Bullough, Jr., Robert V. (2012) Mentoring and New Teacher Induction in the United States: A Review and Analysis of Current Practices. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 20(1), 57-74.
Article found here
Warning: long-winded account below…
In this article, Robert Bullough, Jr. begins his argument by referencing Helen Colley’s (2003) strong Marxist feminist attack on mentoring and how widespread the practice is: “Mentoring is the ‘in’ thing”(qtd. on p.57). Bullough agrees with this statement and argues that since in the United States most beginning teachers are formally mentored in some fashion we need to move the conversation beyond teacher retention (Smith & Ingersoll, 2004) to the role mentoring plays in developing highly effective teachers (Wang, Odell, & Schwill, 2008). In the Western Québec School Board, the formal mentoring program for new teachers serves a dual purpose in that it attempts to both increase teacher effectiveness and retain only effective new teachers. In spite of some of his jarring critical barbs at the education system in the United States, Bullough’s article is an excellent addition to my literature review and challenges my research position to look beyond the effect of mentoring on new teachers, and instead address a missing area in mentoring research by focusing on the mentors and their experience with the process.
Bullough is very critical of the neo-liberal educational reform agenda at both the state and Federal level of the United States where “lots of things are now in”(p.58). In particular, Bullough rejects the way student achievement is linked to teacher evaluation and how “tested student achievement is the basis for rewarding or punishing schools—this despite glaring differences in student populations and in state levels of school funding”(p.58). Further to this, Bullough also criticizes the current regime of punishment and reward, the abundance of standardized student testing, a narrowing national curriculum that devalues the arts, humanities and science, the dismissal of diversity and poverty as relevant in test performance, and the “rating and ranking [of] everything and, perhaps someday, everyone in sight”(p.59). In an educational landscape with these numerous, and as Bullough argues, often misguided reforms, the introduction of the ‘No Child Left Behind’ and ‘Race to the Top’ policies have also increased interest in mentoring and induction. Bullough argues that the true purpose and impact of mentoring of new teachers is under reported and he sets three goals for his article: to examine the evolving view of mentoring, locate gaps in the research literature and look toward the future of teacher induction (p.59).
Bullough reviews the current practices in mentoring and induction across three large states—New York, Texas, and California—and one small state, Utah. Out of the four states, California’s model is found exemplary with its legislated two-year mentoring-intensive induction program and Individualized Induction Plan (IIP) “developed based on the novice teacher’s emerging needs. An IIP includes goals, specific strategies for achieving those goals, and documentation of progress in meeting those goals”(qtd.on p.59). The goal of California’s model was not only teacher retention, but “through ongoing formative assessment of progress coupled with frequent feedback, the quality of teaching would significantly improve leading to increased student performance”(p.59-60). In an attempt to address the problems in some states—like Utah where mentoring is hit and miss, often ineffective and always poorly funded— California’s New Teacher Center (NTC) has recently incorporated as a non-profit organization in order to share nationally their development of a set of eight High Quality Mentoring and Induction Practices that support teacher retention, teacher development, and improved student learning (p.60). Fundamental to effective mentoring, the NTC stresses the importance of released time for mentors and beginning teachers to meet, provision for extra pay or special training for mentors, and the acknowledgement of the importance and value of the mentor’s work. Although not as well developed, extensive, nor well-researched as California’s mentoring and induction approach, New York and Texas do add valuable components to the mentoring discussion. New York has legally clarified the important separation between mentoring and evaluation of new teachers and Texas has mandated mentors have at least three years of teaching experience, superior record of raising student achievement, completed an approved mentoring training program, and are in the same school, grade level or content area where possible (p.62). These practices are in line with the research recommendations (Sharon Feiman-Nemser, 2012), but as Bullough points out, with limited funding, some districts are forced to support their own induction and mentoring programs with varying success. In Québec, there is no provincial legislation or specific funding targeted for induction or mentoring, and in response the WQSB developed their own New Teacher Program (NTP) and the Coaching and Mentoring Program (CMP) by carving out funds from their overall budget.
Integral to the discussion on mentoring and induction is the conceptual difference between the two words, especially as they are often used interchangeably. Mentoring “is but one component, albeit usually the most important element, of a program of planned induction”(p.62). Current research indicates that induction and mentoring are essential to teacher retention, teacher development and an increase in student achievement (p.63). In this paper, Bullough argues that the discussion also needs to include a transformational element that views mentoring as “a tool for school improvement and cultural reform and renewal, where the focus shifts from the individual mentee and mentor relationship to changing schools”(p.63). In terms of the actual induction programs, Bullough argues that there are three types of programs: Basic induction, where beginning teachers report having a mentor and supportive communication with school administrators; basic induction plus collaboration, where beginning teachers have a mentor in their own field, regular and supportive communication with administrators or department chairs, common planning periods or regular scheduled collaboration and participation in a new teacher seminar; and ‘ideal induction’ (my words) where beginning teachers receive all that is offered in the basic induction plus collaboration but also participate in an external teacher network and receive extra resources such as reduced instructional load, fewer preparations, and a classroom aide (Smith & Ingersoll, 2004). Mentoring alone is not enough to support beginning teachers; an effective induction also plays a significant role. The WQSB program could best be described as basic induction plus collaboration with an emphasis on inquiry into practice that emphasizes the value to professional growth of the study of one’s own practice and with others (p.65).
The most problematic area for effective mentoring is the tension between supporting and challenging the new teachers. Since mentoring is based on a trust relationship, it becomes difficult for mentors to also have an evaluative element embedded in the induction process. As Smith and Ingersoll (2004) point out, some programs “are primarily developmental and designed to foster growth [while] others are also designed to assess and perhaps weed out”(p.66). The WQSB’s mentoring and induction programs acknowledge a dual purpose and as such, mentors often feel conflicted about their role and responsibilities. As Bullough points out, the challenge for mentors is “to learn to be helpfully and kindly critical without undermining the confidence of their mentee or the quality of their relationship”(p.66). Furthermore, Bullough notes that in an evaluative climate, mentors invariability know that mentees are not the only ones being judged, but there is the unwritten understanding that their mentee’s performance is also a statement about them as mentors (p.66). Thus, the need for effective training for mentors is essential. As well, in order to address this concern, the induction process should be individualized and extended to at least two years which provides new teachers with a greater time for learning and targeted professional development. “With additional time, the widely recognized survival concerns of beginning teachers are more likely to be replaced by growth concerns and more rapidly. For mentors, this difference likely makes finding an appropriate balance between support and assessment responsibilities easier and more likely to be achieved”(p.66). It is not hard to imagine many districts and boards balking at the cost of extending the induction and mentoring programs to two years and beyond, but research (Villar & Strong, 2007) is indicating that these changes generate large dollar returns on investment as not only teacher retention increases but teacher learning is accelerated as the “beginners resembled fourth-year teachers, thus yielding a substantial return when expressed in salary differences.” In a climate of economic downturn and where boards like the WQSB are being asked to significantly cut their budgets, evidence of financial recompense would be useful.
Mentoring is “first and foremost a highly personal relationship involving a journey for both the beginning teacher and the mentor”(p.67). The mentoring role is complex and involves different aims, tools and coaching practices. Helman (2006) identifies three mentoring stances: 1) extend beginning teacher thinking, 2) teach specific content and practices, and 3) promote accountability by clarifying expectations for teaching and learning (p.67). In this paper, Bullough argues that more research is needed to examine how mentoring can change school cultures. Districts and schools need to look beyond the traditional dyad of mentor/mentee relationships and replace this notion with communities of educational enquiry (Cassidy et al, 2008), Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), or embedded school communities of practice as a means for improving student achievement and teacher well being (p.67). In this way, a new teacher learns what counts as effective practice as “resources of an entire community become available and because the community has a shared work that needs doing, shared standards for what counts as adequate doing, and a stake in the beginner’s success”(p.67). Similarly, the tension between the support and assessment of a new teacher for a mentor can be addressed when “beginning teacher growth and development is a communal responsibility, and particularly when the mentor is recognized and respected as a fully engaged community member”(p.68). Mentors need not be expected to go at things alone and there is “growing research literature on social learning and on the power of learning in communities that supports the desirability of a shift of this kind”(p.68).
Although mentoring and induction are becoming hot topics for international research, in this paper Bullough argues that there are important gaps that need to be filled which is relevant to my research journey. Whereas there is starting to be research examining the cost-effectiveness of mentoring (Villar & Strong, 2007) and its impact on student learning (Fletcher & Barrett, 2004; Fletcher et al., 2008), there is little known on how best to increase “mentees ‘willingness’ to be mentored, […] how mentoring effects mentor retention and the impact on mentors of various types of training programs”(Hobson, Ashby, Malderez, and Tomlinson, 2009, qtd. on p.68-69). As well, there is very little research done on whether mentoring supports ineffective practice. Sharon Feiman-Nemser (2001) has argued that mentoring “sometimes reinforced traditional norms and practices rather than promoting more powerful teaching”(p.69). It is this gap, that I intend to fill in my upcoming research of the NTP and CMP at WQSB I will focus on the mentoring process as it affects mentors and some of the key issues mentoring programs face, such as: mentor/mentee fit, mentor skills, and the assignment of mentors by administrators or outside sources. As Bullough points out, “[s]urely, the mentor/mentee relationship ought to represent something more than a prolonged ‘blind date’” (p.69). In addition to these gaps, Bullough argues that most induction work is under theorized, and most “mentoring and induction practices appear primarily to be the result of on-going and site-specific tinkering and testing, even within the NTC programs”(p.70). Other than some studies grounded in social learning theory, there are few exceptions and this would include the NTP and CMP at the WQSB. “While much of the tinkering has produced impressive educational results, greater attention to the theory/practice link promises development and refinement of more powerful practices which, in turn, open the possibility of more responsive and useful theories”(p.70).
Mentoring is rooted in adult development theory and is about helping adults learn complex tasks and should also address how the extraordinary complex act of mentoring effects mentors (Bullough, 2012). Thus, induction and mentoring research should not only include a focus on new teachers, but also on mentors—the transition from teacher to mentor and how teachers become effective mentors (p.70). Mentoring requires certain skills and knowledge, including politics of place that goes beyond what is demanded of classroom teaching, and in this article, Bullough argues that more exploration is needed on the place of mentors and mentees in professional learning communities, “since mentoring in community contexts is quite unlike mentoring in a insulated dyad”(p.70). It is exactly in these spaces that I hope my inquiry process will find a home. Mentoring is “a matter of forging a relationship that is responsive to the needs and interests of two persons, adults, who live and work within unique, dynamic, and ever shifting contexts”(p.71). Bullough’s hope is that well designed and supported mentoring and induction programs will celebrate the differences in talents and abilities of beginning and experienced teachers and “encourage human flourishing, the quest to find and sustain a deep happiness in work”(p.71). Ultimately, through this article, Bullough has inspired me to adopt a more transformative stance and move significantly along the social change axis as I explore mentoring and induction practices at the WQSB and offer suggestions for future directions.
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