Mentor teacher/What is mentoring?

A difficult term to defineEdit

Attempts to give a coherent definition
Many attempts have been made at defining the term “mentoring.” The definitions are so diverse that differences rather than similarities could be said to characterize mentoring as a concept. However, a few general descriptions have been made which can encompass a broad variety of definitions. For instance, according to Ole Løw (2009) mentoring will always be a goal-oriented activity. In the professional mentoring conversation, the mentor has much of the responsibility for the quality of the conversation. Mentoring is based on an agreement between mentor and mentee, and is therefore characterized by both structure and progression. Still, the main focus is on the mentee, regardless of whom the mentee is. Mentoring can therefore be considered to be a way to support the mentee's own learning process (Løw 2009). Løw (2009) defines mentoring as a collective term that includes counselling, supervision, consultation and coaching. He suggests that the definition should be reserved for the complementary relation between the more experienced and competent (the mentor) and the less experienced and competent (the mentee) in an educational or professional context. A minimum requirement could be that it is a conversation intended to support the mentee and that it uses a known perspective or mentoring model.

Johnson, Rose and Schlosser (2007) describe the following components as common in mentoring relationships:

  • a) mentorships are enduring personal relationships.
  • b) mentorships are increasingly reciprocal and mutual.
  • c) compared to protégés, mentors demonstrate greater achievement and experience.
  • d) mentors provide direct career assistance.
  • e) mentors provide social and emotional support.
  • f) mentors serve as models.
  • g) mentoring results in an identity transformation in the protégé or mentee.
  • h) mentorships offer a safe environment for self-exploration.
  • i) mentorships generally produce positive career and personal outcomes.

(Johnson, Rose and Schlosser, 2007)

Should "giving advice" be included in a definition of mentoring?
When attempting to define mentoring, we need to decide if the role of the advisor should be included in the definition. In day-to-day language we might use the terms mentoring or counselling to describe the giving of advice. This may also be the case for terms such as guidance, tutoring, consultation and supervision. Nevertheless, some of the literature on mentoring downplay the role of advice and quite many mentoring approaches also this discourage this kind of activity. However, some authors include this perspective in the mentoring concept. Kåre Skagen (2004), for instance, includes the communication-oriented apprenticeship model as a legitimate mentoring model.

Mentoring is a new research areaEdit

Several researchers claim that mentoring as a research area is underdeveloped (Allen and Eby, 2007; Bjørndal, 2011a). There seems to be a number of reasons:

Bjørndal (2011a) is of the opinion that the mentoring field is inadequately developed as a science. He suggests a number of reasons for this:

  • Mentoring is not a protected profession. Only rarely has it required a particular status or competence. As a consequence, it is common for school mentors not to have any formal education in mentoring.
  • Mentoring is a new research area with limited empirical research. Textbooks have usually reflected the author's own experiences as a mentor or they have been inspired by different therapeutic directions.
  • As a pedagogy mentoring builds on several disciplines (e.g. philosophy, psychology, sociology and anthropology), and the concept has been taken in use within different professions. It has therefore been difficult to agree upon one singel generic definition of the concept. According to Allen and Eby (2007) mentoring has evolved as an important concept in three different domains: workplace mentoring, faculty-student mentoring relationships and youth mentoring. Usually research has been conducted within these domains with limited consideration of each other. As a result, there has been a struggle to define the mentoring concept in a coherent way. For example, Jacobi (1991) identified 15 different definitions of mentoring. Still today, there is a lack of a widely accepted definition.
  • The term mentoring is still ambiguous, and as previously mentioned, there are several similar terms, such as guiding, tutoring, counselling, coaching etc. These are often used interchangeably, with unclear and overlapping significance. The attention given to the term mentoring is therefore competing with the attention given to other similar terms. A significant amount of literature is published under labels such as consultation, supervision and counselling. Nevertheless, the concept is usually closely connected to a dyadic relationship, but according to Eby, Rhodes and Allen (2007) a mentor-protégé relationship must be distinguished from role model-observer, advisor-advisee, teacher-student, supervisor-subordinate and coach-client relationships.

Mentoring in a historical perspectiveEdit

The origin of the mentor concept can be traced back to Homer’s Odyssey. Mentor was a friend of Odysseus who looked after and raised his son when Odysseus went off to fight in the Trojan war. Scholarly interest in the mentoring concept can be dated back to the work of Daniel Levinson about human development from 1978. According to his theory, the early phase of adulthood (age 17-23) is a life period when the apprentice adult faces several large tasks in the effort to move from childhood to adult. These tasks are (a) forming a dream, (b) forming a mentor relationship, (c) forming an occupation, and (d) forming an enduring love relationship. Through many different biographical stories Levinson highlighted the important role of having a relationship with a mentor in this transitional phase. (Undertekst til et bilde: "Levinson also described the parent as a mentor" (bilde av en forelder med et barn som viser noe. Is the parent a mentor?). Within such a theoretical framework one could claim that there have been several famous mentoring relationships throughout history in almost every profession (For example the relationship between Freud and Jung in psychology) (Eby, Rhodes and Allen, 2007).

According to Eby, Rhodes and Allen (2007), early empirical research also highlighted the importance of having a person as your mentor. In a study of nearly 4000 successful executives Roche´s (1979) found that two thirds reported having a mentor. Kanter (1977) also discusses how those who make it to the top of an organization typically have a “rabbi” or “Godfather” to guide them along the way. Vaillant (1977) studied some of the nation´s most outstanding men and found that those who were most successful tended to have had a mentor in young adulthood (Eby, Rhodes and Allen, 2007).

Portrait of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard

The Scandinavian mentoring concept is also inspired by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard's description of the art of helping: “If One Is Truly to Succeed in Leading a Person to a Specific Place, One Must First and Foremost Take Care to Find Him Where He is and Begin There. This is the secret in the entire art of helping.” (...) “If I nevertheless want to assert my greater understanding, then it is because I am vain or proud, then basically instead of benefiting him I really want to be admired by him.” (Kierkegaard 2000: 460). Likewise, it is common that the mentor assists the mentee in her learning and development process by posing different kinds of questions rather than providing answers.

Different kinds of mentoringEdit

Youth mentoringEdit

Youth mentoring has been used in the human services field to describe a relationship between an older, more experienced adult and an unrelated, younger protégé. The mentor provides support aimed at developing the competence and character of the protégé. A mentor provides guidance in various areas of life, such as academics, career-planning, physical health, emotional well-being and social interaction. The mentor can help youth navigate through difficult transitions. The mentoring activities can be differentiated by context (e.g. school, workplace, community), special population (e.g. gifted disabled, at-risk youth) and developmental period (e.g. children, adolescents) (Eby, Rhodes and Allen, 2007; Keller, 2007).

Research on the importance of youth mentoring

In a classic study Growing Up Poor, Williams and Kornblum (1985) followed 900 low-income urban youth and identified mentors as an extremely important factor in predicting the youth´s healthy outcomes. Other researchers have also emphasized that at-risk children with “one good relationship” were less likely than others to develop conduct disorders (Werner and Smith 1982; Rutter, 1987). Research focusing on at-risk youth also emphasizes the importance of adult role models in youth mentoring programs (e.g. Big brother and big sister) (Eby, Rhodes and Allen, 2007).

The history of youth mentoring

The origins of formal youth mentoring programs begun with Ernst Coulter who established the Big Brothers movement in 1904. Usually a volunteer establishes a one-to-one mentoring relationship with a youth with activities occurring in community settings. Many Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs have been designed to serve youth at risk for difficulties, such as school failure or teenage pregnancy. With increased single parenthood and disrupted relationships programs intend to build a sense of caring and civic engagement (Keller, 2007). Currently there are over 4000 agencies and youth-based mentoring programs serving approximately two and a half million youth (Eby, Rhodes and Allen, 2007). Evaluations of such mentoring programs frequently focus on the prevention or reduction of negative outcomes. An alternative perspective is provided by those programs who focus on promoting personal competencies and enhancing psychological well-being (Keller, 2007).

Workplace mentoringEdit

Workplace mentoring involves a relationship between an experienced person and a less experienced individual where the purpose is the personal and professional growth. The mentor may be a peer at work or someone else within the organization without any formal responsibility for the protégé. These persons may be part of the same communities of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1998). Formal mentorships tend to have contracted goals, a specific timeline, and offer guidelines on how often one should meet. Still, Eby, Rhodes and Allen (2007) claim that such mentorships appear to be less effective than spontaneously developed mentor- protégé relationships. In recent decades this kind of mentoring has become more popular because people change work more often. Workers must to a larger degree relate to significant others who can assist them.

Student-faculty mentoringEdit

Student-faculty mentoring (other terms are also used such as supervision, tutoring, guidance) includes mentoring of both undergraduate and graduate students. In this context a more experienced mentor provides support and offers guidance on academic (e.g. classroom performance; academic skill-building) and nonacademic (e.g. personal problems, identity issues) issues (Eby, Rhodes and Allen, 2007). Compared with research on workplace mentoring and youth mentoring, there is less research on student-faculty mentorships. Most research literature in this area focuses on intense personal relationships between a faculty member and a student of long duration. Still, in this area there has also been a tendency to label almost any supportive relationship as mentoring. For example, role modeling or observational learning does not require a relationship and one can therefore question if it can be defined as mentoring (Johnson, Rose and Schlosser, 2007).

Research in this area has also been criticized because it has relied mostly on protégé descriptions of mentors. Most studies ask students to rate mentor functions and achieve universally positive function ratings. This may be a result of a positive cognitive halo effect which is stimulated by requests to consider one´s mentor. Small samples have also made generalizability difficult (Johnson, Rose and Schlosser, 2007).

Most formally assigned student-faculty relationships are advising relationships which don´t develop into mentorships. The advisor is simply the faculty member who has the greatest responsibility for helping the advisee through the education program. Mentoring refers more often to a faculty member´s strong commitment to mentee´s broad development and success. The mentor´s values represent idealized norms that can have considerable influence of how mentees see themselves and the profession. Mentees have various emotional responses to their mentors, including admiration, awe, fear and idealization. Mentors also often provide deliberate brokering and advocacy in the service of the mentees career development (Johnson, Rose and Schlosser, 2007).

What characterizes good mentoring?Edit

It is not easy to describe what characterizes a good mentorship conversation. It may depend on soeicetal values, the mentoring approach or the specific conversational context. According to Bjørndal (2008), much of the textbook literature on mentoring seems to be based on theoretical ideas about “the good conversation”. Usually these ideas have not necessarily been documented through empirical research. One could, however, argue that mentorship conversations revolve around a few dialectic tensions. Some of these are:

  • Agreement vs disagreement
  • Planned vs improvised use of words
  • Deliberate vs spontaneous choices
  • Problems vs success stories
  • Conversational content vs conversational relationship
  • “Mentor only” vs “mentor as well as”

Agreement vs disagreement

The philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin claims that agreement only makes up a small part of a conversation – a conversation should ultimately end with disagreement. With too much agreement, the conversation lacks tension and diversity. With reference to Bakhtin's thinking, Carson and Birkeland (2009:146) suggest that if the mentor simply supplies the mentee with answers, the mentoring process will be unsatisfactory. If the mentor is too dominant in the conversation, the mentee's voice can easily be subdued. It is important to give room for a diversity of voices.

Planned vs improvised use of language

Learning conversations are characterized by their explorative language. This claim is made by Carson and Birkeland (2009:145) who themselves are refering to Olga Dysthe (1995). Dysthe distinguishes between "reflection language" and "presentation language". A conversation based on reflection language will have a more personal and incomplete form, with little emphasis on formal etikette. One strategy is to think aloud. The mentorship conversation should from this perspective be seen as a process, where an idea is developed through several drafts or versions. Central questions are:

  • How much opportunity is there to explore and play with ideas in the mentorship conversation? (reflection language)
  • How are the mentee's reflections supported?
  • Are the mentor and the mentee building on each other´s thoughts?

There is no clear answer to how prepared a mentor should be before a mentorship conversation. According to Dysthe's idea about reflection language, one should avoid formulating too many questions in advance. One should also avoid to structure the conversation as an interview. This might create the feeling that the mentee is simply giving a presentation. During the conversation one does not either need to rely on written notes all the time. Instead one can let oneself be guided by the dynamics of the conversation. This can happen in a learning conversation (Carson and Birkeland (2009:75-76).

Deliberate vs spontaneous choices
Many mentoring approaches emphasize that the mentee should be given an opportunity to reflect upon their action. The mentoring will then focus on the values that influence on the mentee's practice (Lauvås and Handal 2000).

Reflect around problems or success stories
It is commonly assumed that mentoring is primarily required when the mentee encounters problems or is uncertain about how to do a specific task. Today, mentoring canalso be reflection around what works (Carson and Birkeland 2009:75).

Conversational content vs conversational relation
A mentoring conversation will consist of both conversational content and a conversational relationship (Baltzersen 2008). As a mentor, it is important to show interest in the conversational content, while maintaining a good relation with the mentee.

Roles and responsibility
A central question is who is responsible for what in a mentorship conversation. Should the mentor for instance explain her own mentoring approach? One possibility is for the mentor to create a “mentoring strategy” that describe the mentor's pedagogical thinking about mentoring (Carson and Birkeland 2009:81). The literature on mentoring frequently mentions that it can be difficult to combine the role as a mentor with other roles. One can for instance be both a mentor and a manager. Similarly, it can be difficult for school mentors to both mentor and assess student teachers.

What kind of competence does the mentor need?Edit

There are different opinions about what kind of qualifications a mentor needs. Bjørndal (2011b) distinguishes between three different approaches:

  • the skills approach
  • the generative approach
  • the holistic approach

The skills approach
Much of the literature about mentoring emphasizes the importance of conversational skills. This includes both the ability to organize the mentoring process and the ability to communicate well with others. The mentor will need skills related to the ability to establish contact with the mentee, create a mentorship agreement, use a mentoring model (theory on mentoring), have active listening skills, use open questions and be capable of metacommunication. The disadvantage is that mentors might develop a narrow understanding of the qualifications needed for mentoring. The risk is that technical skills are highlighted instead of personal development and critical thinking. There is no certainty that skills that help in one situation will also work well in a different situation.

The generic approach to mentor qualification
The generic approach emphasizes that the mentor should develop general qualities that can be transferred from one situation to another. Empirical research shows that empathy is one such quality within helping professions( Clark 2007). Other examples are problem solving ability, autonomy and collaborative skills. A disadvantage with this approach is that it downplays the role of the context. Secondly, it is difficult to assess these general qualities.

The integrated holistic approach to mentoring competence

The integrated holistic approach takes context into consideration. The competence is regarded as relational because it builds upon a combination of skills. Competency develops in a dialectic relationship between individuals, their actions and the context which is in constant change. This approach assumes that the professional practice is unique in each situation. Bjørndal (2011b) claims that this kind of holistic competence can be related to the term “practical wisdom” (phronesis) and Donald Schön's description of the reflective practitioner. The disadvantage with this approach is that when competency always is situation-specific, it is difficult to define and measure it.

Mentoring approachesEdit

There are a number of different models or approaches to mentoring. Amongst them are the action-reflection model and the apprenticeship model. These two mentoring approaches build upon a very different theoretical foundation. It is in fact common to combine elements of these two models. Here we mention some of the main approaches within a Scandinavian perspective:

  • The action-reflection model
  • The apprenticeship model
  • The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition
  • Systemic mentoring
  • A narrative approach to mentoring
  • Coaching
  • Appreciative inquiry

Recent trendsEdit

The working alliance
In recent years several researchers have also put more emphasis on the quality and the strength of the student-faculty relationship. The working alliance, which was first articulated for the therapist-client relationship in psychotherapy (Bordin 1983), has been considered important for all change-inducing relationships (Baltzersen 2013, Johnson, Rose and Schlosser, 2007). Schlosser and Gelso (2001, 2005) builds on Bordin (1983) and creates inventories with positive effects (Advisory Working Alliance Inventory).

Broadening the mentoring concept
Although nearly all student-faculty mentoring research focus on what is termed traditional mentoring, many authors have recently called for a broader conceptualization of helping relationships. These authors now focus more on terms such as multiple mentoring, group mentoring, online mentoring and co-mentoring.


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