10 SES 04 E JS, Professional Learning through Mentoring
Joint Paper Session NW 01 and NW 10
This conference paper is derived from a sizable empirical research study which explored mentor and mentee understandings of mentoring primary education student teachers within Scottish school placement contexts, and their perceptions of the use of formative assessment principles and practices to support professional learning within that process. Three sequential research questions were constructed:
- What are mentors’ and student teachers’ understandings of mentoring within a school placement context?
- What are mentors’ and student teachers’ understandings and perceptions of the use of formative assessment in mentoring student teachers within a school placement context?
- To what extent does formative assessment support mentor and mentee professional learning?
This paper addresses the first research question in its exploration of understandings of mentoring in school placement settings within the context of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in Scotland and, in doing so, offers a contribution with regard to further understanding the complexities of the mentoring process. It follows on from a previous paper (Mackie, 2016) and as such research questions, methodology, theoretical framework and contextual literature are comparable. Scottish education policy is used to frame and exemplify points made alongside those from international literature to inform discussions and suggest recommendations for future mentoring policy and practices.
The significance of mentoring is a recurrent theme within the literature on initial teacher education. The current context of a ‘knowledge society’ and its focus on lifelong learning suggests that the processes of learning and teaching are important (Grabinger, Dunlap and Duffield, 1997). This means that teachers require more wide-ranging, complex knowledge, skill and competence bases (ibid.). This has implications for the quality of the future generation of teachers and the mentoring practices employed to foster such quality. Beginner teachers learn within the realms of relationships with others (Harrison, Lawson and Wortley, 2005) so having a mentor who is part of the teaching community is essential (Hargreaves and Fullan, 2000). Collaboration is recognised as a key concept in mentoring practices appropriate for learning to teach in a twenty first century context (Hargreaves 2000; EPPI 2008). It is central to mentoring as it addresses improvement in teaching and issues of social justice and equality through practices such as critical reflection, active trust, self-regulation, respect and reciprocity (Hargreaves, 2000). However, all learning environments are influenced by power relationships (Seddon, Billett and Clemans, 2004). In the context of mentoring, traditional hierarchies of power may inhibit collaborative, constructive dialogue (Graham, 1999) in that mentors are viewed as more experienced and may use this perception to direct dialogue, sanction particular actions and associated reasoning (Ritchie, Rigano and Lowry, 2000). Within this sort of traditional power duality, an oppositional dynamic of powerful and powerless is apparent (Seddon et al., 2004). In mentoring relationships this manifests as a perception of mentors as the ‘expert’ and of mentees as the ‘novice’ (Berliner, 2001).
A constructivist methodological approach was undertaken in the study. Constructivism has been defined variously (Larochelle, Bedwarz and Garrison 1998) but in educational contexts two conceptions are commonly deployed, namely cognitive constructivism, with its emphasis on the individual’s construction of knowledge, and social constructivism where knowledge is constructed through interaction with others (Phillips 2000). Constructivist research is exploratory and process-oriented to undertake in-depth investigations that foster understanding of the perspectives of ‘actors’ within their social and historical contexts (Littledyke and Huxford 1998; Jonassen 2006). These epistemological conceptions are appropriate for this study as it addresses the perceptions of mentors and mentees in interpreting the mentoring process. This process is subject to both individual and social constructs where participants develop knowledge and understanding both independently and collaboratively.
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