Educative mentoring

Julia Mackintosh, Senior Lecturer in ITE, University of Hertfordshire

Teachers working together


Learning to teach has been described as a ‘complex, bewildering and sometimes painful task’ (Maynard and Furlong, 1994:69). It requires novice teachers to change their conceptions of teaching and learning that were formed when they were pupils, acquire a new body of subject and practical knowledge and deal with the emotional issues that can surface when dealing with these changes (Wang & Odell, 2002). Therefore, the role of class teachers, with responsibility for mentoring novices is also complex and demanding work (McIntyre & Hagger, 1994). In England, as initial teacher education (ITE) has increasingly become school-based, teachers, acting as mentors, have made an ever-greater contribution to the education of new teachers. The growing need to support teacher-mentors as they undertake this role has been recognised at policy level with the publication of the Early Career Framework for beginning teachers (DfE, 2019) and non-statutory Standards for Mentoring (DfE, 2016).  Leading a School Direct ITE course, a school-led route into teaching, where even greater responsibility for the training process has been put into class-teachers’ hands (Betteney, Barnard, & Lambirth, 2018), I also have an interest in supporting teachers who undertake this complex and important role. As a result, I am researching the use of tools to support teachers in their mentoring work. This thought-piece outlines changing ideas about mentoring and considers how the adoption of a more collaborative approach, specifically educative mentoring, might benefit not only student-teachers, but also their teacher-mentors.

Changing ideas: from traditional to collaborative mentoring

For centuries, mentoring has been used as a vehicle for handing down knowledge, maintaining culture, supporting talent, and securing future leadership (Darwin, 2000:197). In such traditional models of mentoring, learning is viewed as a means of transmitting knowledge from an older, experienced member of an organisation to a less experienced protégé (Hansman, 2002) in a power-dependent hierarchical relationship (Le Cornu & Ewing, 2007). The mentor’s role is to ‘fill-up’ an incomplete protégé with knowledge in order to ‘fix’ them and reproduce skills that maintain the status-quo (Darwin, 2000; Mullen, 2004). Therefore, mentoring enacted in a traditional way within ITE sees a teacher-mentor adopting and maintaining the role of ‘expert’ to impart their knowledge, information and support and a student-teacher as the recipient of this knowledge. van Ginkel, Verloop, and Denessen (2016) describe this as an instrumental conceptualisation of mentoring which is used to secure quick proficiency in the tasks of teaching. However, if such traditional and hierarchical relationships persist in the long-term and teacher-mentors are viewed by both themselves and their mentees as a ‘be-all’ and ‘fix-all’, this can discourage them from stepping into ‘uncharted territory’ in an effort to pose and solve teaching problems with their mentee (M. Jones, 2009). As a result, the mentoring relationship becomes about the reproduction and maintenance of current knowledge and a ‘what works here’ attitude towards learning about teaching (McNamara, Murray, & Phillips, 2017). This can restrict opportunities for the learning of the student-teacher and also the teacher-mentor.

Therefore, more recent conceptions of mentoring have recognised that a top-down flow of information, expertise and benefits over-simplifies the mentoring relationship (R. Jones & Brown, 2011). It is now increasingly common to view mentoring as an interdependent relationship between mentor and mentee (Darwin, 2000), where, in the process of actively constructing knowledge in a social environment (Richter et al., 2013), the mentor concedes authority and the protégé develops it (R. Jones & Brown, 2011). Knowledge and power is shared between mentor and mentee in “an asymmetrical but collaborative relationship, which facilitates exchange and the generation of ideas and may lead to change and innovations in the prevailing situation” (Pennanen, Bristol, Wilkinson, & Heikkinen, 2016:30). Consequently, if the mentor changes their role from directive teacher to collaborative partner, co-learning becomes a possibility for the mentor as they work together with their mentee to construct and reconstruct their understandings of teaching and learning (Cochran-Smith & Paris, 1995). Such collaborative approaches have therefore been credited with supporting the growth of both student-teacher and teacher-mentor (Hudson, 2013). Engaging in educative mentoring, a particular type of collaborative mentoring, is considered below as an approach that might indeed provide short-term and long-term benefits for both mentors and mentees.

Educative mentoring

Sharon Feiman-Nemser (1998, 2001b) was the first to coin the term ‘educative mentor’ in her analysis of the mentoring practices of Pete Frazer, an ‘exemplary support teacher’ who was a ‘legend in his district’. Grounded in Dewey’s (1938) theory of educative experience, educative mentoring sees teacher-mentors arranging experiences for student-teachers that provide them with opportunities to develop perspectives, beliefs and knowledge about teaching and learning (Schwille, 2008). In her analyses, Feiman-Nemser noted how Frazer became an ‘educational companion’ for his mentees as he engaged in ‘joint work’ with them, interrogating, explaining and justifying their practice, enabling them to learn from one another as they solved authentic teaching tasks. She recounted how Frazer combined ‘thinking aloud’ with demonstration teaching, to help his mentees to see how experienced teachers enact particular values and principles and how he focused novice teachers’ attention on pupil thinking, encouraging them to use this as a valuable source of information to inform their understanding of teaching and learning. Frazer, Feiman-Nemser stressed, made connections between theory and practice by working with his mentees to pinpoint their immediate problems of practice whilst keeping the long-term goals of teaching in mind. Frazer could therefore be described as purposefully and intentionally shaping a range of learning opportunities for his mentees, which led them towards a better understanding of teaching and learning. He enacted ‘educative mentoring’ (Feiman-Nemser, 2001b). Informed by the work of Feiman-Nemser and the wider literature base, key educative mentoring activities can be summarised as follows:

Mentoring as situated inquiry:

Teaching is viewed as a process of inquiry where teachers learn in and from teaching. Different approaches to practice are trialled and disciplined talk between mentors and mentees is used to focus on a problem of practice.

Mentoring as joint work:

Mentors and mentees are co-learners, engaged in social activities that have meaningful products; mentees learn from doing and talking about work together. The expertise of both partners is used to develop new teaching ideas, each partner revises previous ideas and conceives new ones that they would not have developed working on their own.

Mentoring as ‘thinking aloud’: articulation of the reasoning behind teaching:

Mentors make visible and explicit what is usually invisible and implicit by articulating thoughts, questions and wonderings during co-planning and by making reflections on their own teaching visible.

Mentoring as a practice that foregrounds pupil learning:

Lesson observations and debriefing are focused on pupil learning needs and goals. Pupil thinking and work is used as a source of knowledge about teaching and learning.

Mentoring as a ‘bi-focal’ practice: addressing the long-term goals of novices as well as short-term concerns:

Mentors try to work out what novices need to learn and use a combination of showing and telling, asking and listening in order to pinpoint problems of practice.

Specific ‘High-leverage’ practices are identified in order to help the mentee to learn that practice and transfer the skills

Dialogue transitions from specific events in the classroom to larger teaching issues and mentors make use of a repertoire of ‘mentoring moves’ both inside and outside the act of teaching

(Bradbury, 2010; Feiman-Nemser, 1998, 2001b; Feiman-Nemser & Beasley, 1997; Norman & Feiman-Nemser, 2005; Schwille, 2008; Stanulis, Little, & Wibbens, 2012; Stanulis et al., 2018; Trevethan & Sandretto, 2017; Wexler, 2019)

Figure 1 Key educative mentoring practices

Educative mentoring therefore reflects a constructivist-oriented model of mentoring, where learning is an active process and learners construct their own knowledge by connecting new information to their prior experience in a social community (Richter et al., 2013). Educative mentors base their practice on the premise that learning to teach requires creating learning opportunities that involve the mentee in his or her ‘zone of proximal development’ (Vygotsky, 1978). As Schwille (2008) describes, educative mentors attend to both the here and now and the direction that the novice’s learning is going and have a bi-focal vision of learning to teach.

Benefits of educative mentoring

The benefits of educative mentoring to both student-teachers and mentor-teachers when compared to more traditional approaches have been widely reported in the literature base. Wexler (2019) outlines how traditional mentors show mentees their plans, describe activities and provide feedback on a plan that a novice has subsequently developed, informing the novice of what to do when. She notes, however, that educative mentors are also able to help student-teachers to understand how to plan by engaging in collaborative co-planning and making their thoughts and decisions explicit and visible. Trevethan (2017) describes how educative mentors encourage novices to participate  in professional conversations by using questions to probe their understanding and by encouraging them to reflect on their practice, helping them to understand the value of learning from and about their teaching (Schwille, 2008). In contrast, traditional mentors tend to ‘give’ feedback by dispensing advice, restricting opportunities for professional discourse. Educative mentoring has also been reported as encouraging student-teachers to embrace complex practice and ambitious teaching rather than favouring ‘safer’ options (Feiman-Nemser, 2001a:1029) and to move the focus from teaching performance to pupil learning (Stanulis et al., 2018). In addition, as the tools of mentoring – observation, co-planning, co-teaching, joint inquiry, critical conversation and reflection – are also the tools of continuous improvement in teaching (Feiman-Nemser, 1998:73), educative mentoring also offers possibilities for teacher-mentors to also grow professionally at their respective level of practice (Schwille, 2008:164).

Educative mentoring – the way forward?

As has been previously discussed, the role that mentors play is deeply complex, situated, and layered and in order to learn about this role, mentor development needs to be similarly nuanced and intentional (Gardiner & Weisling, 2016). Learning to mentor is not simply being trained to apply different activities, it is a process of developing practice based on a conceptual stance toward mentoring (Schwille, 2008:143). For educative mentoring to be enacted, based as it is on ideas of reciprocity, trust and open-mindedness, a culture that supports the negotiation of power differentials is required (Trevethan & Sandretto, 2017). Time is needed to change traditional images of expert-novice interactions (Ambrosetti, 2014) and tools are required to encourage a vision of mentoring that aligns with educative goals (Gardiner & Weisling, 2016). Guidance in how to facilitate the reflection process, to structure discussions of practice (Bradbury, 2010) and how to help novices uncover student thinking and to use that thinking to guide lesson planning (Stanulis et al., 2018) may also be required. In summary, teacher-mentors need opportunities to move between abstract discussions about educative mentoring to practical applications, where they can develop the educative skills of co-planning, observing and debriefing and analysing pupil work with their mentee (Stanulis et al., 2018). My current research aims to investigate whether the Lesson Study model of teacher learning might be used to support the development of collaborative and educative mentoring skills.

Read 'Retain and grow your teachers...'


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