Problems of First-Year K-12 Mentor Programs

“A Study of K-12 Mentoring Programs and the Problems That They Encountered During Their First-Year”

A research report by Dr. Gary M. Kilburg, Director of the Mentoring Institute at George Fox University, Portland, Oregon, USA

Editor’s Note – Most mentoring research is done for a short period of time – 9 months to a year is typical. As helpful as these short “windows” into mentoring are, mentoring relationships can be much longer in duration, especially if they are to have a significant effect on the proteges. That means we need longer research studies to truly capture the evidence about which we really care (long – term effects).

The study reported on below is the first of three by Dr. Kilburg, and this one covers a two year time period. Yes, the title is focused on the ‘first year’ of new programs, but with new programs added after the first, there are two first year experiences to examine.

The other two studies are done of the same program, although sites change as different program revisions occur and as different organizations join the effort. All this makes the sequence of three studies across six years especially unique and very valuable in it’s focus and the insights which are derived from them.

Thanks Gary, for your wonderful contribution!


This article examines the types of reoccurring problems that can inhibit K-12 mentoring team relationships and intervention strategies to remedy those problems. The study examines 149 mentoring teams in four school districts over a two-year period. Data collection was coordinated by the principal researcher who was also the trainer for the four school districtís mentoring programs. Each year of the study, the survey and interview process were repeated. From the analysis of data the researchers identified a common set of reoccurring problems during both years. Intervention strategies were then identified, introduced and assessed. Results indicate the need for continuous assessment of mentoring programs and mentoring team relationships, financial commitment from the school district, a rigorous mentor selection process, and providing in-service and workshop opportunities for problem solving.

A Study of K-12 MentoringPrograms and the Problems that they Encountered during their First-Year

Successful mentoring benefits all stakeholders. For school administrators, mentoring aids recruitment and retention; for higher education institutions, it helps to ensure a smooth transition from campus to classroom; for teacher associations, it represents a new way to service members and guarantee instructional quality; for teachers, it can represent the difference between success and failure; and for parents and students, it means better teaching (National Foundation for the Improvement of Education, 2000, p. 4).

Example: Samantha and Eloise
Samantha had worked as a fourth and fifth grade teacher in the same school district for nine years. She had an excellent reputation as a teacher and was excited about the opportunity to become a mentor in the districtís new mentoring program. After talking with some of her colleagues and the principal about the new role and responsibilities, she applied for the position as mentor. When the screening process was complete, Samantha was informed that she had been accepted as a mentor for Eloise a beginning first grade teacher in another elementary school within the district.

Eloise and Samantha met for the first time the day before in-service. They took the opportunity to talk ahead of time knowing that in-service day was already filled with meetings. They spent time discussing the students, the culture of the school, the administration and school board, classroom management issues, and a variety of other topics that were on Eloiseís mind. That first day seemed quite promising.

Over the next month Samantha and Eloise found it difficult to find a time to meet. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that Eloise was in an elementary school that was about a mile away from Samanthaís school. Complicating the matter even further was the amount of normal preparation that was required of both teachers just to begin the school year, as well as taking on their new roles and responsibilities as mentor and mentee. This was a time when Eloise needed information and direction from Samantha, but it was not occurring on a regular basis because of distance, lack of time, and both womenís daily duties. Although email was a resource for communicating, the server was not always available, which further compounded the issue of distance and time. Both Eloise and Samantha would have liked release time for observations. Unfortunately, that was not possible. The district had only a small grant that paid for a few mentoring activities, and release time was not included as a part of the mentoring program. What had initially seemed promising was not being given a chance to develop and succeed.

At the close of the school year, Samantha and Eloise reflected on their experience. They characterized their relationship as supportive, even with the limitations that existed. Samantha was not pleased with her lack of being able to support Eloise, although Eloise did not blame her for that. Both were disappointed and frustrated because they had not been able to meet on a regular basis. They also felt that it was not helpful for the school district to have placed a first grade teacher with a mentor who had no experience teaching at that grade level. In the end, the two teachers were supportive of the mentoring program, but recommended some revisions that would be helpful to future mentoring teams.

The story of Samantha and Eloise is illustrative of the experience that results in many new teachers and their mentors becoming discouraged by the results of mentoring falling short of what was anticipated. Regardless of the benefits that formal mentoring programs might provide, it is unfortunate that those programs often fall prey to a variety of problems that can inhibit the effectiveness and success of the mentoring relationship.

The researcher recognizes that a majority of mentoring relationships are effective and successful. This was the case in the school districts that this study reports on. The concern is that regardless of all that a school or school district might do in preparing their new teachers and mentors to have a successful mentoring experience, mentoring practices may still fall short of the ideal. Addressing such failures is the subject of this research study.

Research Questions
The research questions that are addressed in this study include:

  • What types of problems do mentoring teams encounter in the mentoring relationship?
  • What types of problems reoccur on a regular basis for mentoring team members?
  • What impact do intervention procedures have upon mentoring team members that are encountering problems on a regular basis?

Literature Review
For many new teachers, the transition from their student teaching experience to their first teaching assignment can be traumatic. The same can be true for mentors as well. Part of the transition for the new teacher and mentor is dealing with the responsibilities of a new job (mentoring) along with the other responsibilities they have. Trying to acculturate and integrate over time all of the changes, the complexities and the realities of teaching and mentoring, along with dealing with the problems that are typically encountered in this new environment can be an overwhelming experience for some (Corley, 1998;Veeman, 1984).

Although there is no single mentoring program design that meets the needs of every school district in every situation, there is, however, a broad consensus regarding the factors that can negatively impact the mentoring program and mentoring team relationships. The following is a discussion of some of those factors.

Matching and Selection


There are clear indications in the literature that both mentor and new teacher can fall prey to ineffective matching practices (Block and Grady, 1998; DePaul 2000; Huling-Austin,1992; and Kilburg, 2002; Newton et al. 1994). When school districts limit the number of matching factors, the result may be a negative impact not only on the mentoring relationship, but the mentoring process as well. Those matching factors include:

  • work in the same building   (Brock & Grady, 1998; Huling-Austin, 1992);
  • similar interests and philosophy   (DePaul, 2000);
  • willingness to work with the new teacher   (Kilburg 2002; Rowley, 1999);
  • strong interpersonal skills   (Kilburg, 2002);
  • same grade level and subject   (Block & Grady, 1998; Huling-Austin, 1992);
  • amount of experience   (Ganser, 1995); and,
  • expertise in a variety of areas   (Kilburg, 2002).

Lack of time is yet another factor that can negatively impact the quality of the mentoring relationship and can determine, in some cases, whether or not the relationship will be a success or failure. The National Foundation for the Improvement of Education and the National Center for Educational Statistics indicate ìthat the efficacy of mentoring is linked to the amount of time that a mentor and protÈgÈ work together.î (NFIE, p.5) In one study cited in the NFIE report, ì38 percent of protÈgÈs who worked with mentors a “few times a yearí reported substantial improvements to their instructional skills. That figure jumps to an impressive 88 percent for those who work with mentors at least once a week.” (p.5).

Other studies have shown that when mentors and protÈgÈs are provided with time to meet, the end result is usually a relationship that exhibits trust, respect and a genuine concern for one another (Arends, 1998; Klug & Salzman, 1991; Tauer, 2000). However, when that time is reduced because of building proximity, part-time versus full-time teaching status, busy schedules, and school districts not providing release, the relationship will very likely be impacted in a negative way.

Emotional Support
Emotional support is another factor that can impact the quality of the mentoring relationship. Newton et al. (1994) believes that one of the strongest needs that new teachers have is for emotional support. As new teachers are adjusting to a new career and continually put themselves on the line with parents, students, and administrators, they need to know that someone is willing to support them. Providing that support is important, because it helps the new teacher understand that they are valued and that someone is there to listen and care. When that emotional support is limited or is not being provided at all, the new teacher can be expected to feel insecure, frustrated and to have a lack of confidence (Hargreaves, 1998).

As with any relationship, communication is one of the most important aspects of an effective mentoring team. Just as good teachers adjust their teaching and communication to meet the needs of their students, mentors need to adjust the way they communicate and coach to meet the needs of the new teacher. According to Newton et al. (1994), mentors must be willing to communicate belief in the new teacher and be willing to providing them with direction, while at the same time allowing them to make decisions for themselves. Other researchers (Boreen, Johnson, Niday & Potts, 2000; Kinlaw, 1999) have argued that good communication and coaching help to strengthen collaboration and reflection-in- action, 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, then 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).
Change and Conflict
For many, the reality of their first teaching and mentoring assignments can be eye opening experiences. Managing a heavy workload and also taking on an additional role without altering the roles and responsibilities that are already in existence can complicate a teacherís life. Added to this, the complexities of working with parents and students and trying to adjust to a new environment, all of these factors can have a dramatic effect on how the mentoring process is carried out (Corley, 1998; Veeman, 1984). Change can seriously complicate lives.

Thus, a small problem or difference of opinion can escalate because of the anxiety and frustration one of the mentoring team members feels in his/her increasingly complex and changing life.

This Research Study
Finding ways to effectively support and retain new teachers is a concern for many schools and school districts. When mentoring programs function in a way that nurture and support the new teacher and mentor, the programs are usually effective and successful. Unfortunately, mentoring can become complicated even under the best circumstances; and what has seemed to have potential for both mentor and new teacher, may, in fact, be a recipe for disaster (Huling-Austin, 1990a; Villani, 2002) resulting in collateral damage.

In this study, the researcher wanted to determine if the mentoring programs were encountering any problems and if those problems were consistent with the literature. It was also important to determine what challenges were being encountered on a regular basis and the intervention strategies that would be used to medicate the challenges. The goal has been to make the mentoring team relationships as free as possible from problems that could negatively impact the mentoring relationship.

And finally, by gathering data along these lines, the literature base would be clarified and extended so that mentoring practices could have more widespread success.

This was a qualitative study investigating the interactions and relationships between mentors and new teachers in four school districts with mentoring programs. Multiple data collection techniques were used

  • Gathering data from fieldwork, that is, spending time in the setting where participants normally spend their time (Yin, 1994,1998);
  • Providing first hand accounts that contribute to the depth of the study (Yin, 1994,1998); and Using survey and interview data to establish a chain of evidence (Gay & Airasian, 2000; Yin, 1994, 1998).

Data were collected over a two-year period from 149 mentoring teams in four school districts. During the first year of the study, there were mentoring teams in two school districts that were participating in mentoring programs. One school district was from a large metropolitan area and the second school district was from a small rural community.

During the second year of the study, data were collected from 105 mentoring teams that were being trained in four school districts, two from a large metropolitan area and two from small rural communities. Two of the four school districts had participated in the study during the first year. The school districts ranged in size from over 1,000 teachers with over 17,000 students to 45 teachers with 720 students. There were a total of 257 mentoring teams in all four school districts.

Data Collection
The data collection was coordinated by the principal researcher who designed the school districts mentoring programs and was also the trainer for the four school district programs. Each year of the study, the survey and interview processes were repeated–each district had new teachers entering the mentoring process each year. During both iterations of the study four stages were used to collect data. The data reduction for the second year occurred one year after the first. Thus, there was no conscious attempt by the researcher to replicate the commonly occurring problems.

(1) The first stage was to ask the participants to assess the mentoring program at the beginning of each of four workshops for the mentors and new teachers: in October, February, April, and June. Surveys given to each participant included open-ended questions regarding problems that mentoring teams were encountering on a regular basis. During the last half of each workshop participants discussed their comments on the survey and the researcher recorded responses. The same survey and discussion protocol were used the second year of the study with new mentors and new teachers. The assessment process was part of an ongoing evaluation of the mentoring program and mentoring team relationship. There was no intent by the researcher to prompt the participants to answer in any specific way

(2) In step two, common problems were identified in the surveys by the researchers. Surveys were read one at a time and problems were recorded. Another trainer was consulted regarding the problems identified. The discussions regarding the surveys were analyzed by reflecting on the survey data, reducing the data to a manageable form, which then allowed the researchers to compile a list of categories which identified problems the mentoring teams were encountering.

(3) The third step was for identifying reoccurring problems that mentoring teams were encountering from the list of problems identified in step two. Mentoring team members that had identified reoccurring problems in the surveys were interviewed in small groups and individual settings over the school year. The objective was to collect data through in depth interviews that would provide a clear picture of the negative impact of those reoccurring problems on the mentoring team relationship. The interviewer took field notes that provided more detail to the survey data and then transcribed them immediately following each session. Typically, the interviews were conducted as a part of the four workshops that mentoring team members participated in during the school year. The time given for each group interview was typically 30 minutes on the average. On the average, between 10 and 14 mentoring team members were interviewed in an individual setting in one of the school district buildings. Those individual interviews averaged 50 minutes in length. The interviews were conducted to discuss the problems mentoring teams were encountering on a regular basis and to help the researcher form a clearer picture of the collateral damage that was occurring for both mentoring team members. From the data gathered in the first three stages, the researcher applied a standard of selection to determine which reoccurring problems would be addressed through the implementation of intervention procedures. The standard of selection included the following: the problem had to occur on a regular basis for at least four months and for at least 50% of mentoring
teams that had reoccurring problems.

(4) In stage four, strategies were selected after the researcher and trainer met with the mentoring coordinator in the school district’s main office. The responsibility of the researcher was to provide data regarding the reoccurring problem/s and then assist the mentoring coordinator in deciding on an intervention strategy to implement. After the intervention strategy had been implemented, the mentoring team members met with the mentoring coordinator and/or the trainer in both individual and large group settings for the purpose of determining the effectiveness of the intervention procedures.

In responding to the first two research questions on the types of problems mentoring teams encountered and the types of problems that mentoring teams encountered on regular basis, the data indicated the following.

The first year of the study the average return rate for all four surveys was 94%. Of the 44 mentoring teams, 75% (33) said that they had no problems and were satisfied that the mentoring experience had been very helpful. The remaining 11 of the 44 mentoring teams identified a variety of problems in their mentoring relationships.

Common Problems

  • Not at the same grade level
  • Time not available for meeting or observing
  • Personality conflicts
  • Not in the same specialty
  • Poor coaching by the mentor (authoritarian approach)
  • Not at the same school
  • Not in the same subject
  • Difficulty in working with one another
  • Mentor was only a second year teacher
  • New teacher not willing to take advice
  • Poor problem-solving skills
  • Poor match between new teacher and mentor (mentors and new teachers identified this as including a combination of problems identified)
  • Lack of emotional support

Reoccurring Problems

  • Time not available for meeting or observing
  • Not in the same school
  • Not in the same subject
  • Not in the same specialty
  • Not at the same grade level
  • Poor match between new teacher and mentor. This typically included one or more
    problems identified from the list of common problems in year one of this study.
  • Poor communication and coaching skills
  • Lack of emotional support

An interesting finding was that mentoring teams that had a problem on a recurring
basis also had several other problems on a regular basis. This indicated that one
problem manifested another. Time was typically the common factor in all reoccurring


The average return rate for all four surveys in the second year of the study was
96%. Seventy-eight of the 105 teams surveyed were from two new school districts that
had not been a part of the first year of the study. Of those 78, 17 teams indicated
that they were having occasional problems in their mentoring relationships. From
the two districts that had participated in the first year of the study, seven of
the 27 new mentoring teams indicated problems.

Common Problems

The following are the problems identified by the mentoring teams from the four school

  • Time for working together was lacking
  • Over dependency on mentor
  • Not in the same building
  • Not in the same subject
  • Not at the same grade level
  • Not in the same specialty
  • Unwilling to collaborate
  • Personality conflicts
  • Mentor was volunteered by principal
  • New teacher not willing to take advice
  • Lack of confidence on the part of the mentor
  • Mentor was too authoritarian
  • Poor communication and coaching
  • Poor match between mentor and new teacher
  • Lack of emotional support

Reoccurring Problems
Of the 17 mentoring teams interviewed, ten said they were encountering problems on a regular basis. The two school districts that participated in the first and second year of the study found that three of the seven mentoring teams were also encountering problems on a regular basis.

The following problems were identified as occurring on a regular basis:

  • 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 at the same grade level
  • Poor match between mentor and new teacher. This typically included one or more problems identified from the list of common problems in year two of this study.
  • Poor communication and coaching skills
  • Lack of emotional support
  • Personality conflict

It is noteworthy that the reoccurring problems were essentially the same the first and second year of the study. As we have considered whether or not this finding of consistency could be an artifact of our scoring we could not identify a confounding or biasing factor.

Effectiveness of the Intervention
Procedures from a Trainer and Mentoring Coordinator Perspective

Lack of time
The lack of time was by far the most difficult issue to deal with for the majority of mentoring teams. In almost every case, budget constraints prevented release time necessary for mentors and new teachers to observe one another.

To address this problem of lack of time, the trainers asked the principals and mentoring coordinators to take a more proactive role in assisting, mentors and new teachers by providing them with observation time. That was done on a volunteer basis. That is, when mentoring team members wanted to observe one another, they requested release time for one of the team members, and the administrator or mentoring coordinator would then volunteer, if available, to substitute for one of the team members. This process was very helpful to mentoring team members. However, not all administrators had time that they could commit to substituting. That was especially true in buildings where there were two or more mentoring teams.

Having time to meet was especially difficult when each team member was in a different
building. The intervention strategies employed in these cases involved the use of email on a daily or weekly basis and the use of the telephone and meeting off campus on the weekend or in the evening, when possible. This option provided some relief, but it was not the same as meeting face-to-face in the classrooms. There were at least two mentoring teams that would meet outside of school hours at their homes or at a local coffee shop on Saturdays or in the evenings.

Not in the same building, grade level or specialty
Not being matched according to building, grade level, or specialty area was another
reoccurring array of problems that was reported to have hindered the mentoring relationship. In these cases, it was decided that the principal and mentoring coordinator would coordinate their efforts in rectifying each situation according to its unique need.

In several cases the interventions seemed to rectify the concerns. New teachers not in the same school as their mentor were provided with an additional mentor in their building. The purpose was to provide an additional resource guide within the school, along with the primary mentor. The role and responsibility of that new mentor was to assist the new teacher in adjusting to the culture of the school, providing information regarding the politics, policies and procedures of the school, as well as acting as a resource guide at grade level and in the subject area. Being a resource guide did not necessarily mean that the new mentor was at the same grade level or teaching the same subject. However, many times it meant that they simply referred them to another teacher within the building. None of the new mentors received any financial compensation for their work.

At least three new teachers whose mentors were not in their buildings had already sought out other informal mentors within the first few weeks of their teaching experiences and had somewhat resolved their own dilemmas.

Probably the most difficult area to fill was the specialty area. Because of budget constraints, a number of specialist positions had been eliminated in previous years. When a new specialist was hired, he or she had no resources person to work with in his or her area of expertise in many cases. Typically, the method for resolving this problem was to place the new specialist with a veteran specialist not necessarily in the same area. This intervention strategy was not very successful in providing the needed guidance and support for the specialist and left a few of the new specialists frustrated.

It is also important to note that part of the frustration for many of the new specialists, as well as for the veteran specialists, was the reduction of specialists in the school districts due to budget constraints and the impact that had when specialists’ caseloads of students increased significantly. Because time was such an important factor in the daily routine, it became even more important with the larger student population they had to serve. When specialists added their mentoring responsibilities to the list of the students they were serving, the responsibilities at times seemed to be overwhelming.

Poor match between the mentor and the new teacher
Typically, a poor match indicated several elements: a personality conflict, a philosophical
difference, a lack of emotional support, or the mentoring team members were not at the same grade level. Several of these problems are addressed separately below, but several general comments are in order here.

When a poor match was identified, several intervention strategies were introduced:
1. The mentoring coordinator taking a more proactive approach in mediating the area of concern between mentor and new teacher;

2. The trainer spending more time problem solving in workshops during the school year and spending more time at the beginning of the school year working with mentors on increasing their interpersonal skill levels;

3. Evaluating the matching and mentor selection process so that the school district could determine how the process might be improved and become more rigorous in maintaining
quality assurance.

The attention paid to problem solving in workshops during the school year seemed to provide an emotional support base for both new teachers and mentors. At least half of every workshop presented included problem solving time, which both mentors and new teachers seemed to appreciate.

After the intervention strategies were implemented, several of the mentoring teams reported improvement in their relationships. In these cases, the mentoring coordinators
had played an important role in their problem-solving processes. However, in other cases the mentoring coordinator was not always informed of problems that were occurring on a regular basis.

The implementation of a more rigorous mentor selection and matching process was not as successful. The main reason was that the school districts did not feel, at least in the selection process, that they could require the mentors to meet all of the factors that were identified in the literature review. The main reason was that mentors were not offered any compensation for their work and therefore should not have to take on more responsibility in terms of completing applications and going through an interview process.

However, there were several matches between mentor and new teacher that would not work, despite the best efforts of the mentor, new teacher, and the mentoring coordinator. In one case a mentoring coordinator replaced a mentor because of the negative impact he having on the new teacher.

Poor Communication and Coaching Skills
Despite the communication and coaching training that all mentors received in the initial in-service and subsequent workshops during the school year, certain teams still encountered problems. For example, a few mentors felt that it was their responsibility to tell the new teachers how to do their jobs. In these cases, the mentors essentially did most of the problem solving for the new teachers without asking for their input and made decisions for the new teachers that the new teachers could have made for themselves. In those cases, coaching was, in reality, directing.

One of the intervention procedures utilized in the workshops was the use of problem solving time, giving an opportunity for participants to dialogue about an issue or issues that they were confronted with and to discuss possible solutions to managing the problem/s. This seemed to be very helpful to both mentor and new teacher. A great deal of attention was given to addressing the value of coaching versus directing, and to applying those skills in working with the new teacher. Unfortunately, in at least three cases, mentors did not want to adjust their way of communicating with the new teacher. They felt that an authoritarian approach was the best way to help a new teacher. The new teacher felt undervalued and frustrated with the mentors’ approach to providing support, and in one case the mentor was removed because of the problems he was causing.

Building administrators and mentoring coordinators also began to take more time to work with new teachers and mentors in helping them to develop more effective ways of communicating with one another. In some cases it may have been one-on-one and in other cases it may have been working with both team members. In most of the cases this was a successful process. However, there were a few administrators that resisted this intervention because they were concerned they would compromise the mentoring process between mentor and new teacher by becoming involved in helping one or the other. Although they were assured that their support and nurturing were essential, they still felt as though they would be interfering in the mentoring relationship.

In another situation, a mentor was not using the time that he had with the new teacher in an effective manner. When they would meet, the conversation usually involved “bashing” the school board and the administration. The new teacher found that seeking advice from his mentor was basically a waste of time. After meeting with the administrator and mentoring coordinator, it was decided that the mentor would be removed from his position, and another veteran teacher volunteered to take his place as a mentor for the new teacher.

Need for Emotional Support
Several new teachers felt they were not being given emotional support from their mentors. Part of the problem stemmed from the mentorsí lack of interpersonal relationship skills, including poor communication and coaching skills, directly impacting their ability to provide the support the new teachers needed.

Workshops presented during the school year for both mentoring team members began
routinely providing more problem-solving time for them. New teachers and mentors were encouraged to be forthright about issues they were encountering and to seek assistance if they were not able to resolve the support issue in a timely fashion.

Additional assessments were also used to help mentoring coordinators identify and better understand issues that might be impacting mentoring team relationships. The assessments were also used to gather data on the impact of the intervention procedures that were used.

In at least two cases, the mentor thought that they were being too supportive, but found through a discussion with the new teacher that the reverse was true. In one case the new teacher found that they were too intimidated by the mentor to confront them about the lack of emotional support, so the mentoring coordinator intervened on behalf of the new teacher. The problem was resolved.

It was also the case that new teachers who were not in the same building or at the same grade level or in the same specialty as their mentors felt not only a physical (distance) detachment, but also an emotional detachment from their mentors. When the new teachers were provided with an additional mentor, the problem was resolved. The unfortunate result of having a new mentor was that the original mentor spent less time with the new teacher.

It was also determined that more emphasis needed to be placed on educating the mentor and new teacher about the process of change. Critical to that change process is understanding transitional shock and the problems that it may cause within the mentoring relationship. This issue was seen as extremely important to the personal growth of each team member as well as to the development of the mentoring relationship.

Personality Conflict
Most of the personality conflicts that occurred in this study were really conflicts that dealt with poor communication, poor coaching, lack of emotional support, and/or the lack of time spent meeting or observing one another. There were a few occasions in which both team members disagreed with one another philosophically. In those cases the issues were identified as “not seeing eye to eye about classroom management”, “disagreement on teaching technique,” and “lack of planning.”

Normally, these conflicts were really an iteration of the previously identified problems.  The intervention strategy that was normally used was to have the mentoring coordinator or administrator meet with the participants. In most circumstances, one member of the mentoring team would complain to the coordinator about an issue. The mentoring  coordinator would then meet with the other team member and finally all three would meet together to resolve the differences. There were at least two occasions in which the coordinator met with each team member separately to clarify the problem. At the conclusion of the meeting the team member that had met with the coordinator, sought out the other team member and eventually resolved the conflict. For the most part, almost all of the personality conflicts that the researchers knew about were resolved through the intervention process described.

As a result of the data collection and analysis, the following conclusions have been drawn that provide direction not only for the four school districts that participated in this study, but also for other school districts that have mentoring programs as well as for school districts that may be interested in developing mentoring programs.


The data indicates that the single most important factor that caused repeated problems for mentoring teams was the lack of time. 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 & 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 & Salzman, 1999; Tauer, 1998). If financial concerns are an issue, the 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 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.

Not in the Same School, Grade and Subject
When possible, mentors and new teachers need to be placed in the same building, the same specialty, at the same grade level and in the same subject. When that is not possible, then creativity needs to become part of the matching process. If, for example a mentor is not in the same building, but is the only one available for the new teacher, the district needs to seek out another veteran teacher that is willing to become a mentor in that school for the new teacher. It may also be the case that the new teacher is asked to seek out another teacher in the same building, to mentor him or her regarding the culture and politics of that particular school (Brock & Grady, 1998; Ganser, 1995; Huling-Austin, 1992; Kilburg, 2002).

The goal is to provide the necessary resources to assist new teachers in becoming more informed about the students and subject(s) they will be teaching, the schools they will be working in, and their own practices. In the final analysis, the support provided by the school district through the mentoring program should help the new teacher become more successful and effective in his or her teaching and professional development.

Selecting and Matching
It is important that school districts develop a rigorous standard of selection for mentors. That is, more should be required than the veteran teacher volunteering for the position. The standard of selection should not only address the factors identified in the review of literature, but should also include the mentorís willingness to work with a new teacher, his effectiveness as a peer coach, patience in working with other adults, the ability to understand and work with change, and the effective use of interpersonal relationship skills (Brock & Grady, 1998; DePaul, 1998, 2000; Ganser, 1995; Huling-Austin, 1992)

Poor Communication and Coaching

It is important to recognize that not all veteran teachers who want to become mentors are effective communicators. Planning committees and mentoring program coordinators
should be alert to the practices of those teachers who want to become mentors.  Communication is such a critical feature in the mentoring process that it requires a mentor to have good listening skills and coaching skill. When a mentor is not skilled in those areas, the result may be that the mentor directs, commands, takes away authority, reduces or eliminates input from the new teacher or simply shuts down and makes a choice not to collaborate with the new teacher (Boreen, Johnson, Niday & Potts, 2000; Brewster & Railsback, 2001; Kinlaw, 1999; Weeks, 1992). When this happens, the mentoring process may become nothing more than an act of intimidation and an example of what mentoring is not about.

Emotional Support
In the beginning stages of the mentoring relationship, it is extremely important to provide emotional support for the new teacher; to nurture and value the individual.

Research conducted with the four school districts in 2002 by the senior researcher indicated that 87% of the new teachers believed that having a strong support mechanism was very important, especially as it relates to their emotional well being (Kilburg, 2002). One of the main reasons that a majority of the mentoring relationships was effective and successful in this study was because of 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 or out of the classroom.

Personality Conflict
Despite the gifts that a mentor and new teacher may bring to the mentoring relationship, there is no guarantee that personality conflicts will not occur. Again, that is why the selection and matching process is so critical. Even when those conflicts occur, it is important that there is a process in place to help team members deal with the issue they are facing, if it is appropriate. When conflicts occur that require more resources than mentoring team participants have at their disposal, the mentoring coordinator needs to have in place a process that provides those services that not only encourage resolution, but also encourages growth in the mentoring team participants (Weeks, 1992).

Although the problem of change was not necessarily seen as a major issue by mentoring
team participants in this study, the researchers saw change as a potential impediment to the mentoring process, and in several cases, to the mentoring relationship. Mentoring
programs need to prepare their mentors and new teachers for the changes and transitions
that might be encountered, not only at the professional level, but at the personal level as well. For some of the mentoring teams in this study, it seemed that change was the destabilizing force that caused frustration and anxiety. Mentoring planning committees and mentoring coordinators need to recognize that although change is planned for, it is not always anticipated, nor appreciated. As Fullan reminds us, “Change is everywhere, progress is not” (Fullan, 1991, pg. 345). The knowledge 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 and provide a more realistic expectation of potential problems.

The following are some recommendations for school districts, planning committees, and mentoring program coordinators as they plan and implement mentoring programs:

  1. Ensure that financial resources are in place for the mentoring program.
  2. Seek mentors who are heart leaders, that is, those leaders that others would seek counsel from, whether formal or informal.
  3. Develop a rigorous mentor selection process.
  4. Ensure that mentors possess those characteristics that have been identified favorably in the review of the literature.
  5. Be careful in matching mentor to protÈgÈ, keeping in mind that proximity is critical to the time that mentoring team participants will have in meeting with one another.
  6. Provide opportunities for mentors and new teachers to attend workshops,
    beginning of the year in-service training, and conferences.
  7. Provide a peer coaching program for mentors, where mentors are provided with opportunities to practice in workshops or in in-service settings.
  8. Train both mentors and protÈgÈs to see the factors that influence change for adult learners, and to understand the transitional shock that some mentoring team members may experience during the beginning stages of the mentoring process.
  9. Pay close attention to the issue of time that both the new teacher and mentor have in developing their relationship.
  10. Design and develop a process that assesses the mentoring program and mentoring team relationship on a routine basis.

This study is a call to school districts, planning committees, and mentoring program coordinators to continually be aware of the needs of mentoring team participants and to regularly assess the mentoring team relationships. It is also a call to school districts to provide the necessary resources, including adequate funding, for the purpose of preserving the integrity of the mentoring program and quality of the mentoring relationships. This will positively impact the entire educational endeavor, which is what we are all about.


Arends, R.I. (1998). Teacher induction: Research and examples of contemporary practice. A paper prepared for the Suncoast Academy for Teacher Induction. Pinella County Schools, Largo, Florida.

Boreen, Jean; Johnson, Mary K.; Niday, Donna; & Potts, Joe. (2000). Mentoring
beginning teachers. Portland, MA: Stenhouse Publishers.

Brewster, C. & Railsback, J. (2001). Supporting beginning teachers: How administrators,
teachers, and policy makers can help new teachers succeed. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

Brock, B.L., & Grady, M.L. (1998). Beginning teacher induction programs: The role of the principal. Clearing House, 71(3), 179-183.

Corley, Edward L. (1998). First-year teachers, strangers in strange lands. A paper
presented at the 1998 Annual Meeting of The Midwestern Educational Research Association. Chicago, IL. October 15, 1998.

DePaul, A. (2000). Survival guide for new teachers: How new teachers can work effectively with veteran teachers, parents, principals, and teacher educators. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education Web. Retrieved October 2001, from HYPERLINK “”

DePaul, A. (1998). What to expect your first year of teaching. Washington, D.C.:
U.S. Department of Education Web. Retrieved March 26, 2001 from HYPERLINK “ Year/” Year/

Fullan, M. & Stiegelbauer, S. (1991). The new meaning of educational change (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Ganser, T. (1995). A road map for designing quality mentoring programs for beginning
teachers. A paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Wisconsin Association for Middle Level Education. Steven Point, WI. April 29, 1995.

Ganser, T.; Bainer, Deborah L.; Bendixen-Noe, Mary; Brock, Barbara L.; Stinson, Anne
DíAntonio; Giebelhaus, Carmen; Runyon, Charles Kent. (1998). Critical issues in mentoring and mentoring programs for beginning teachers. A paper presented at the 1998 Annual Meeting of the Midwestern Educational Research Association. Chicago, IL. October 15, 1998.

Gay, L.R. & Airasian, P. (2000). Education research competencies for analysis and application. (6th ed.). Columbus: Prentice Hall.

Guyton, E., & McIntyre, D.J. (1990). Student teaching and school experience. In W.R. Houston (Ed.), Handbook of research on teacher education (pp. 514-534). New York: Macmillan.

Huling-Austin, L. Mentoring is squishy business. In Theresa M. Bey and C. Thomas
Holmes (Eds.), Mentoring: Developing successful new teachers. Reston, VA: Association of Teacher Educators, 1990a.

Kilburg, Gary M. (2002). Issues in mentoring from the perspective of the center for
excellence in mentoring. A paper presented to the Oregon Association of Teacher Educators Conference 2002, Portland, Oregon.

Kinlaw, Dennis C. (1999). Coaching for commitment. (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey- Bass.

Klug, B.J. & Salzman, S.A. (1999). What tests tell us about new teachers. Educational
Leadership, 56(18).

National Foundation for the Improvement of Education (1999). Creating a teacher mentoring program. A paper presented at the National Foundation for the Improvement of Education Symposium. Los Angeles, CA.

Newton, Anne; Bergstrom, Ken; Brennan, Nancy; Dunne, Kathy; Gilbert, Carol: Ibarguen,
Nancy; Perez-Selles, Marla and Thomas, Elizabeth (1994). Mentoring: A resource and training guide for educators. Andover, MA: U.S. Office of Education.

Tauer, S. (1998). The mentor-protÈgÈ relationship and its impact on the experienced Teacher. Teaching and Teacher Education, 14(2), 205-218.

Veeman, S. (1984). Perceived problems of beginning teachers. Review of Educational Research, 54(2), 143-178.

Villani, S. (2002). Mentoring programs for new teachers: Models of induction and Support. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Weeks, Dudley (1992). The eight essential steps to conflict resolution. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.

Wilson, S. (1997). The use of ethnographic techniques in educational research. Review of Educational Research, 47, pp. 245-266.

Yin, R. K. (1998). The abridged version of case study research: Design and method.
In L. Bickman & D. J. Rog (Eds.), Handbook of applied social research methods (pp. 229-259). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Yin, R. K. (1994). Case study research: Design and methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

About the Author
Dr. Gary M. Kilburg
Director of the Mentoring Institute
Associate Professor of Education
George Fox University
414 N. Meridian
Newberg, OR 97132

To contact the author, email him at “Gary Kilburg” <>