Editor’s Note – The study reported on below is the second of three by Dr. Kilburg. He is the principle researcher and the trainer and consultant for all the mentoring programs in local K12 schools in the studies.
The first and third of these three studies are available at the links below. The sequence of these three studies across six years and different program approaches is especially unique and very valuable in it’s focus and the insights which are derived from them.
Thanks Gary, for your wonderful contribution!
- Report #1 – A Study of K-12 Mentoring Programs and the Problems That They Encountered During their First-Year (new program focus – THIS current document)
- Report #2 – Three Mentoring Relationships & Recurring Obstacles Faced (mentor pair issues focus – the current document below)
- Report #3 – Addressing Challenges Encountered by Leadership Teams of Five K-12 Teacher Mentoring Programs (Mentoring program leader issues focus)
Making Sense of Three Mentoring Team Relationships and the Obstacles they Encountered on a Recurring Basis
A Research Report by Dr. Gary M. Kilburg, George Fox University
- Review of the Literature
- The Potential Impact of Transitions
This study is a continuation of research that investigated 149 mentoring teams in four school districts over a two-year period. The primary goal in the first stage of the study was to identify mentoring teams that were encountering problems on a recurring basis, introduce intervention procedures that would manage the problems and assess the effectiveness of those procedures (Kilburg and Hancock, 2003). From a process of data reduction and analysis eight areas of concern were identified by mentoring team members that negatively impacted the mentoring relationship on a regular basis. Those areas of concern included:
- lack of time
- mentor and new teacher not in the same building
- mentor and new teacher not in the same subject
- mentor and new teacher not in the same specialty
- mentor and new teacher not at the same grade level
- poor communication and coaching skills
- lack of emotional support; and
- personality conflict.
From these eight areas of concern, the researcher proposed in the second phase of the study to identify three case studies from the mentoring teams that were encountering problems on a regular basis. The three case studies identified in this study were selected because they were illustrative of the types of problems or concerns that mentoring teams were encountering over the two-year period. These cases were also selected because they provide a contextual examination of the events that negatively impacted the mentoring team relationship.
It is important to note that at the beginning of this study the majority of mentoring relationships in the four school districts were effective and successful. However, regardless of all that a school or school district might do in preparing their new teachers and mentors to have successful experiences, mentoring practices may still fall short of the ideal (Fullan, 1982; Kilburg and Hancock, 2003).
Review of the Literature
The K-12 mentoring experience in public schools creates a curious position for both the mentor and new teacher. Both are in transition, taking on new roles and responsibilities, negotiating a working relationship that is at times, marked by anxiety and frustration and fraught with questions about collaboration, authority, direction and conflict (Ganser, Bainer, Bendixen-Noe, Brock, Stinson, Giebelhaus, Runyon, 1998; Newton, Bergstrom, Brennan, Dunne, Gilbert, Ibarguen, Perez-Selles, and Thomas, 1994).
Unlike a majority of teaching assignments and team teaching experiences, the mentor and new teacher are immersed in a shared teaching/learning experience that does not always guarantee that the mentoring team relationship will be effective and successful (Corley, 1998; Veeman, 1984).
The Potential Impact of Transitions
Many educational researchers have examined this transitional process that both mentor and new teacher go through as they work to develop an environment where effective mentoring practices are demonstrated. As with many transitions, the change that both team members encounter is bound to meet with some resistance at both the personal and professional level. This is especially true of those individuals with different realities and agendas (Fullan and Stiegelbauer, 1991; Loucks-Horsley and Stiegelbauer, 1991; Newton, et al., 1994; Veeman, 1984).
Throughout this transitional process, the mentoring relationship can be characterized by periods of stability as well as by periods of change. Schon (1971) refers to this process as “passing through the zones of uncertainty, similar to being at sea and not knowing exactly where you are at or confronting more information that you can handle” (p. 12). Although events that stimulate change offer the greatest potential for continued growth they also can provide the greatest source of conflict (Knox, 1977). For example, a mentor who is adding the additional responsibility of mentoring a new teacher to his the other responsibilities
may, in fact, find that the additional task is asking more of him than he can deliver. This is especially true when the school does not ask the mentor to give up something in return. It is also true that the new teacher may also experience the same issue, given their inexperience as a beginning teacher (Kilburg, 2002).
According to Loucks-Horsley and Steigelbauer (1991), that is why it is so important that the people who are responsible for creating this new environment in which the mentor and new teacher will live realize that each individual is different and will perceive and respond to changes in idiosyncratic ways.
Knowing that some mentoring team members might encounter problems should help those who are planning and coordinating mentoring programs develop strategies that will address the issue of change. If those transitional issues are not addressed, then the result may be that mentoring team members may encounter some of the following problems.
“For new teachers, a contract and a handshake are just the beginning” (Villani, 2002, pg. 3). We know that new teachers must adapt well and quickly to their new teaching environment and that the process can be enhanced with a mentor who is a skilled communicator. However, when a mentor and/or new teacher are not skilled communicators, then the result can contribute to the decay of the mentoring relationship (Cross, 1981; Kilburg, 2002).
Mentors who experience a deficit in their communication skills may find that they are inclined to direct, command, take away authority, reduce or eliminate input from the new teacher or simply shut down and make a choice not to collaborate with the new teacher (Boreen, Johnson, Niday and Potts, 2000; Brewster and Railsback, 2001; Kinlaw, 1999; Weeks, 1992). When a new teacher experiences a communication deficit we may find a person that is argumentative, unwilling to accept helpful criticism and someone that is not willing to listen to reason (Kilburg, 2002).
According to Ganser et al. (1998); Newton et al. (1994); Portner (2001); and Villani (2002), mentors must be willing to communicate belief in the new teacher and be willing
to provide them with direction, while at the same time allowing them to make decisions
for themselves. Boreen et al., 2000; Kinlaw, 1999 argue that good communication and coaching help to strengthen the collaborative process and reflection, which, in turn, contributes to performance and the professional development of both new teacher and mentor.
When communication is minimized and is not a priority for one or both mentoring team members, we can expect to see a relationship that is not functioning at its full potential. Communication is a choice and not every adult is as skillful in communicating with other adults as they might be with their students. That is why school district personnel need to be thoughtful and intentional in their selection of mentors (Kilburg, 2002).
The first years of teaching are especially stressful. As new teachers encounter the rigors of creating lessons from scratch, teaching children, managing challenging students, working with parents, teaching at an unfamiliar grade level, grading, and trying to maintain some sense of balance, they begin to realize that their energy is quickly dwindling (Stansbury and Zimmerman, Fall 2002). Complicating the problem further is the isolation that many new teachers feel as a result of busy schedules and trying to survive in their classrooms.
There is little argument that even the most well prepared beginning teacher needs individualized assistance during the first few years of teaching (Brighton, 1999; Feiman- Nemser, Carver, Schwille, and Yusko, 1999; Moir, Gless, and Baron, 1999; Odell and Huling, 2000; Stansbury and Zimmerman, 2000; Tellez, 1992; Tickle, 1994). It is also important to recognize that much of the support that is needed is intangible in the beginning. That is, the need for belonging, feeling part of something, developing a sense of confidence and self-reliance, as well as experiencing an environment that is safe and secure (Portner, 2001). When new teachers experience a nurturing environment that meets their personal and emotion needs, they are provided with opportunities to meet the demands and challenges faced on a daily basis in a mentoring safety net (Feiman-Nemser et al., 1999; Stansbury and Zimmerman, 2000; Tickle, 1994).
According to Kilburg and Hancock (2003) in their study of 149 mentoring teams over a two-year period, 87% of the new teachers believed that having a strong support mechanism was very important, especially as it related to their emotional support. One of the main reasons that a majority of the mentoring relationships were effective and successful in this study was the emotional support new teachers received from their mentors. When new teachers did not receive that support, many fell prey to anxiety, insecurity and a lack of confidence. When mentors were able to provide the needed support, the new teachers felt encouraged, empowered and were given direction, even when they faced difficult circumstances in and/or out of the classroom.
While teachers leave for a variety of reasons, new teachers who have had mentors said repeatedly that it was the mentors support and encouragement that made the difference in their confidence and their willingness to see themselves as successful teachers (Huling-Austin and Murphy, 1987).
In the day-to-day life of mentoring teams, time is one of the most challenging factors they encounter. Data collected in the Kilburg and Hancock (2003) study indicated the single most important factor that caused repeated problems for mentoring teams was the lack of time. They found that a majority of the mentoring teams had to somehow gain additional time for engaging in mentoring and that was usually time that was allocated for teaching activities and work with students (Kilburg and Hancock, 2003; Stansbury and Zimmerman, 2002). If mentoring teams are not given sufficient time to carry out the mentoring conversations that are so important to developing relationships, the mentoring experience may be seen as nothing more than a token gesture (Ganser et al. 1998; Guyton and McIntyre, 1990).
School districts need to commit in advance to providing the release time needed for mentors and new teachers to observe, attend workshops and carry out their mentoring
conversations (Arends, 1998; Klug and Salzman, 1999; Tauer, 1998). Research by the
National Foundation for the Improvement of Education and the National Center for
Education statistics indicate that there is a direct correlation of efficacy in the mentoring process and the amount of time spent together as a mentoring team.
However, when the amount of time is reduced for the mentoring process then the mentoring relationship may be negatively impacted (NFIE, 1999). If financial concerns are an issue, districts need to be creative on behalf of the mentoring team members. That creativity may come in the form of seeking out retired teachers with exemplary teaching records who are willing to volunteer to act as mentors. It may also come in the form of release time provided by the mentoring coordinator or an administrator who is willing to substitute for one of the mentoring team participants. It may also come in the form of adjusting the mentors and new teachers teaching schedule in order to provide more opportunities to observe and have those mentoring conversations that are essential to the success of the mentoring process.
Change and Conflict
The first teaching assignment is a challenging and difficult role for the new teacher. It is also true that becoming a mentor to a new teacher can be an eye opening experience. Teachers that are managing heavy workloads, who also take on the additional roles of mentoring team members, can overly complicate their lives if they don’t alter their already in existing roles and responsibilities (Corley, 1998; Veeman, 1984; Villani, 2002).
Mentoring program planners and coordinators need to be aware of the impact that change has on mentoring team members. When both new teachers and mentors are placed in situations that challenge them personally and/or professionally, it is important to remember that for a variety of reasons, there are those that will respond in ways that are not expected, despite the training provided by the mentoring program (Loucks-Horsley and Stiegelbauer, 1991). That is why it is so important to provide the appropriate training for mentors and new teachers so that they might better understand how change might impact them and the value of problem solving in developing the relationship.
Schools need to take a proactive approach to training about how change and transitional shock can impact mentoring team members (Kilburg, 2002; Veeman, 1984). It is important to remember that just because mentoring team members are adults, have a strong educational background and work well with students does not mean that they will work well with other adults or be free from anxiety, frustration and destabilization. That is why it is so important to educate team members with regard to the change process and how one adapts to transition.
This current study is intended to build on our previous work through an examination of three case studies which provides an in-depth look at the concerns and problems that mentoring teams encountered on a recurring basis. With this data, school districts, planning committees, and mentoring program coordinators should become aware of the needs of mentoring team participants and the problems that can occur.
This is a qualitative study that investigates a context-specific view of three mentoring partnerships and the negative factors that impacted the relationships (Bickman and Rog, 1998; Yin, 1993; Yin, 2003). The fundamental question guiding this study was: How were the three mentoring teams impacted by the mentoring process as they participated in their first year-long mentoring experience?
A multiple-case approach was used to generate detailed descriptions of the context-specific mentoring partnership. Data were collected in the following ways:
- From August 2000 to June 2003, data were collected from fieldwork which included observations during training sessions, workshops, interviews, and surveys in the setting where participants normally spent their time (Bickman and Rog, 1998;Yin, 1984; Yin, 2003);
- Survey data, interview data, and field notes were collected from the field experience
to establish a chain of evidence (Gay and Airasian, 2000; Bickman and Rog,
1998; Yin, 1984; Yin, 2003);
- First-hand accounts that contributed to the depth of each case study were
collected during four mentoring workshops and training sessions each year (Bickman
and Rog, 1998;Yin, 1984; Yin, 2003);
- Multiple-case studies were then identified that demonstrated the types of problems encountered by mentoring teams on a regular basis. (Bickman and Rog, 1998; Miles and Huberman, 1984; Yin, 1984; Yin, 2003).
Data were collected over a two-year period from 149 mentoring teams from four school districts. Of the 149 mentoring teams that were participating in this study, 21 of those teams had identified problems that were occurring on a regular basis. Three of these were selected as representative of the most common problems encountered during the school year. Two of the mentoring teams had female mentors and female protÈgÈs. The third team was composed of a male mentor and male protÈgÈ. All of the protÈgÈs were in their first year of teaching. All three mentors had been informal mentors in the past either for teachers new to the profession or for veteran teachers new to the building and/or school district. All of the mentoring teams volunteered to participate in this study Data Collection
Using formal case study protocol, the researcher employed the following data collection techniques which provided the data for the case profiles as well as the cross-case themes:
The interview protocol permitted the senior researcher to speak at length and in detail with mentoring team members in both formal and informal settings as they shared their reactions to the problems they were regularly encountering. Site mentoring coordinators were also interviewed in both formal and informal settings because of their connections with the mentoring team members. They provided a great deal of insight regarding the issues that some mentoring teams were dealing with. All of the participants had agreed at the beginning of their mentoring experience to participate in the study. Interviews were conducted in both group and individual settings on-site (Bickman and Rog, 1998; Miles and Huberman, 1984; Yin, 1984; Yin, 2003).
Surveys were administered four times each year in October, December, February and April. The purpose was to collect data regarding the effectiveness of the mentoring program as well as the effectiveness of the mentoring team partnership. Mentoring team members were asked six open-ended questions and were also provided the opportunity to provide additional information that was important to them. Three of the six questions dealt with the mentoring program and its effectiveness in serving the mentoring team members. The last three questions related to the mentoring team relationship and the impact that the mentoring process was having on the mentor and new teacher. The purpose was to determine what was working for the team members and what issues were causing them problems (Bickman and Rog, 1998; Miles and Huberman, 1984; Yin, 1984; Yin, 2003).
Field Notes and Participant Observer
Field notes were collected during and after each workshop, in-service training, and interview. The use of field notes provided the researcher with a rich data base for identifying issues and concerns as well as cross-case themes. While participating as the trainer and participant observer for the four mentoring programs, the researcher was able to gather much of the data in real time. The unique feature of real time was that it provided numerous opportunities to hear and see the interactions that were occurring between team members in a variety of different settings. Examples of those affective interactions included: anxiety, frustration and lack of confidence, among others.
From these experiences the researcher was able to construct, along with survey and interview data, the case database and case profiles (Bickman and Rog, 1998; Miles and Huberman, 1984: Yin, 1984; Yin, 2003).
Steps in Data Collection and Analysis
Step One: Collect both survey and interview data, along with field notes from observations of the participants in this study over a two-year period. Four group interviews were conducted, along with numerous informal interviews before and after each meeting and training session.
Step Two: From the data collected in step one, the senior researcher began to piece together a case database (Miles and Huberman, 1984; Yin, 1984; Yin, 2003). This database involved the triangulation of the data collected and provided the researchers with themes that were illustrative of the problems encountered by mentoring teams. Those themes were examined by another member of The Mentoring Institute to determine if the researchers were correct in their analysis
Step Three: A site analysis was then conducted at each site and included the senior researcher, who was also the senior trainer for the school districts, and the site mentoring coordinator. The purpose was to determine which mentoring teams had problems on a regular basis that might best represent the types of problems encountered (Bickman and Rog, 1998, Yin, 1984; Yin, 2003). Two criteria were used in the selection of the three case studies:
- (a) Mentoring teams must have encountered multiple problems.
- (b) The case studies must be representative of the types of problems teams encountered on a regular basis throughout the school year.
Step Four: A word table was then created to organize the qualitative data so the reader would be provided with a view of the types of problems encountered and the impact of those problems (Bickman and Rog, 1998).
Step Five: Cross-case themes were then identified based on the case profile and the problems encountered by mentoring team participants (Miles and Huberman, 1984).
The initial findings are summarized in Table 1. In looking at the table, it is important to note that the impact of each problem was collective where the data supported the attribution. Case profiles follow this summary and provide the context for the cross-case themes that support the findings.
Three Case Profiles
The stories of three mentor-protÈgÈ relationships that experienced problems on a regular basis illustrate just a few of the obstacles that can arise when two teachers are brought together for the purpose of transitioning a beginning teacher into the teaching profession.
- In the first story, both mentor and protÈgÈ struggled to make connections with one another because they each lacked the time.
- In the second story, a protÈgÈ’s dependency on his mentor’s lessons and the lack of time to work on his own lessons becomes an excuse which caused a breakdown in the relationship.
- Finally, the third case illustrates the difficulties encountered when effective coaching becomes an authoritative approach to directing, with little to no opportunity for input from the beginning teacher.
|Case Profile||Expressed Issue||Underlying Issues
(as seen by researchers)
|How Coped With||Resolution|
|Profile #1- Brook & Susan||Time||Scheduling||Creative solutions||Phone, email, met at home|
|Logistics||Not in same building||Attempted to meet at same building||Not resolved|
|Profile #2- Alex & Ron||Time||Time used as excuse||Ignored mentor recommendations||Limited resolution|
|Communication||Poor interpersonal skills||Unwilling to collaborate||Limited resolution|
|Profile #3 – Laura & Jennifer||Personality conflict||Lack of emotional support||Protege contacted principal for support||Not resolved|
|Mentor too directing, Isolation||Poor coaching||Contacted principal||Coached by Principal|
|Poor match||Mentor needed Coaching||ProtÈgÈ coached by principal,
but did not remove or coach mentor
Brooke and Susan
Brooke, a veteran middle school teacher of 22 years, was excited about the opportunity to work with Susan, a new teacher to the school district and to the profession. In their initial meeting, Susan seemed to be a very personable young woman and was very excited about her first teaching assignment. She was going to be teaching science to seventh graders in the morning and teaching biology at the high school in the afternoon.
Over the next few weeks, both Brooke and Susan settled into their daily routine at the middle school. Unfortunately, the routine did not include meeting with one another on a regular basis which was frustrating to both teachers. Brooke had commented on several occasions that,
“The school should have recognized that we would need time to meet on a regular basis, especially during the first part of the school year when Susan needed the most help. It would have been nice to have prep periods that matched up or were opposite of one another, but that wasn’t an option for us.”
They found that as the school year progressed time became more precious because there was less of it and more questions left unanswered. It was almost impossible for Brooke and Susan to find time to meet before and after school. Susan was the primary care giver for her children, and as such had to take the children to school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon, along with all of the other duties she had before and after school.
Brooke was also facing similar obstacles with her work load and committee work. She also did not have the same preparation period as Susan, nor did she have the same lunch period. She also coached after school. Unfortunately, their lives were further complicated by the fact that Susan had to leave to teach at the high school in the afternoon and the school district had no money to pay for release time so that both Susan and Brooke could observe one another. Susan noted on at least two occasions that
“It was frustrating for me to try and find the time to meet with Brooke. When you have teachers in two different buildings that are supposed to work with one another then some provisions should have been made to accommodate both Brooke and I. Since the administration made the building assignments they should have known there might be a problem with meetings. It was even more frustrating knowing that we both have very busy schedules and the district made no accommodations to help us out.”
After several months had gone by, both Susan and Brooke were becoming very frustrated
with their inability to make connections with one another. There was little time to meet because of their teaching schedules and Susan had to rely on some of the other teachers that had the time to answer many of her questions. However, this made Susan feel uncomfortable because she was asking other teachers to take time away from their schedules to help her when they already had busy schedules and had not been asked by the administration if they wanted to mentor a new teacher. In a conversation with the researcher, Susan said,
“Although I feel uncomfortable in asking other teachers to help me out, I don’t know what else to do if Brooke is not available. I try not to lean on them too much, and they are always happy to help me out I still feel some anxiety when I ask them for help, especially if I know it will require a commitment of time on their part.”
At the end of the second month of school, Brooke and Susan agreed that they needed to begin using email and the phone as their main source of communication. That seemed to work fairly well for both, but there were times when Susan needed a response quickly
and that was not possible, particularly as it related to email. There were also those times when the server was down and so email was not an option and Susan was
reserved in calling Brooke on the phone in her classroom because she didn’t want to interrupt class. Brooke seemed to characterize the frustration that both she and Susan felt about answering questions in a timely fashion. The following is Brooke’s comment.
“I enjoyed working with Susan so much, but it was just so hard to always respond to her questions in a timely manner. We used email a lot, or at least tried to. There is not a whole lot you can do when the server is down and the kids are on the telephone”.
On occasion, Brooke and Susan met in one another’s homes after school. But Susan felt guilty about that because she didn’t want to take Brooke’s time away from her family after school. Susan did admit to the researcher on several occasions that,
“I wish the school district would have provided Brooke with some type of stipend or some type of financial compensation for your work. Had that been the case I would have felt much more comfortable about asking for help. Especially if I was asking Brooke to take time outside of the school day. But the school district didn’t have the funding and Brooke just added another thing to do to her already busy day. I know that Brooke didn’t necessarily feel that way, but I did.”
As the year came to a conclusion, both Susan and Brooke felt frustrated with their efforts to “connect” with one another. Both felt that they had done their best, but rarely did it feel like they were making the connections that needed to be made. Although they did describe their relationship as “positive”, they didn’t see it as “very mentor-like.” In the end, both were disappointed by their lack of time to collaborate and the district’s lack of foresight in providing them with opportunities to meet and to observe one another. Brooke and Susan both agreed that,
“We did the best under the circumstances, but felt that the support that other mentoring teams was experiencing, was not as prevalent as it could have been had they had the time and opportunity to meet with one another on a regular basis.”
Alex and Ron
Ron was assigned Alex as his mentor teacher for the school year. This was Alex’s first experience as a mentor, although he had informally mentored other new teachers over the years. Alex had been a teacher for twelve years in the school district and was considered by the administration to be a very effective teacher.
As a teacher new to the profession, Ron was looking forward to the challenge that the first year would bring as well as the help that Alex was going to provide. Both Alex and Ron seemed to hit if off well in the beginning. They met on a fairly regular basis during the first few months and the conversations they had revolved around topics such as what to do the first day of school, classroom management, grading procedures, expectations, maintaining balance in one’s life, and planning lessons. During the third month of the mentoring relationship, Ron began voicing his concern over his inability to develop lessons that were creative and effective for the children. The following comments are illustrative of the comments he made regarding the lack of time:
“I can’t believe all of the things that need to get done after a day
of teaching, grading papers and meeting with students, I just don’t have the time to plan like I should. It seems like I’m always jumping from one issue to the next.”
Alex made every effort to assist Ron by allowing him the opportunity to take anything
that he could use from his files and modify it in any way that he wanted. Unfortunately, this didn’t seem to help Ron as much as Alex thought it would.
“New teachers almost always seem to have the same problem during the first few years. The same thing happened to me. But it seems like Ron struggles more with the issue of time than other teachers that I have worked with and I’m not sure why. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about organization and preparing for lessons, but he just doesn’t seem to get it.
It seems that in Ron’s case, it is easier for him to use time as an excuse rather than using it as an opportunity for growth.”
After school one day Ron walked into Alexis room and asked for his help in developing a unit of instruction on the dinosaur. Alex sat down with Ron and asked him a number of questions regarding what it was that he wanted to accomplish with the children and with the lesson. After spending a good share of the afternoon with Ron, Alex went to his files and pulled the file on dinosaurs that he had been using and gave them to Ron to use. He told Ron to modify the lessons in any way that he wanted. Ron’s decision was to use them as is because it did not require a lot of additional work.
The following comment by Ron seems to speak to his unwillingness to find the time needed for lesson preparation and to take the path of least resistance.
“I am so fortunate to have Alex’s lessons to fall back on. I know that I should be spending the time on creating innovative lessons but the time is just not there. I don’t know how the other teachers do it.”
Over the next few weeks Ron continued to ask for help regarding the lessons that he was going to be teaching. The theme that continually emerged from those discussions was that “he never seemed to have enough time in his daily schedule to get everything done.” Alex continued to coach Ron about taking responsibility for his own work and the issue of time management, which seemed to be fleeting at best. At one point Alex told Ron that he was going to have to make some choices, because he was not going to continually hand over lessons that Ron was just going to mimic. Ron’s response was, “I don’t have the time.” Alex immediately responded with,
“You don’t have a choice; I’m not going to continually provide you with lessons because you don’t feel you have the time to prepare.
We’ve spent all kinds of time talking about what you need to do to organize your day and yet you still don’t do it. What’s it going to take to get you to plan your own lessons?”
Ron’s reply was, “I’ll try to be more responsible in organizing my time and managing my lessons.”
The discussion continued for a little while longer with Ron agreeing to take more responsibility for his lessons and manages his time a little better.
Over the next three weeks, Alex continued to check in on Ron to see how he was doing. Everything seemed to be going fine. Mid-way through the third week Alex was approached by one of the other teachers. She shared with Ron that Alex had been approaching various teachers in the school to request lesson plans for the lessons he was teaching because he hadn’t been able to find the time to develop his own lessons.
The next morning, before school began, Alex went to Ron’s room to ask him if he was continuing to rely on the other teachers for his lessons. His response was “yes”. Both Ron and Alex had a long conversation that afternoon after school was out. Although it was a repeat of previous conversations, it was different this time. Alex pointed out that, “What was happening to Ron was something similar to getting caught with your hand in a cookie jar when you were not supposed to be eating any cookies.”
As the school year came to a close, things seemed to get better for both Ron and Alex. Alex felt as though he had seen some progress, but knew that Ron would probably require more help than he could provide. Unfortunately, the school district did not have a mentoring program that extended beyond the first year and it didn’t include mentoring second year teachers during the first year mentoring experience.
Laura and Jennifer
Laura was an especially gifted teacher in working with students. This was also her first experience as a mentor. She was a bit nervous about the experience but looking forward to the opportunity. One of the comments that Laura made at the beginning of the school year seemed to sum up how she felt about the initial mentoring
“I have to admit that I’m a little nervous about being a mentor. I hope that I can provide the support and help that Jennifer needs. I worry though that I might not be able to provide her with everything she needs. But with that said, I still am looking forward to working with her this year.”
Jennifer had just completed her fifth year teacher education program and was looking forward to her new job. She had a lot of anxiety about the start of the new school year with so little time to prepare, but she felt that with the mentor that the school district had assigned her, she would overcome any fears that she might have.
Laura and Jennifer met for the first time at the in-service and spent most of the day together in meetings. The following day was spent in a mentoring in-service which provided them with several opportunities to talk about questions that Jennifer had as well as just chatting about their personal lives.
Over the next few months, both Laura and Jennifer began to develop what seemed like a healthy relationship. On a number of occasions they had the opportunity to discuss their perspective about a variety of issues, including classroom management, parent conferences, grading and working with some of the special needs students. At times they disagreed with one another about some of the issues, but nothing surfaced that negatively impacted their friendship.
When Laura began observing Jennifer in her classroom during the third month, something changed in the relationship. As Jennifer noted, “I was surprised that Laura became much more authoritative and direct in her reflections of my teaching, particularly when I made a mistake. That seemed so odd to me because this just seemed like it came out of nowhere.”
Laura didn’t really seem to be interested in Jennifer’s excuses or justification for what she was doing, she seemed more interested in results. It was not uncommon to hear Laura tell Jennifer, “Here is what you should do,” or “Here is what you need to do.” When Jennifer asked Laura about her method of mentoring, Laura replied that she felt Jennifer needed to know what to do so she wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. According to Jennifer,
“I felt like I had no independence to make decisions on my own anymore. Laura’s solutions always seemed to be my solutions. I felt very uneasy with the whole mentoring process. It was so opposite of what I was used to.”
As hard as Jennifer tried to work with Laura, it became more frustrating. Jennifer’s
self-confidence was being affected and she began to feel uncomfortable any time that
she was around Laura. After a couple of months had passed, Jennifer decided that she needed to talk with the principal, who was also the mentoring coordinator, regarding
the problem. After the meeting with the principal had concluded, Jennifer had this to say,
“The principal was very understanding of my situation, but was hesitant about intervening in this situation. He explained that he couldn’t really assign another mentor because they already had been assigned and the other teachers were in their second and third years of teaching and were not considered to be mentors because of their lack of experience.
The principal told me that I should just try to make the best of it and that he would support me as much as possible during the rest of the school year.”
Although the principal was very helpful in providing Jennifer with guidance and support, he was not always available and that had a negative impact on the quality of the mentoring process and Jennifer’s anxiety and self-confidence. As the school year and the mentoring experience came to a close, Laura had this to say about her experience as a mentor,
“I remember my first year of teaching, which didn’t include having a mentor as a guide, it felt like I was being thrown to the wolves on some occasions.
In Jennifer’s case I really felt that I needed to give her more direction because I didn’t want her to repeat a lot of the mistakes that I made. There may have been times when I should have let her make the decision, but it just seemed much easier to tell her how to do it.”
Jennifer on the other hand saw the new style of coaching by Laura a different way.
“I felt like I was in high school or student teaching when the teacher would tell me what I needed to do. It would have been much more helpful to have discussed what needed to be done or to talk about the different options that might have been available. It would have been nice to have worked through some of the problems that I encountered, and to make the decisions about what to do by myself. But for some reason, that was not possible.
I also have to say that I did appreciate what the principal was doing for me, but he just didn’t have the time and he wasn’t always available when I needed to talk with him. He also didn’t have the subject matter expertise that I needed so I had to rely on some of the other second and third year teachers to help me out. “
Data from the three case studies were categorized according to impact on mentor teachers and their protÈgÈs. Themes emerging from cross-case analysis of multiple data sources, including interviews of mentoring team members, survey data, observations of mentoring team members in their field setting as well as the researchers field notes contributed to the identification of four case themes that are shown below.
Four major themes emerged from the analysis of the case studies. The four themes include:
- Institutional barriers
- Issues of time
- Lack of emotional support; and.
- Poor interpersonal skills.
For the purposes of this study institutional barriers consist of all of those practices and procedures that exclude or discourage a mentor and new teacher from becoming successful in the mentoring experience. The following are examples of the types of institutional barriers that the three mentoring teams encountered. In case profile #3 Jennifer was encountering a problem in meeting with the principal. Although the principal had committed to helping mentor Jennifer, the constraints of his job only permitted him to meet with her at his convenience and that seemed to cause more problems in the end. Unfortunately, the principal did not feel that he could resolve the issue that existed between Laura and Jennifer, because of the “political impact”. The end result was that Jennifer felt as though she was in “limbo” and as a result her confidence was impacted as well as her perception of what an effective mentoring program looked like.
In case profile #1, Brook and Susan encountered a number of institutional barriers that negatively affected their mentoring relationship. While having Susan teach in the middle school and the high school was helpful to the school district, it did not serve to enhance the effectiveness of the mentoring process for Brook and Susan. Proximity made a big difference in how Brook and Susan interacted with one another. Unfortunately, the distance between buildings and schools created a distance in the relationship that was never overcome. In other words, having Susan at the same school all day long would have provided more opportunities to meet than the teaching schedule she was contracted to do.
It is also important to note that no mentor had been appointed for Susan at the high school, which was important for her, because it was an entirely different environment than the middle school. It was also the case that Brook was not being compensated by the school district for her services as a mentor and that further complicated Susan’s desire to ask for assistance beyond school hours. Although both Brook and Susan felt they had a good relationship, but they also felt that the school district and the mentoring program could have provided more support which would have enhanced the effectiveness and success of the mentoring process.
Although Alex and Ron’s dilemma was not as obvious as the first two case profiles, it could still potentially impact the effectiveness of the mentoring process. The institutional barrier that they encountered was that the school district did not make provisions for mentoring new teachers beyond the first-year. It seemed clear to Alex that Ron would need more help than was provided, but because of budgetary concerns that option did not exist.
Issues of Time
The impact of time was a significant issue for all three mentoring teams. Examples included using time and lack of organization as an excuse by Ron. His inability to take care of the most fundamental lesson plan “because I just don’t have the time” was seen as nothing more than an excuse by Alex. Alex even suggested that Ron was “just not able to juggle all of the pieces of the teaching puzzle and he just didn’t seem to be as serious as he should about taking on the responsibility himself to become more organized and a better time manager.”
As for Brooke and Susan, trying to find time in an already busy schedule was clearly posing problems for them. It was compounded further by the fact that Susan felt uncomfortable about asking Brooke for help outside of school because she wasn’t receiving in compensation for her work with Susan and Susan saw that as going “way above the call of duty” according to her. Having Susan in two different schools also complicated the issue of time. Brooke’s remark to a colleague further suggests her concern about trying to find time to meet during the school year. “When will we have time to meet in the afternoon when we are separated by distance and after school responsibilities”?
Laura and Jennifer really didn’t have a problem with time. The issue of time in their case had to do more with the lack of time that the principal was able to commit to in mentoring Jennifer. Although the principal was willing to make the commitment in order to serve the greater good, that is, helping Jennifer, his busy schedule didn’t permit him to meet with her on an as need basis. And as such, the timeliness of answering questions was compromised. For Jennifer, this further complicated her life and her frustration level, not only with the principal, but with the mentoring program as well. What was supposed to have been a supportive and nurturing environment turned out to be more a game of chance, that is, “when would I get my question answered?”
Lack of Emotional Support
Despite the best of intentions, Brooke was not able to provide the support that she felt she was capable of. Susan, on the other hand, felt that Brooke was doing all that she could do in mentoring her. The issue for both team members was that “the school district was not able to provide any release time, nor were their teaching schedules arranged in a way that would provide for time to meet and/or observe one another in the classroom”. The lack of emotional support was also created by their individual teaching schedules, and in particular, the fact that Susan taught at another school in the afternoon. Susan felt particularly lost in the high school, because she had no one that had been assigned to help her at that grade level.
After the first couple of months had passed, Alex and Ron reported that their relationship was becoming more adversarial than supportive and nurturing. Alex felt he was providing the necessary support to help Ron work through the time issue, but Ron was unwilling to commit to helping himself and was frustrating Alex. Alex also felt that he has not receiving the support from Ron that he felt he needed and that seemed to further complicate their relationship. Ron on the other hand knew that Alex was trying to help him, but he just could not seem to get past the fact that he was being asked to do something that was really uncomfortable for him. Although he knew Alex was trying to do the right thing for him, Ron sometimes saw this as “mothering” and directing him to do something he didn’t really want to do.
Although there were numerous positive experiences at the beginning of their mentoring
relationship, both Laura and Jennifer found that when the observation phase occurred,
the dynamics of the relationship changed significantly. Coaching turned into “telling me what to do” and “jumping in to handle teaching situations that I was getting paid to handle.” According to Jennifer, “it was discouraging because any initiative that I had was stifled by Laura’s ‘wait until I tell you what to do’ approach.”
Despite the gifts that a mentor and new teacher might bring to the mentoring relationship, there are no guarantees that conflicts will not occur. In both Alex and Ron’s case as well as Laura and Jennifer’s case the process of conflict resolutionwas not working in a way that was genuinely in the interest of both parties as well as the team relationship.Some of the problem solving issues that they ran into included:
(1) Letting the problem or problems define their relationship rather than trying to separate the problem from the individual. In other words, the energy of the conflict was negatively focused on the competing demands and in effect those demands were defining the relationship and helping to cause the problem;
(2) the coaching process for both teams was beginning to collapse in the latter part of their relationship. That is, at least one of the team members was not responding in a way that was helpful in solving the problem/s that existed despite the good or bad coaching that was taking place; and finally
(3) when effective communication is not a priority or is not seen as something that is collaborative then in most situations it will be seen as an adversary. That is especially true when people who are in a collaborative relationship are not given opportunities to make decisions for themselves or who are always criticized for their mistakes. For those participating in this study, when that did occur, they found is was, “discouraging and frustrating when they didn’t have the opportunity to make decisions for themselves.”
“It was also frustrating to know what should probably be done but not have the courage to do anything about it.”
For Brook and Susan the interpersonal skill that they saw as an important issue was the lack of communication. That lack of communication was really the fault of no one in particular as much as it was the lack of time and proximity to carry out that conversation. When communication was stifled, for whatever reason, then the impact for Brook and Susan was, “very frustrating because we knew that we had a lot to share with one another, but without the time, what are we supposed to do?”
This study has sought to illuminate the problems that three mentoring teams encountered on a regular basis. Their stories provide different views of how mentors and new teachers responded to the multiple challenges encountered on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the view that mentoring program coordinators and mentoring program planners have of what might be occurring within a mentoring relationship may differ drastically from the perspective one enjoys from the trenches. That is why it is so important to assess and document the effectiveness and success of the mentoring team relationship on an ongoing basis.
- First, the data suggests that by providing opportunities to reflect on and verbalize their practices, mentors and new teachers were better able to understand the types of problems encountered after being provided with opportunities to assess the dynamics of the relationship over the course of the school year. The potential value of this practice is that it provides school districts and university personnel with yet another lens through which to view the challenges encountered by mentoring teams and program coordinators.
- Second, as educators learn more about the problems that mentoring
teams encounter beyond those typically found in the literature they will be
in a better position to more fully explore the possibilities of how to more
effectively assist in the remediation of the problems. We must monitor the
progress of our efforts through well-designed research for the duel purpose
of informing practice and policy as well as discovering those questions that
have yet to be asked.
- Third, the researcher believes that the real value of this study rests upon documenting a more complete account of problems mentoring program coordinators and mentoring teams encounter as they attempt to work through the transitional process of the relationship. The following research agenda that is suggested examines how problem solving is carried out in the mentoring team relationship, the choices that mentors and new teachers make regarding their relationship, and how the problem solving process is utilized in training sessions and workshops.
- There should be a closer examination of the workshop new teachers
and mentors are required to attend and the impact those workshops are
have in helping to resolve problems that mentoring teams encounter on
a regular basis.
- There is a need for more clarity in understanding the degree of emotional support needed by new teachers and what should that support look like. This has specific implications for training and the selection and matching process for mentors and protÈgÈs.
- Research is also needed in highlighting the choices mentors and new
teachers make as it relates to building a mentoring relationship.
Providing opportunities to dialogue may help clarify what is at stake,
but raising these issues may also lead to dysfunctional stalemates and
may deepen differences rather than prompting more thoughtful discussion. That is why a more thoughtful analysis is so important.
- It is also important to address the issue of how change and transitional
shock negatively impact that mentoring relationship.
- There should be a closer examination of the workshop new teachers
- Finally, the data show that school district personnel and education faculty
need to share the results of their investigations to build on the limited research
base that currently exists in the professional literature. In this way, they will
be in a better position to more fully capture the benefits of effective mentoring
for their teachers and their students.
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The author, Gary M. Kilburg can be reached at, George Fox University, 414 N. Meridian Street, Newberg, Oregon 97132, or on email at firstname.lastname@example.org