Teacher mentoring programs have dramatically increased since the early 1980s as a vehicle to support and retain novice teachers. The vast majority of what has been written about mentoring has focused on what mentors should believe and do in their work with novice teachers. The professional literature typically describes the benefits for novice teachers (Odell and Huling, 2000). However, facilitators of mentoring programs and researchers are recognizing that mentors also derive substantial benefits from the mentoring experience (Resta, Huling, White and Matschek, 1997; David, 2000; Holloway, 2001). The professional development benefits of the mentoring experience for the mentor teacher are the focus of this digest.
The idea that mentors derive benefits from mentoring is not completely new. As early as the mid-1980s, a few educators were beginning to examine this question. For example, in a 1986 study of 178 mentor teachers, more than two-thirds responded “definitely” to the statement that participation in the mentoring programs “provided positive professional growth for me” (Hawk, 1986-87, p. 62). When mentors were asked to elaborate upon the ways they grew professionally, more than half of them (N=91) did so with responses falling into three categories: (1) forced me to focus on and improve my own classroom teaching skills; (2) made me aware of the need for educators to communicate with each other; and (3) helped me better understand the principal and central office supervisors” roles. These findings led Hawk to conclude that “educators should look not only at the direct effects that teacher induction programs have on beginning teachers, but also at residual effects that such programs have on all involved professionals” (Hawk, 1986-87, p. 62).
Since 1986, only a few studies have focused on the primary question of mentor benefits, but a considerable number of researchers and mentor program evaluators have reported mentor benefits in the realm of unanticipated or secondary positive effects. This body of work will be briefly examined in a broader discussion of how mentoring contributes to the ongoing professional development of experienced educators.
Professional competency. As mentor teachers assist their protegees in improving their teaching, they also improve their own professional competency. Several studies have documented the positive effects of mentoring on the mentors themselves (Gordon and Maxey, 2000). The quality of teaching by mentors improves (Yosha, 1991). Mentors benefit by applying cognitive coaching skills with their students such as listening, asking inquisitive questions, providing non-judgmental feedback, and by reassessing their classroom management (Clinard and Ariav, 1998). Mentor teachers frequently characterize working closely with beginning teachers as a source of new ideas about curriculum and teaching (Ganser, 1997). In a study of 542 mentors in New York City, mentors reported that their interns helped them by giving them feedback on demonstrations and by sharing literature, teaching techniques, curriculum, and lesson plans (Mei, 1993).
Reflective practice. Mentors report that mentoring has forced them to be reflective about their own beliefs about teaching, students, learning, and teaching as a career. It also provided them with opportunities to validate the experience they have gained over the years (Ganser, 1997). Mentors find that just as teachers learn more about their subject by teaching, so analyzing and talking about teaching is a natural opportunity to deepen teaching sensitivity and skill (Tomlinson, 1995). Critically reflective mentors find that they are more focused in their mentoring relationships; they bring expanded energy, take more informed action, and are generally more satisfied with their mentoring relationships. Reflective practice in mentoring can also provide an opportunity for renewal and regeneration necessary for all adults. The drive toward generativity is an essential antidote to the threat of stagnation in the adult years (Daloz, 1999; Stevens, 1995).
Renewal. A number of researchers have reported that mentors experience professional renewal, are re-energized, and often strengthen their commitment to the teaching profession (Ford and Parsons, 2000; Steffey, Wolfe, Pasch, and Enz, 2000).
Psychological benefits. The benefits of mentoring are both career-related and psychological. Mentoring enhances mentors” self-esteem (Wollman-Bonilla, 1997). The experience of mentoring empowers experienced teachers and gives them a greater sense of significance in their world (Carger, 1996). Mentors derive satisfaction from helping less experienced colleagues (Scott, 1999). Mentors frequently describe their mentoring contribution as a way of giving back to the teaching profession (Boreen, Johnson, Niday and Potts, 2000).
Collaboration. Mentors report that continued contact with mentees provides some of their richest collegial interactions (Boreen, Johnson, Niday, and Potts, 2000). A number of researchers have noted the growth of veteran teachers” self-esteem as they engage in mentoring (Ford, and Parsons, 2000; Mei, 1993; Scott, 1999). Interviews with urban mentor teachers revealed that they felt a sense of increased confidence and maturity in dealing with other adults, a more clearly defined set of beliefs about teaching and curriculum, and more objectivity in reflecting on their own teaching as a result of mentoring (Freiberg, Zbikowski, and Ganser, 1996).
Contributions to teacher leadership. Mentor training and experiences can build mentors” capacity for leadership through structured professional development including training and experience in classroom observation and coaching skills. Mentors become recognized for their valuable knowledge and expertise in these areas and are sought out for various campus and district leadership roles. It is not uncommon for mentors to move into leadership positions as a result of their success as mentors, and it is often the case that they are more effective in these new positions because of the training and insights they received as mentors. For example, Freiberg found that at the end of their tenure as mentors, 100 percent of the mentors in her study were offered unsolicited positions as a result of their experience in the mentoring program, and the positions offered provided opportunities to build on what they had learned as mentors or combined elements of mentoring and teaching (Freiberg, Zbikowski and Ganzer, 1996).
Mentoring combined with inquiry. Working with new teachers can lead mentors to participate in university research projects or teacher research. Mentors who participate in inquiry critically examine their own practice, which can lead to a heightened awareness of the complexity of teaching (Stanulis and Weaver, 1998).
Implications for administrators
The benefits of mentoring programs are substantial for both novice and mentor teachers. This reality has important implications for funding decisions made by administrators and staff development personnel. Principals need to understand that creating a structure that allows experienced teachers to work with novice teachers will ultimately benefit the students of both novices and mentors, and the overall organization will be stronger as a result of the increased capacity of teachers serving as mentors. As staff developers grow in their understanding of comprehensive professional development that extends well beyond training workshops, they can begin to embrace mentoring programs not only as a valuable resource for novice teachers, but also as a growth-promoting experience for mentors as well. When administrators grapple with funding decisions related to mentoring programs, they need to recognize the dual benefits of their investments. Finally, because mentors can exert substantially greater influence on the school organization than novices, the benefits mentors derive from mentoring may be of equal, or even greater, importance than those experienced by novice teachers.
References identified with an EJ or ED number have been abstracted and are in the ERIC database. Journal articles (EJ) should be available at most research libraries; most documents (ED) are available in microfiche collections at more than 900 locations. Documents can also be ordered through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (800-443-ERIC).
Boreen, J., Johnson, M. K., Niday, D. and Potts, J. (2000). Mentoring beginning teachers: guiding, reflecting, coaching. York, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.
Carger, C.L. (1996). The two Bills: Reflecting on the gift of mentorship. Peabody Journal of Education, 71, 1. pp. 22-29.
Cheng, M. and Brown, R. (1992). A two-year evaluation of the peer support pilot project. Evaluation/Feasibility Report, Toronto Board of Education. ED 356 204.
Clinard, L. M. and Ariav, T. (1998). What mentoring does for mentors: A cross-cultural perspective. European Journal of Teacher Education, 21, 1. pp. 91-108.
Cox, M.D. (1997). Walking the tightrope: The role of mentoring in developing educators as professionals, in Mullen, C.A.. In M.D. Cox, C.K. Boettcher and D.S. Adoue (Eds.), Breaking the circle of one: Redefining mentorship in the lives and writings of educators. New York: Peter Lang.
Daloz, L. A. (1999). Mentor: Guiding the journey of adult learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
David, T. (2000). Programs in practice: Teacher mentoring – benefits all around. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 36, 3. pp. 134-136.
Ford, D. and Parsons, J. (2000). Teachers as mentors. ED 447 073.
Freiberg, M., Zbikowski, J. and Ganser, T. (1996, April). Where do we go from here? Decisions and dilemmas of teacher mentors. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York. ED 395 930.
Ganser, T. (1997, April). Promises and pitfalls for mentors of beginning teachers. Paper presented at the Conference on Diversity in Mentoring, Tempe, AZ. ED 407 379.
Gordon, S. and Maxey, S. (2000). How to help beginning teachers succeed. 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Hawk, P. (1986-87). Beginning teacher programs: Benefits for the experienced educator in recruiting and inducting quality personnel for schools. Action in Teacher Education, the Journal of the Association of Teacher Educators, 8, 4. pp. 59-63.
Holloway, J. (2001). The benefits of mentoring. Educational Leadership, 58, 8. pp. 85-86.
Mei, L. (1993). Mentor teacher internship program. Evaluation/Feasibility Report, New York City Board of Education. ED 370 925.
Odell, S.J. and Huling L. (2000). Quality mentoring for novice teachers. Joint publication: Washington, D.C.: Association of Teacher Educators and Indianapolis, Indiana: Kappa Delta Pi.
Resta, V., Huling, L., White, S. and Matschek, D. (1997). A year to grow on. Journal of Staff Development, 18, 1. pp. 43-45.
Scott, N. (1999, May). Careful planning or serendipity? Promoting well-being through teacher induction. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education, Ottawa, Canada. ED 420 627.
Stanulis, R. and Weaver, D. (1998). Teacher as mentor, teacher as learner: lessons from a middle-school language arts teacher. The Teacher Educator, 34, 2. pp. 134-43.
Steffy, B, Wolfe, M., Pasch, S. and Enz, B. (2000). Life cycle of the career teacher. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press and Kappa Delta Pi.
Stevens, N. (1995). R and r for mentors: renewal and reaffirmation for mentors as benefits from the mentoring experience. Educational Horizons, 73, 3. pp. 130-137.
Tomlinson, P. (1995). Understanding mentoring: Reflective strategies for school-based teacher preparation. Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Wollman-Bonilla, J. (1997). Mentoring as a two-way street. Journal of Staff Development, 18, 3. pp. 50-52.
Yosha, P. (1991, April). The benefits of an induction program: What do mentors and novices say? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL. ED 332 994.
This is an ERIC Digest and is in the public domain.