01 SES 11 A, Teacher Wellbeing and Professional Ethics
As Frank Herbert stated in the beginning of his epic novel Dune “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct” (Herbert, 1984, p. 1). The beginning of professional coaching requires the delicacy of first meetings, first glimpses of the other, first steps in a dyadic dance that shapes the all that will follow. Relationships begin with hopes, expectations, assumptions, suspicions, fears, pressures, and tensions for both participants. Mentoring relationships permeate teacher practice and professional development across the globe. This research explores the first steps that are crucial to any relationships and that may hold the seeds of eventual success or failure, specifically the first moments in a professional mentoring program for teachers. We explore the first moments in the relationships between mentor and mentee which encompasses hopes, expectations, excitements, pressures, reservations, and suspicions on both sides. Discussions of mentoring programs often gloss over the initial formative moments and most report on successful programs. For example, Foy and Keane (2017, p. 5) simply state that mentees were “introduced to their mentors and encouraged to mingle for one hour”. Ideally, relationship between mentor and mentee seek to improve “role understanding, successful role transition, and completion of goals and objectives” (Barrett, Mazerolle & Nottingham, 2017, p. 152).
This paper reports on one facet of a pilot personalised professional coaching program, developed and implemented to specification for a large, independent, co-educational school in suburban Melbourne. This program was conceived of as a coaching program that was short term, task oriented with finite goals and boundaries. Mentoring uses the same approaches, understandings and skills as mentoring but the difference is one of duration. Mentoring relationships are intended to last longer and are a “complex phenomenon that affects the personal and professional lives of both mentor and mentee” (Sambunjak, Straus, & Marusic, 2009, p. 77). Although of limited duration, this coaching program can be understood as mentoring and this term is used to discuss the experiences of the mentors and mentees. Mentors adopt a range of roles such as collaborator, coach, advocate, advisor, and learning facilitator (Fowler, 2017).
Successful mentoring relationships must include “shared values and personalities, a symbiotic mindset, motivation, and openness to the relationship” (Barrett, Mazerolle & Nottingham, 2017, p. 152). To achieve this, clear communications are required and mentees need to be ‘ready’ to be mentored which begins with an openness to the engagement, a “willingness to learn and change, and preparedness to operate outside of their comfort zone” (Fletcher & Mullen, 2012, p. 61). This willing position is often beyond the control of the mentors and if not present, the relationship is doomed before it begins. Using the metaphor of dance, Aguilar (2013) outlines the three steps endlessly repeated in the mentoring relationship – listen, respond, and engage in activity.
Over the course of 2017, 25 teacher participants from across the primary and secondary school worked one-on-one with one of seven university academic coaches, actively participating in four pre-brief/teach/reflect interactions. Each interaction was intended to gradually support teacher participants towards becoming action researchers. Of the initial cohort (selected by the school) 21 teacher participants completed the program. Teacher data sources included: an initial online application to participate; pre- and post- intervention online surveys; and four professional learning journal entries. Coach data sources included audio-recordings of regular coaching team meetings and professional learning journal entries. This phenomenological research began with the question, What were the processes of the first steps of the dance of engagement?
This constructivist study is underpinned by phenomenology and in which researchers recognise that ‘truth’ is relative and depends on the perspective of the individual (Patton, 2002; Baxter & Jack, 2008). Adopting this stance, researchers consider reality to be socially constructed and reliant on experiences, beliefs and understandings (Searle, 1995; Creswell, 2014). Phenomenologists seek to understand the first meanings and understandings of experienced phenomena, attempt to suspend researcher assumptions and biases and undertake data collection and analysis before the application of theoretical constructs (Mohammadi et al., 2014). By adopting epochè or ‘bracketing’ the researchers attempt to suspend their own experiences so that they do not influence their interpretation of the participant’s own experiences (Chan, Fung, & Chien, 2013). Data were garnered from two sources. The participants are twenty-three mentee respondents who wrote about their aspirations for the program in their applications for inclusion and three of the seven mentors who are co-authors of this paper. The mentees have been given pseudonyms and all identifying details have been removed. Each mentor had between two and four mentees. The mentors wrote about their recollections of the first moments of the coaching relationship in their reflective journals. The texts in the applications and the journal entries were read and re-read by the authors. Marginal notes recorded keywords and phrases. We discussed our initial codings, then combined emergent themes into related concepts and built integrated and explanatory representations of our understandings (Mawson, Berry, Murray & Hayward, 2011). The findings were written up under headings that emerged from our data. The data are reported thematically after thematic analysis. To give voice to the participants, their words are quoted verbatim. The statements by the mentees were comparatively short, those of the mentors were longer. Anecdotal stories involve the reader in deepening ways, first recruiting attention, then involving the reader on a personal level and engendering reflection, offering the possibility of transformation; all of which deepen interpretation and responsiveness (van Manen, 2016). This research process replicates the experience of the mentors and mentees who are the participants in this study. Bracketing assumptions in the research process echoes the bracketing required of mentors in the first stages of a coaching relationship. Thus the coaches explored the lived experiences of themselves and the participants, then the researchers (who were also the coaches) interpreted their shared understandings.
The first step taken by a mentor (or coach) is to listen which is a complex skill involving all the traits of a good mentor, particularly empathy, openness and a suspension of judgement. This overlooks what the mentor brings to the dance, rather ascribing to the mentor the role of tabula rasa, the blank slate with no prior imprint. Neither mentees not mentors entered the program as empty slates. The mentees selected by the school included teachers with varying degrees of experience. The participants fell into two groups; those who focused on their teaching and those who wanted to develop their leadership skills. Participants brought a range of attitudes to their first meeting – ranging from open and willing to sceptical bordering on hostile. Even before the process began, some relationships would be harder than others. The first steps of the dance were individualised and varied. Mentors were not always fully prepared for what they encountered. With hindsight, a more homogeneous group might have been more effective. The mentors were outwardly professional and friendly but for some this covered a degree of nervousness and uncertainty. Having several mentees meant that mentors had to ‘think on their feet’ in the first moments of each relationship and this dance varied from one individual to the next. In the first moments, mentors found mentees who asserted their expertise, announced their resistances, shared life experiences and one who just started to cry. Depending on the degree of openness and willingness, the dance took on different forms. Tentative steps became a synchronised pas de deux or an apache of confrontation. The first steps in the mentoring relationship shaped what was to follow. Exploring these first moments offered insights that can inform the design and efficacy of coaching programs and mentoring relationships.
Aguilar, E. (2013). The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation. John Wiley & Sons. Barrett J. L., Mazerolle S. M., & Nottingham S. L. (2017). Attributes of effective mentoring relationships for novice faculty members: perspectives of mentors and mentees. Athletic Training Education Journal. 12(2),152–162. Baxter, P., & Jack, S. (2008). Qualitative case study methodology: Study design and implementation for novice researchers. The Qualitative Report, 13(4), 544-559. Chan, Z. C., Fung, Y., & Chien, W. (2013). Bracketing in Phenomenology: Only Undertaken in the Data Collection and Analysis Process. The Qualitative Report, 18(30), 1-9. Retrieved from http://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol18/iss30/1 Creswell, R. (2014). Educational Research: Planning, conducting and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Sydney, NSW: Pearson. Fletcher, S. & Mullen, C. A. (2012). Sage Handbook of Mentoring and Coaching in Education. Sage. Fowler, J. L. (2017). Academics at work: mentoring in research, teaching, and service. International Journal for Academic Development, 22(4), 319-330. Foy, C. & Keane, A. (2017). Introduction of a peer mentoring scheme within biomedical sciences education – easing the transition to university life. Journal of Further and Higher Education, Published online 31 May, 2017. DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2017.1311994 Herbert, F. (1984). Dune. Sevenoaks, Kent: NEL Books. Hobson, A. J., Ashby, P., Malderez, A., & Tomlinson, P. D. (2009). Mentoring beginning teachers: What we know and what we don’t. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25, 207-216. Johnson, W. B. (2016). On Being a Mentor: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty. New York, NY: Routledge. Mawson, A., Berry, K., Murray, C., & Hayward, M. (2011). Voice hearing within the context of hearers’ social worlds: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory Research and Practice, 84, 256-272. Mohammadi, A., Shekari, A., Banar, N. A., & Ajili, Z. G. (2014). Analysis of pedagogy focusing on Van Manen’s qualitative research method of phenomenology. Asian Research Consortium, 4(100), 273-284. Patton, M. Q. (2002). Two decades of developments in qualitative inquiry a personal, experiential perspective. Qualitative Social Work, 1(3), 261-283. Sambunjak, D., Straus, S. E., & Marusic, A. (2009). A systematic review of qualitative research on the meaning and characteristics of mentoring in academic medicine. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 25(2), 72-78. Searle, J. R. (1995). The construction of social reality. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. van Manen, M. (2016). Researching Lived Experience. New York, NY: Routledge.
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