Dr Marion Jones

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Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Glamorgan, 14-17 September 2005


Dr Marion Jones

Peggy Nettelton

Lucy Smith

Project Team

Dr Jeremy Brown

Dr Tom Chapman

Jane Morgan

Introduction (4386 words)

During the past ten years, mentoring has been increasingly recognised as a key strategy in professional training and development programmes in education, health care, business and industry. Although the concept of mentoring is not entirely new, it is difficult to define. While frequent reference to the term ‘mentor’ in everyday practice, training manuals and policy handbooks creates the impression that a general understanding of the notion of mentoring exists, the multitude of definitions and interpretations of how it is to be performed suggests otherwise. Mentoring can thus be perceived as a ‘helping process’ (Caruso, 1990), a teaching-learning process (Ardery, 1990), as an intentional, structural, nurturing, insightful [process either developing along stages or rhythms, but not in series of events (Roberts, 2000). Bennetts (1996) adds a pedagogical, democratic dimension by stating that mentoring is learner-centred and progresses at the rate determined by the mentor and the mentee. Mentoring can thus cover a variety of activities ranging from helper functions to those of assessment. In addition, Herald (1999) lists career counselling, salary negotiations, job searches, curriculum vitae preparation and developing political savy as some of the multifarious activities to be performed by mentors. Depending on individual perceptions, the multiple purposes it serves and the various settings within which it occurs, practice remains inconsistent and idiosyncratic.

However, within the context of professional training and development, a shift of emphasis away from the personal towards the professional is evident. Current conceptualisations of mentoring prevalent in the health and education context tend to bear little resemblance to the original Greek model, according to which the mentor’s role was that of an older, trusted and loyal friend, who responsible for the growth and development of the protégé and whose characteristics were integrity, wisdom and personal involvement. The relationship was highly personal and mutually respectful. Furthermore, the standards assessment frameworks within which the training of teachers, nurses, midwives, and more recently, that of doctors, is located, requires mentors to exercise the role of assessor, which is potentially problematic in terms of conflicting loyalties.

The context of mentoring in education and health settings

Mentoring in initial training and induction of teachers

Since 1992, initial teacher training has undergone fundamental reform (DFE, 1992, 1993a; DfEE, 1997, 1998; DfEE, 2002). It is no longer planned and delivered by tutors in higher education, but through partnerships between schools and higher education institutions. With the new emphasis on training rather than education, practising teachers, acting as mentors, play a key role in the professional preparation and development of the next generation of teachers. However, the role of mentor required clarification, particularly as initial teacher training was to be standardised in terms of government defined curriculum and competences (standards) to be achieved by trainee and newly qualified teachers.

The idea of teachers operating in a kind of mentoring capacity is not entirely new, but was performed informally and was therefore highly individualistic and subjective by the mentors’ personal theories of teaching and sets of beliefs, values and practical experiences.
During the past 50 years, initial teacher education in Britain reflects a number of stages of development, each of which represents a distinct view of school-based experience in preparation for professional practice. In the 50s the ‘apprenticeship’ model prevailed, which allocated the practising teacher the role of ‘master teacher’, who conveys the rules and values of craft apprenticeship originating from the guild system to a contemporary context (Butters, 1997). Maynard and Furlong (1995:2-5) perceive its disadvantages in the potential risk to provide ‘tips for teachers’.
After the mid 80s the debate about reforming initial teacher education focused for the first time on the link between the form of training and approaches to teaching. State intervention (new contracts, prescribed curriculum, accountability) threatened the autonomy of the teaching profession, which resulted in a new set of professional values aims practice. At the same time, though, the training of new entrants to the profession was firmly placed in hands of experienced practitioners, the teachers themselves, who in their role of mentors were to play a pivotal role in the training and professional development as well as the assessment of newcomers to the profession. Accordingly, teachers, rather than teacher educators, prepare trainees towards achieving a list of pre-determined standards. Within this ‘competency model’, mentors perform the roles of trainer, assessor and gatekeeper to the profession, following a ‘technical rationalist’ approach to professional training and development (Carr & Kemmis, 1986). Its disadvantages are described as reductionist, decontextualised, and atomistic, in that teaching and learning is directed towards predetermined, narrowly defined performance criteria, which neither indicate the scope for further development, nor include any reference to the context within which they may have been achieved.
The ‘reflective model’ offers a more global perspective. It draws on insights from analytical and cognitive psychology to nurture a dialogue aimed at the growth of personal values, professional judgements and self-criticism. Consequently, developing the reflective practitioner (Schön, 1983) involves the mentor as the impersonator of wisdom, whose knowledge extends beyond the instrumental, including ethical and moral dimensions (Zeichner & Liston, 1987).
Finally, in contrast to the above, Butters (1997) offers a less definitive model, but one which shares some of the original mentoring traits reflected in the relationship that existed between Telemachus and Mentor, one in which encourages expressions of concern and feedback of experiences and allows the mentee to assert his/her own values and to negotiate learning targets in an open brief.

Mentoring in the health professions - nursing, midwifery and medicine
Mentoring is seen as falling in line with the NHS becoming a ‘learning organisation’, within which reflection is encouraged (Harbrow, 2003) and lifelong learning, one of the main components of clinical governance (Bligh, 1999) can be facilitated. A report published by SCOPME in 1998 is frequently referred to in the literature. The report identifies a need for providing professional, educational and personal support for doctors and dentists through mentoring, particularly at times of significant career transitions, from pre-registration house officer to senior house officer and at the beginning of specialist training (Bligh, 1999). Freeman’s study in general practice (1998) demonstrated that by using reflection within the mentoring context, personal learning and development was encouraged. Whether in medicine, nursing or midwifery, pre-ceptorship and mentoring can be considered to embrace the concepts of adult education and should therefore be used in a meaningful way to enhance educational programmes in the health professions. Mentoring is employed as a key strategy in professional training of nurses (Butterworth & Faugier, 1992; Jinks & Williams, 1994; Atkins & Williams, 1995; Wright, 1995; Spouse, 1996) and midwives (Ferns & Stiles, 2004; McKenzie, 2004), which is well documented in the literature.
Mentoring as supportive strategy has occurred informally for considerable time and has only recently been recognised as a distinct, integral component of professional training and development programmes. The literature suggests that the formal aspect of mentoring is particularly important for women and minorities, who have tended to be less well integrated into formal networking and mentoring systems than their male counterparts (Clutterbuck, 1991). The cultural and factors influencing the mentoring relationship is discussed by Thomas (1990), by highlighting the difficulties apparent in ethnic and cross-racial mentoring relationships in predominantly white organisations. Husain (1998), for example, looks at how mentoring could revolutionise the careers of overseas doctors. Concern has also been expressed over the predominantly paternalistic nature of mentoring models in use and the enforced dependency they encourage (SCOPME, 1998).

Purpose of this research

Against this backdrop of diversity in conceptualisation and practice, there is now a need to explore the mentoring phenomenon in greater depth by distinguishing more clearly between generic and context specific aspects of mentoring and examine how it manifests itself within different professions. By adopting a multi-disciplinary approach, this research project seeks to examine perceptions of ‘mentoring’ that exist in education and health professional programmes in England and is primarily concerned with the mentoring process and the mentor-mentee relationship. This interim report draws on data collected during Phase 1 of a two-year research project, which is concerned with the mentoring process and how it is influenced by the structural, social and cultural factors inherent in the various settings. It seeks to examine perceptions of mentoring that exist in education and health professional programmes in England and identify generic and context specific aspects of mentoring across four professional disciplines: teaching, nursing, midwifery and medicine.

Key questions
By adopting a qualitative approach, answers are sought to the following key questions:

  1. How is ‘mentoring’ conceptualised in health and education professional programmes?

  2. Which factors influence the mentor-mentee relationship in a positive/negative way?

  3. What are the typical characteristics of effective mentoring in general terms and specific to the setting?

  4. What are the professional and personal needs of the mentees?

  5. What are the training and development needs of mentors?

  6. To what extent are mentoring processes and skills transferable across the four professional groups?

Expected outcomes

It is expected that the interim report of this study will identify issues in relation to the mentoring process in the various settings and elucidate the structural and inter-personal mechanisms inherent. It is hoped that the insights gained will be of interest not only to mentors and mentees, but also to practitioners in the field as well as policymakers concerned with professional training and education programmes for teachers and health professionals, ultimately leading to the dissemination and transfer of good practice.

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