Teachers in schools play an important role as school based teacher educators – or mentors as we choose to call them. However, they do not always recognise themselves as teacher educators. Their primary task is to teach pupils. The mentor role is vague, and can be understood in different ways. In the literature we find that there is no universal definition of mentoring. It is a contested practice, and different concepts such as mentoring, supervision and coaching are used (Aspfors & Fransson, 2015). Furthermore, even if researchers have underlined the importance of mentoring, there has been limited focus on how to prepare mentors for their role. A good teacher will not by default make a good mentor (Bullough 2005), and some kind of preparation would therefore be beneficial.
In Norway we have had a formal mentor education for many years. Together with a colleague I have explored whether mentor education made a difference (see Ulvik & Sunde, 2013). The study was related to a specific mentor education programme, and in order to investigate the question we asked:
The research instruments were open-ended pre-course and post-course questionnaires and focus groups. 31 mentor students participated.
The findings show that the mentors attended the programme mainly on their own initiative with limited support from their work place. Through mentor education, the participants moved from a practical towards a more conceptual understanding of mentoring. “They developed ‘a mentor language, a mentor network and a mentor attitude’” (Ulvik & Sunde, 2013, p. 754). What they already did had a quality, but now it got a name. Defined concepts enabled them to talk about mentoring and to give reasons for their actions. Furthermore, through mentor education, they became part of a mentor community. Discussing real cases with peers was emphasised as very important. Through the education, they got a mentor identity.
Based on the study, experiences and ‘know-how’ seem to be necessary but not sufficient for mentors. The theoretical perspective became an important basis that offered concepts and new perspectives that eventually changed their practice. The mentors told that they now listened more than before to student teachers. What the mentor students underlined as important for their learning outcome was the meetings with peers, and to have a full day with a distance to their daily work and busy workplace. In the meetings they were offered a space for reflection and a workshop for trying out different mentoring skills.
A more recent study investigated how mentors who mentored student teachers in their practicum saw the division of work between themselves and university based teacher educators (Helleve & Ulvik, 2019). The findings suggest that mentors with mentor education have an identity as teacher educators compared with mentors without mentor education. The findings support that mentoring is different from teaching. In order to regard themselves as teacher educators mentor preparation seems crucial.
Even if mentor education has existed for many years in Norway, it is still not a requirement in schools.
Aspfors, J. & Fransson, G. (2015). Research on mentor education for mentors of newly qualified teachers: A qualitative meta-synthesis. Teaching and teacher education, 48, 75-86.
Bullough, R. V. (2005). Being and becoming a mentor: school-based teacher educators and teacher educator identity. Teaching and Teacher Education 21,143–155.
Helleve, I. & Ulvik, M. (2019). Tutors seen through the eyes of mentors assumptions for participation in third space in teacher education, European Journal of Teacher Education, DOI: 10.1080/02619768.2019.1570495
Ulvik, M., & Sunde, E. (2013). The impact of mentor education: does mentor education matter? Professional Development in Education, 39(5), 754-770.