The Role Of Practice In Learning Education Essay

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The role of practice in learning to teach has received increasing attention among teacher educators during the past two decades, resulting in several global trends. These include an increased emphasis on school-based experiences (Maandag, Deinum, Hoffman, & Buitnk, 2007; Villegas-Reimers, 2003), an expansion of student teaching requirements (Ronfeldt & Reininger, 2012), and the recent call in the United States for "clinically-based teacher education" (NCATE, 2010). These trends have also been accompanied by a theoretical shift concerning how teachers learn to teach. Historically, preservice teachers [1] were exposed to a theoretical knowledge base and then expected to find ways to apply their learning in a classroom. More recently, a number of scholars (e.g., Ball & Cohen, 1999; Ball & Forzani, 2009; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Korthagen & Kessels, 1999) have reversed this perspective by asserting that experiential learning establishes the basis for understanding theory. Korthagen (2010) described this process as occurring in three tiers: the acquisition of teaching experiences, 2) the creation of schemas through reflection upon teaching experiences, and 3) the development of theoretical knowledge by aligning schemas with more formally learned concepts, typically acquired through coursework, professional development activities, or professional reading.

The increased emphasis on learning in clinical settings has led to widespread appreciation of the role of mentoring in teacher education. A growing body of literature has suggested considerable variation in how teachers perceive and approach their role as mentors (for example, Hawkey, 1997; McNally & Martin, 1997; Saunders, Pettinger, & Tomlinson, 1995). In a meta analysis of the interactions between mentors and prospective teachers, Hennissen, Crasborn, Brouwer, Korthagen, and Bergen (2008) proposed classifying mentoring interactions on two continuums representing opposing poles: active/reactive and directive/nondirective. On one continuum, active mentor teachers are described as more assertive than reactive mentors about introducing topics, and on the second continuum, directive mentors provide more guidance and allow their mentees fewer choices than nondirective mentors. Hennissen et al. further accounted for the variation among mentors by suggesting these interactions can occur in a variety of different permutations between the two continuums. For example, active mentors can also be non-directive, that is, active mentors may introduce topics for discussion but allow the mentee considerable freedom in choosing a strategy. With this framework, Hennissen et al. have provided a way for us to better understand what appears to be a highly individualized practice.

To date, studies that examine differences among mentor teachers tend to do so within a prescribed, limited context, such as student teaching or entry year teaching (for example, Hobson, Ashby, Malerderez, & Tomlinson, 2008; Zanting, Verloop, & Vermunt, 2001). The findings often suggest that the mentors' approach depends on their preference for a particular style of mentoring (Hawkey, 1997), their experience with mentoring (Hennissen et al., 2008), or their relationship with the mentee (Kram, 1983; Martin, 1994). Few studies have addressed have examined the influence of the context on mentoring interactions. Those that do have considered differences among teachers in their mentoring style (for example, Wang's (2001) report of cultural differences in practice across US, UK, and Chinese mentor teachers). We are not aware of any studies that have investigated variations in the mentoring of individual teachers due to changes in the context. Therefore, there is little available information on how the context of mentoring can influence the mentoring practices of teachers.

Our purpose in conducting this study was to examine how the context for mentoring can influence the mentoring teachers across three dissimilar contexts: student teaching, early field experiences, and entry year teachers. Specifically, we wanted to know if teachers changed or adapted their mentoring strategies to fit the context or the skill level of the mentee. To serve this purpose, we interviewed 18 mentor teachers, each of whom was experienced in mentoring across all three of these contexts. The research question addressed by the study was: How does the context of mentoring affect the mentoring practices of teachers?

2. Mentoring Relationship

The foundation for effective mentoring is a healthy working relationship between the mentor and mentee (Moffett & Zhou, 2009; Parker-Katz & Bay, 2008). The mentoring relationship often evolves commensurate with the changing needs of the mentee and has been described as occurring in three stages (Kram, 1983; Martin, 1994). In the formal stage, mentors and mentees stay within their formally designated roles. In the cordial stage, the relationship between mentor and mentee is characterized by growing trust on both the personal and professional level. When the final stage of friendship is reached, mentees have growing confidence in their abilities as teachers, less need for mentor teachers, and the relationships become increasingly friendly (Martin, 1994).

The potential for difficulties between a mentor and mentee is considerable. Often the mentor teacher and preservice teacher are meeting for the first time and must build their relationship from scratch (Fletcher, 1998; Wildman, Magliero, Niles, & Niles, 1992). The subsequent development of the relationship is contingent on a complex interaction of mentor and mentee's personality, their interpersonal or psychosocial development, and their educational and/or career background (Turner, 1993). Successful interactions and communications between mentor and mentee depend on their interpersonal skills and the level of trust they are able to achieve (Brooks, 1996; Pitton, 2006; Stanulis & Russell, 2000).

The type of relationship forged between the mentor and mentee can affect the strategies available to the mentor. For example, in a collegial relationship, power and authority clearly separate the mentor from the mentee, who is viewed as serving in an "apprenticeship" role (Hawkey, 1998; Le Cornu & Ewing, 2008). Collegial mentors tend to use a more formal, informative, and direct style that focuses on "showing" and "telling" the student teacher how to teach (Hawkey, 1998; Moffett & Zhou, 2009). When the relationship becomes more personal, the cooperating teacher may act more as a facilitator and invite an open dialogue for the student teacher to candidly ask questions about areas of concern or potential growth. However, a personal relationship may also make it more difficult to give feedback when the student teacher is not performing satisfactorily, (Hawkey, 1998; Killian & Wilkins, 2009).

3. The Context for Mentoring

The purpose of this investigation is to compare mentoring relationships and strategies as they occur in three different contexts of teacher education: student teaching, early field experience, and the entry year of teaching. In the following sections, these three contexts are described as they occur both internationally and in the United States, the origin of the study.

3.1 Student Teaching

Student teaching is considered a common requirement across the globe for most teacher preparation institutions. However, the requirements vary widely across countries. (Ronfeldt & Reininger, 2012; Wang, Coleman, Coley, & Phelps, 2003). For example, the Asian countries of Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong require the shortest length of experience, ranging from a minimum of three weeks in Japan to eight weeks in Korea. In contrast, England requires a minimum of 24 weeks and the Netherlands at least 48 weeks.

In the United States, student teaching is usually a semester long, varying from 12-15 weeks. It originated with the advent of normal schools in the 19th century (Fraser, 2007) and was limited primarily to laboratory schools or university campuses prior to World War II. Although the knowledge of mentoring practices associated with teacher preparation was slow to develop, the influence of the cooperating teacher on the student teacher is widely recognized (Cook, 2007; Karmos & Jacko, 1977; Koerner, 1992; Manning, 1977; Smagorinsky, Sanford, & Konopak, 2006).

Numerous challenges to successful mentoring can emerge when the personality and teaching approach of the cooperating teacher and the student teacher are not well aligned (Bradbury & Koballa, Jr., 2008). Relational tensions can be initiated when student teaching placements are arbitrarily determined by the availability of teachers and their proximity to the university. They may be further exacerbated if the student teacher does not have an opportunity to meet with the mentor teacher prior to the experience. Thus, neither student teacher nor mentor may have a chance to adjust their initial expectations (Siebert, Clark, Kilbridge, & Peterson, 2006). Negative experiences have been attributed to difficult personal relationships with the cooperating teacher, inadequate feedback, and feeling inhibited in the choice of teaching methods (Rhoads, Radu, & Weber, 2011).

3.2 Early Field Experiences

Internationally, there is broad agreement on the importance of incorporating experiential learning into teacher education programs (Wang et al., 2003). However, approaches to achieving this aim may differ. For example, Germany and the Netherlands have developed strong commitments to school partnerships. Similarly, teachers in England must spend from 18-32 weeks in schools, and universities are legally bound to collaborate with school personnel, who share in the design of the teacher preparation program. In contrast, school-based learning tends to occur near the end of the program in France. Instead, the importance of practice is acknowledged by employing teacher educators who have extensive teaching experience in schools and who can provide teacher candidates with more practical approaches to teaching (Maandag et al., 2007). In Sweden, school officials, teacher educators, and local authorities have begun making some recent efforts to increase the amount of school-based learning that occurs earlier in the teacher education program.

In the United States, early field experiences have continued to grow in popularity since their inception in the 1970's and have became increasingly common with the spread of professional development schools (Darling-Hammond & Cobb, 1995; Ronfeldt & Reininger, 2012; Seiforth & Samuel, 1979). Extensive early field experiences permit a gradual socialization into professional norms and standards, reduce the number of teachers who leave the field in the first year, and increase the retention rate three fold in comparison to teachers from traditional preparation programs (Fleener, 1999; Schwille & Dembele, 2007). In addition, Reinhartz and Stetson (1999) found that teachers who received extensive field preparation work longer hours, are more willing to take risks, use technology better, and seem to have better problem solving skills.

Teacher candidates have also described a number of difficulties associated with early field experiences. For example, early field experiences can be unguided, fragmented, and lack coherence, thus creating challenges with managing students, pacing the class, and keeping up with the additional workload imposed by the field experience (Smith, 1992). Teacher candidates sometimes feel "used" by the teacher, especially when they think the teacher is an ineffective role model or could not find time to talk with them (Lashley & Applegate, 1985). Similarly, mentoring teachers have expressed frustration with mentees' lack of preparation, professionalism, commitment, enthusiasm, and a lack of involvement by the university (Applegate & Lashley, 1982).

3.3 Induction Year Programs

The purpose of induction programs is to help teachers make the transition from preservice to inservice teaching. Since the 1980's, the international presence of induction programs has increased considerably (Fletcher & Barrett, 2004; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2000; Hobson et al., 2008; Zimpher & Rieger, 1988), although it is sometimes difficult to ascertain whether such programs are offered due to the different ways that countries organize and label teacher education, induction, and professional development (Maandag et al., 2007). For example, the Netherlands reported that they do not provide a beginning teacher induction program in a 2003 survey of eight countries; however, they do require 48 weeks of practice teaching, far more than most other countries (Wang et al., 2003). Of the six countries that offered programs, four require them, one offers them on a voluntary basis, and in the US there is wide variation in the requirements associated with individual programs.

In the United States, support for new teachers was primarily informal in nature in the 1960's and 70's: it wasn't until the 1980's that some schools began to provide more structured social-emotional and logistical support for new teachers. Teacher induction programs expanded rapidly in the 1980's and 90's with many districts providing mentoring support to beginning teachers and by 2001, 38 states had initiated policies and programs associated with induction (Hirsch, Koppich, & Knapp, 2001; Wang, Tregidgo, & Mifsud, 2002).

The rapid spread of induction programs can be attributed to the many benefits associated with them. One of the most widely cited is the impoved retention rate of teachers, which is influenced by the level and quality of mentoring given to new teachers (Joiner & Edwards, 2008). Other benefits include substantial professional development, improved reflection and problem-solving abilities, adoption of instructional practices and practices of the mentor, and reduced feelings of isolation and increased positive attitudes (Bush & Coleman, 1995, Darling-Hammond, 2003; Fantilli & McDougall, 2009; McIntyre & Hagger, 1996).

Yet entry year teachers can be challenged when trying to produce student- learning outcomes comparable to the experienced and seasoned teachers (Fletcher & Barrett, 2004; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2000). They often work in new school districts where they are unfamiliar with the curriculum, culture, administration, policies, and procedures. In addition, more experienced teachers can move to more desirable higher achieving schools, so beginning teachers are often placed in lower achieving schools and classrooms with diverse populations of students, including students with disabilities, students from families with low socioeconomic status, and students with limited English proficiency (Fletcher & Barrett, 2004; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2000). As a result, the challenge of reaching student achievement targets can be much greater for the beginning teacher than for the experienced teacher.

4. Method

The research question addressed by the study was: How does the context of mentoring affect the mentoring practices of teachers? To investigate this question, eighteen teachers were asked to compare their mentoring practices across early field experiences, student teaching, and entry year teaching. This multi-case study employed a grounded theory approach, which is well suited for research designed to "generate theory that is grounded in or emerges from the field" (Lichtman, 2010, p. 72). Hallmark components of a grounded theory approach include the use of theoretical sampling in participant selection and a constant-comparative method in data analysis. In this study, a sampling of teachers having experience with mentoring during early field experiences, student teaching, and entry level teaching were selected for participation. The data was analyzed using an open, axial, and selective coding process.

4.1 Participants

Participants were recruited by contacting building principals, teaching liaisons (similar to a lead teacher), field placement coordinators, district mentor coordinators, teacher educators, and Educational Service Centers. Participants in this study had at least three years teaching experience and were representative of teachers from kindergarten through secondary school. All participants had experience with mentoring student teachers, teacher candidates in early field experiences, and entry year teachers. A total of 18 teachers with mentoring experience from both urban and rural settings took part in the study. Twelve participants taught in a rural setting and six taught in an urban setting. Seven participants taught at the elementary level, eight in the middle grades (4th - 8th), two at the high school level, and one was a multi-age special education teacher.

4.2 Interview Protocol

All participants were interviewed using a semi-structured interview protocol designed to elicit differences in mentoring across early field experiences, student teaching, and entry year teaching. There were 107 open-ended questions divided into the following sections: demographic information, mentoring background, relationships/dispositions, context for mentoring, mentoring strategies, and mentees' teaching ability. The questions were piloted prior to use in the study for clarity and relevance.

4.3 Procedures

Each participant was individually interviewed a single time concerning his/her mentoring experiences with new teachers, professional interns, and early field experience students. The interviews took approximately two hours and were conducted at a location and time convenient to the interviewer and participant, most often at the participant's school. Each participant was interviewed a single time; however, some participants also participated in two follow-up focus group meetings intended to share and verify study findings.

4.4 Data Analysis

All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed to ensure that all content was accurately captured. Interview transcripts were then prepared for analysis. Two of the researchers did the bulk of the coding using the constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Each researcher independently coded one interview using an open-coding approach, thereby developing an initial code list from the data. Of the 93 codes produced, the two researchers were in agreement on 63 (68% agreement). The additional 30 codes were reconciled following discussion and utilized to code and analyze the remaining 17 interview transcripts.

After completing the open-coding process described above, axial coding was employed to discern relationships between the codes (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). During axial coding, a constant-comparative method was used to cluster the individual codes into four themes: Teacher Development, Context for Mentoring, Mentoring Relationship, and Mentoring Approach. (See Table 1 for a complete summary of the coding categories.) Each of these themes is divided further into subthemes, and under each subtheme are the coding categories that compose the subtheme.