Sweeny Best Practice Search

The Research and Theoretical Background for Sweeny Best Practice and Standards Documents.
By Barry Sweeny, 2009


  • Why this document was written
  • The Process
  • Why no citations in a big bibliography?
  • Why An Appendix?
  • The APPENDIX:  A 24 Year Best Practice Search


It is important that the reader and user of any research, best practices, or standards which I have written might have the opportunity to understand the basis for my writings, conclusions and recommendations. This is the case since what I write is not the typical approach to doing a specific, narrowly focused research study or writing a report about that specific study.

What I have written is based on (at this point) more than twenty years of searching for best practices, first within each setting in which I have been privileged to work, and second, for best practices that are needed across all those settings by everyone in mentoring. In all those years and searching, my questions have been just these two:
1. What are the best mentoring practices that are unique to this specific setting when the goals of mentoring are increased performance and results?
2. What are the best practices that are needed for effective mentoring in every setting where the goals of mentoring are increased performance and results?

The accumulated experience, knowledge, theories, and models from these many years of inquiry have resulted in a body of work which I feel has a very solid and well-researched basis.

Specifically, my best practice action research process has included:
1. Dual Learning Agenda – Designing each experience I am planning to be both a program to meet the needs and goals of my client, and an experimental testing out of an hypothesis for the sake of my own learning;
2. Post Event Revisions – A post event assessment at that site by the client, and a self-assessment by myself, with note taking to capture their responses and my learning
3. Note Taking – An initial capturing through writing about my experience, my client’s reactions, and the findings of my action research. Even from the earliest days, this was done on a computer and saved under topical titles.
4. Hypothesis Testing – Repeating this action research cycle over again to test the same hypothesis with different people, sometimes in different settings. Perhaps the first event was a mentor training in a K-12 school district, and the later experiences were similar events, but in institutions of higher education, or even a business or technical setting.
5. Capturing Conclusions – Follow up writing was done by adapting and adding to the original computer document, to add new nuances to the findings and conclusions, revise inaccuracies or mistaken conclusions, etc. It sometimes ended with the posing of a new of adapted question that could guide future inquiry and “testing”.
6. Peer Review – Some of these conclusions led me to write recommendations and to share them at professional meeting and in professional publications. Some I published myself and shared only with my clients, since my living depended on have unique and valuable knowledge to offer. In either case, this sharing was to allow application of the recommendations in practice, peer review of the models, etc. to gain feed back on them, and to enable my further refinement of the work.
7. Variations to this cycle of action research included conducting activities designed to assess actual implementation of the strategies, skills or models which were provided in the presentations, mentor training, or consulting context. Examples include:
A. Formal observations of the practitioners at their mentoring work or of program
leaders mentoring their mentors;
B. Formal program evaluations in the client program
C. Formal conduct of focus groups, individual interviews of selected participants,
D. Review of written program materials to determine whether my work influenced
the client’s work.
E. Pre and post event surveys of participants
F. Pre and post event assessments of participant learning, behavior changes, etc.
8. Integration – All of these data and experiences were continually integrated into the ongoing development of written materials which described the evolving models, theories, and best practice recommendations.
9. Reaching a Confidence Level – Over time, two phenomena were observed that caused changes in the process:
A. It became evident that new information was no longer causing revisions of the
models, theories, or recommendations. Rather, new experiences were simply
affirming what was already known.
B. The amount of specific events became too enormous to maintain individual
records of each, so each individual experience or finding was integrated into the
evolving document only if it changed the model, theory or recommendations.
The net result was that, at that point, I became pretty confident of the current model, theory or recommendation.
10. Deliberate Cross-Context Testing – At that point, I deliberately sought out different settings in which to work, with the specific goal of testing the emerging “best practice” in a new context.
11. Best Practice – If, after doing this in a number of diverse settings, I found continual confirmation of the model, theory or recommendation, I began then to call it a “best practice”.
12. Never Stop the Inquiry – Even after I began then to call it a “best practice” I still (yet today) am seeking any evidence that the best practice does nOT apply as I currently believe it does.

The process of review and refinement which constitute the twenty four year long process through which these models, theories, best practices, and standards have evolved, gives me, and should give you, considerable confidence in using them to guide your practice and decision making. These models, theories, and best practices are truly worth using as a foundation for the design, development, evaluation, and improvement of mentoring practice and of entire development and mentoring programs.

Given the cumulative nature of this best practice action research process, I believe it is not appropriate to give specific citations to long past versions of what I have written, such as a “review of the literature” might involve. For example, I have found in excess of 20 iterations of a given document, with dates spread across 15 or more years, when I have done a search of my own computer for a specific file name. (Thank goodness for today’s many megabyte hard drives!)  However, there are times when I do give citations to the most recent versions of some of these document sequences – the versions I consider to best represent my current understanding of a best practice.

I have decided to provide an Appendix at the end of this document summarizing the nature of my best practice action research process and to let that suffice instead of a traditional research report with many bibliographic citations. I know that practitioners will thank me for my brevity and that mentoring researchers, authors, and scholars will already know or can find the full citations for any of the referenced sources should they want to.

For me, it is the cumulative readings of others’ research, discussions with other practitioners, testing of hypotheses in actual practice, assessments of impact, presenting of findings, and then peer reactions to those presentations, and the many other experiences, which together make up the reason for my level of confidence in what I share with you.

One final reason for not sharing specific document citations – many of them have NEVER been publicly shared before, but simply kept private and for myself. Until this date (2009) I have kept most of the standards, models, and best practice documents I have developed to myself and my clients, since they form the foundation of my livelihood and work as a mentoring and coaching trainer and consultant. Until that date I HAD to keep the best of what I knew to myself to maintain my business and needed level of income. However, now I am willing to freely share these standards, since I have begun to gradually retire from full-time employment.

Can You Trust My Best Practices and Standards?

After all of this work, research, and revision for twenty four years, I can confidently report the following:

1. What I now share works equally well in every one of the several dozen different settings and organizational contexts in which I have used them  This includes youth and adult-oriented programs, business, not-for-profit, educational, health care, engineering, government, public and professional services, and several other contexts.

2. No person in any of these many settings has had any trouble understanding or applying these best practices or standards to their mentoring work in their unique contexts.

3. Numerous program evaluations, including interviews and observations in client organizations, several professional organization, and several state level standards development projects have been based on these best practices and  standards and have shown that these are applicable across a wide range of settings.

4. I believe that any reader can confidently use these standards in your program.

A 24 Year Best Practice Search

For those who seek more details regarding my research and development of best practices and standards.

It is true that what I now share is the result of a personal search and journey, yet the following details may demonstrate that this was indeed a valid basis for development of trustworthy best practices and standards. These details are provided to help readers and users of my best practices and standards to do so with confidence that the these have a solid and extensive foundation in research and best practice. Revealing this process is an attempt to be more meaningful than would be a simple list of reference citations. My best practice search process began in 1985.

1. 1985-87
A. The author received training in professional development. included a wide ranging review of the research in effective training practices, primarily the work on adult learning by Goodlad, Knowles, and others.
B. As chair of a Mentor Program Development Group for new employees., we spent a year researching facilitation of professional growth and reviewed work like:
o The mentoring research of Leslie Huling-Austin, Sandra Odell, Sharon Fieman-Nemser,
and many others;
o The work of an Association of Teacher Educators’ commission on mentoring and
induction effectiveness and it’s book, edited by Sandra Odell;
o The research in the needs of beginning employees by Veenman, Blackburn, McDonald,
and Sandra Odell, etc.;
o Studies about the mentoring relationship phases and process by William Gray, etc.;
o Research into management of an effective change process by Michael Fullan, Rosa Beth
Moss Kanter, and others;
o Research and theory in the process of human learning and development by Francis
Fuller, Shirley Hord, Gene Hall, Susan Loucks-Horsley, and others.

2. 1988-1992
A. The result of this committee’s analysis was a program design which was implemented, but which met with “mutiny” by all the mentors within the first six months. Motivated to identify the very best role models as mentors, we had created a very divisive, exclusive, non-collegial model for mentoring. We had to completely revise our fundamental beliefs and structures. This crisis led to further study,  such as:
o The research into collegial relationships by people such as Judith-Warren Little;
o The reports of the early California experiences in mentoring by such as Tom Bird;
o The literature on leadership and facilitation of others’ professional development by Tom
Sergiovanni, Hershey and Blanchard, Terry Deal, Dennis Sparks, etc.
• The research and models for linking individual, group, and organizational learning and improvement by such as Linda-Darling Hammond, Phillip Schlechty, Steven Covey, Peter Block, and Peter Senge

B. In 1990 I took a graduate level course that led to my own review of the literature in effective professional development. I conducted a 5 month study of 131 variables across 26 major research studies. The result of this work was a synthesis document listing three levels of the variables studied based on the level of agreement on their importance across the literature. This synthesis was titled, “The Theory and Research in Learning and Change: A Foundation for Effective Staff Development.” This summary served as the initial guiding light for my planning and practice for at least seven years thereafter.

C. Once we had evaluated and made several improvements to our mentoring program I studied the research on the impact of mentoring and the factors that effected achievement of the desired results. This review of the benefits of and impact on protégés of mentoring included work by Tom Ganser, Huling-Austin, Murphy, Elsner, Sandefur, and the research on the impact of coaching on learning results and implementation by Joyce and Showers. This knowledge base led to continued refinements, especially in our mentor training and support.

D. Additional mentoring study included the later and wonderful syntheses of mentoring research by several commissions sponsored by the Association of Teacher Educators, including:
o Huling, L., Odell, S., Ishler, P., Kay, R, & Edelfelt, R. (1989).
o Bey, T. & Holmes, C.T. eds. (1992).
My knowledge was further developed by the outstanding and comprehensive books on effective mentoring programs by Sandra Odell (1990 – NEA) and Steve Gordon (1991 – ASCD)

E. I conducted my own research into mentoring styles which I did in anticipation of a dissertation. An inventory was developed from the research on mentoring and leadership styles, data were extensively collected and analyzed across several years and in numerous settings and diverse contexts, and the instruments and conclusions were refined many times. Although I did not write a dissertation, I have continued to use and refine the tools and conclusions, even as recently as 2009, and find an amazing 98% accuracy and predictability using the tool I developed. This very clear pattern allows for considerable confidence in my mentor training design and mentoring of mentors.

F. A powerful addition to this ongoing work was review of the literature on the interactions between and necessity of linking staff and organization development and on learning communities by Peter Senge (1990) and others, which i mentioned earlier.

A. One other influence during this period was the early work on standards-based mentoring within education, especially that done by the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium), (1991).

B. At this point I joined with three other colleagues to found the Mentoring Leadership and Resource Network, a grant-supported network of the ASCD. Our activities included an annual national conference at which I frequently presented, and a quarterly newsletter of which I was coeditor.  Later I developed their web site which went on to receive three awards. All this work was based on my summaries and research findings, and the process of speaking and writing, sharing, and receiving collegial feed back, each contributed to continual testing of my models and guidelines against reality and further refinement of the work.

1992 Summer
During June and July I was between jobs and determined to capture the experiences and lessons learned in my previous research and work as a mentoring program coordinator. This led to revision of numerous documents I’d developed in that role, plus a number of new drafts of documents that were more a syntheses of that experience. Several mentor training manuals, leader guides, and mentor program development documents were eventually the result of this work.

During these years I continued researching mentoring, coaching and related topics, while applying my knowledge, skills, and models for professional and organizational development in my work as a trainer, consultant and program evaluator for an agency of the Illinois government. This included:
A. Appointments to::
o National Mentoring Commission: Policy, Progress & Results, ATE & KDP, 4
years synthesizing the research, the result of which was publication of a
comprehensive set of mentoring and mentoring program standards in our book,
“Quality Mentoring for Novice Teachers”, in which I wrote or contributed to
three chapters;
o Induction Advisory Groups I, II & III, Illinois State Board of Education, research
and help set state policy and recommended legislation for statewide new
employee support programs and assessments;
o Mentoring & Induction Blue Ribbon Panel, Career & Technical Educ. National
Dissemination Center, research and writing in mentoring and career development.

B. Teaching four terms as an adjunct instructor in assessment, Aurora University, MA
programs; This work helped me apply my work in standards and test their impact;.

C. Publication of Promoting the Growth of New Teachers: A Mentor Training Manual.
(1994). This work was built on my mentoring standards and was revised several times
based on practitioner feed back and my experience in using the training manual and
assessing it’s value and feasibility in mentoring applications.

D. I did a big research project under a contract with a Texas professional development
center which was building a collaborative with area universities and school districts for
new teacher mentoring. The final report was title, “A Review of the Literature and of
Collaborative Preservice Teacher Education and Induction Mentoring Programs”. This
work involved several mentor trainings, testing of my work against the reality of actual
mentoring practice, review of several bodies of knowledge, and it allowed a major
updating and further refinement of my mentoring models and standards.

E. I also worked as a consultant leading mentoring standards development processes at
the regional and state levels:
o in Rhode Island,
o under several contracts totaling two years with four regional service centers in
Texas. This extensive process included many mentor trainings based on my
standards, design and alignment of region-wide mentoring programs based on my
standards and aligned with state induction and mentoring standards.

At this point I started my own full-time business, Best Practice Resources, and became a full-time trainer and consultant in mentoring and coaching.
A. This full-time focus allowed accelerated development of my mentoring standards,
models, and theories. Almost every day there was an opportunity to share my work,
test it in real situations, gain feed back from practitioners, and refine the work again.

B. I continued extensive reading of the research into mentoring, including work such as by
Steffy, B., Wolfe, M., Pasch, S. & Enz, B. (1999). in career cycles and growth stages.

C. In 2003 I was appointed webmaster of the web site for the International Mentoring
Association. This work moved their web site from about 20 web pages to over 450
pages of best practices, guidelines, and other mentoring research and information. This
activity allowed me opportunity to extensively share my own writings and to gain
considerable feed back, which allowed me to do further updating and synthesis,
especially of my mentoring standards and best practices.

I served as a member of the Board of Directors of the International Mentoring Association from 2002 to 2006. This led me to consulting with many mentoring programs and their leaders worldwide, delivery of dozens of concurrent sessions, workshops and conference institutes, many of which resulted in peer review of my work and writings, models and best practices, then continual refinement of these.

During this time I worked with mentoring consultant and author Hal Portner to research and write an original work which we titled “Teacher Mentoring Standards”. Those standards were first published for review by participants at the 2006 annual conference of the International Mentoring Association. They have since also been published within Hal’s recent revision of his book, “Mentoring New Teachers”, published by Corwin Press.

As in most collaborative efforts, all that I had wished for this project was not attained – we settled on a focus of only novice teachers and on a brief treatment to cover a very few pages. This meant that the general language I had used for years (to make my work useful in all settings) was not used, and that the detail I wished to provide as guidance for practitioners was reduced to a summary level. Never-the-less, this collaboration, sharing, and feed back has further enriched and refined my standards. and that is a very good thing.

In 2006 the International Mentoring Association awarded me Director Emeritus status and life time membership. I have continued to be very active in much of the IMA’s work and initiatives. Many of these experiences were opportunities for continued learning, sharing, and refinement of my work.

In 2006 I retired from full-time work, which has allowed me to spend much more of my time writing, refining my writing, and sharing my work, and recommendations, which of course, leads to further refinement.

In 2006, Corwin Press bought the rights to my book published in 2000 by Skylight Professional Development. I completely rewrote this book which was published in 2007 as “Leading the New Teacher Mentoring and Induction Program : Second Edition”.  Even three years later, this work continues to be marketed and to sell well, since it is the only one available to guide the work of Mentor Program Leaders.

I continue to consult, speak, train, conduct program evaluations, all in mentoring. I am much more selective now so that I undertake only those projects where my learning will be accelerated and extended, about 6-10 a year.