and Coleman, 1995). Mentors have reported the following benefits they have gained from the process:

  • Improved performance/problem analysis (Hopkins-Thompson, 2000; Bush and Coleman, 1995)
  • Awareness of different approaches (Bush and Coleman, 1995)
  • Improve self esteem (Hopkins-Thompson, 2000)
  • Increased reflectiveness (Hopkins-Thompson, 2000)
  • Insight into current practice (Bush and Coleman, 1995)
  • Benefits to their own development (Pockington and Weindling, 1996; Coleman et al, 1996)

Mentors also reported a mutual appreciativeness of information sharing (Monsour, 1998) and opportunities for discussions around professional issues with equal partners (Bush and Coleman, 1995).

Successful Mentor – Attributes & Qualities

Effective mentors according to Grover (1994) were seen by their mentees as experienced, supportive, reliable, accessible, flexible and trustworthy. Grover (1994) suggests that those selected as mentors should have these qualities.

Coleman et al (1996) reported that of their English sample, 76 per cent of respondents identified the possession of listening skills, by mentors, as critical to the success of the mentoring process.

Some, according to Monsour (1998) reported it as important that the mentor be seen as an educational leader / role model by their peers and that they should have the ability to influence.

Research by Grover (1994) concluded that the gender and ethnicity of mentors and principals involved in the New York programme had no impact on the mentoring experience.

Bolam et al (1993) state that in England and Wales, whilst, on the Headteacher Mentoring Pilot scheme, female headteachers were more likely than males to have a mentor of the opposite gender, a small minority of these women saw gender differences as an issue.

Bolam et al (1993) also point to the need for sensitivity of all concerned in relation to the possible implications of gender differences within the mentoring relationship.

Mentor / Mentee Matching

The match suitability of mentor and mentee is reported in several studies to be critical to the mentoring process (Bush and Coleman, 1995; Bolam et al, 1993; Monsour, 1998; Blandford and Squire, 2000; Daresh and Male, 2000; Draper and McMichael, 2000; Hopkins-Thompson, 2000; Brady, 1993).

It was agreed by Bolam et al (1993) that procedures in relation to the provision of ongoing support in relation to the effective selection and matching of participants should be integral to any mentoring programme from the start, while Newton (2001) writes that mentors should be chosen from a register based on clear criteria, and that working protocols are agreed nationally to help guide mentoring activities.

Monsour (1998) suggests that mentors and protégés are geographically located near each other, and possess similar learning styles and interest. The suggestion of geographical location was further supported by Blandford and Squire (2000), citing positive feedback of mentees whose mentor had been able to provide professional mentoring based on insights into local issues as well as national.

Mentor Training

A number of authors, some of whom cite the views of mentees in research, refer to the importance of training for mentors in relation to the development of effective programmes, (Hopkins-Thompson, 2000; Bolam et al, 1993; Monsour, 1998). Monsour (1998) states that training in adult development should be delivered to mentors and that they should be prepared for the possible extent of the mentor / mentee relationship.

Reporting on the Headteacher Mentoring Pilot Scheme in England and Wales, Bolam et al (1993) noted that most new heads who had undertaken training had valued it and were more satisfied with their mentoring experience than those who had not. The same authors suggest that mentors should receive preparatory training and that part of this should include participating mentees, this suggestion is further supported by Hopkins-Thompson, 2000).

Monsour (1998) suggests that mentees are provided with a handbook that details possible activities they may be involved in the responsibilities of the mentee and mentor. Monsour (1998) also stresses the importance of them being fully prepared for their involvement in the mentoring process with the recommendation that both parties receive identical information detailing expectations for the programme and process.


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