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Starting Strong: A Mentoring Fable

reviewed by Stephanie Shedrow - November 12, 2015

coverTitle: Starting Strong: A Mentoring Fable
Author(s): Lois J. Zachary, Lory A. Fischler
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 1118767713, Pages: 224, Year: 2014
Search for book at Amazon.com

Since the 1980s, the educational landscape has become incrementally populated by preservice and new teacher induction programs initiated at both the school and district levels (Hobson et al., 2008). Moreover, Ingersoll and Smith (2004) note that successful induction programs facilitate rich and meaningful mentoring of beginning teachers. These findings are backed by countless studies that examined mentoring of beginning teachers (e.g. Carter & Francis, 2001; Franke & Dahlgren, 1996; Ingersoll & Smith, 2004; Marable & Raimondi, 2007), and Hobson et al. (2008) even cite mentoring as possibly the “most effective” means of supporting the professional development of novice teachers (p. 209). However, the toll that mentoring takes on the mentor can be substantial, including a burden on time (e.g. Lee & Feng, 2007; Simpson et al., 2007) as well as stress associated with building rapport with the mentee (e.g. Bradbury & Koballa, 2008; Bullough, 2005). Starting Strong: A Mentoring Fable addresses these concerns while unpacking the fundamentals of mentoring.

Starting Strong is divided into two parts: “The Fable” and “The Mentoring Conversation Playbook.”  The first section, “The Fable,” brings readers through a six-week mentoring cycle between Cynthia, the mentor, and Rafa, the mentee. Both characters are in the marketing and communications department at the fictitious company CTBN. Cynthia and Rafa’s emails, conversations, and thoughts are delineated in “real time” for the reader to uncover and discover the mentoring process along with the pair (p. x).  Each meeting between Cynthia and Rafa, including their initial emails before their first meeting and an epilogue five years later, is accompanied by a “Digging Deeper” section with thought-provoking questions for both the mentor and the mentee.

The first chapter of “The Fable,” “The Week Before,” is a series of emails between Cynthia and Rafa introducing themselves to one another and setting up their initial meeting. In these emails, Cynthia, the mentor, directly poses six questions to Rafa, the mentee, so that she can begin to conceptualize his career goals and intended trajectory. In chapters one and two, readers journey with the mentoring partners through their norming period in which they get to know one another and establish guidelines for their meetings. While these chapters are a bit drawn out, many of the “Digging Deeper” questions at the end of the chapters can assist with understanding some of the more nuanced components of mentoring, networking, and overall interpersonal communication. Examples of such questions include: “Cynthia held her first meeting with Rafa in her office. What were the advantages or disadvantages of holding it there? Where would you likely hold the first meeting? Other meetings?” (p. 32) and “Confidentiality is critical to a successful relationship, yet many mentoring partners fails to discuss it early in their relationship. What does confidentiality mean to you? What are your assumptions about confidentiality in the mentoring relationship” (p. 54).

Chapters three and four of the fable focus on goal setting—vital components to the mentoring process. In chapter three, Cynthia gives Rafa questions in preparation for their goal-setting session. These thought-provoking questions include:

1.     What skills and talents are you utilizing on the job?

2.     What skills and talents are you underutilizing?

3.     What is your Achilles’ heel?

4.     Where do you see your biggest need for growth and development?

5.     What would help raise your competence level?

6.     What would raise your confidence level as a leader? (p. 74)

In chapter four Cynthia and Rafa discuss his answers to these “killer” questions (p. 82). After their discussion, Cynthia asks Rafa to revise his goals based on their discussion and feedback he receives from his coworkers and supervisor.

Chapter five takes an interesting turn when Rafa sends a questionable text to Cynthia complaining about a mentoring assignment she asked him to complete. While this specific situation won’t necessarily be applicable to all mentors or mentees, this chapter is worth perusing as a tool for addressing situations related to professionalism. Finally, in chapter six and the epilogue, Cynthia and Rafa examine their progress and review their initial mentoring goals.  During this meeting, the pair also discuss a book Cynthia recommended to Rafa. This notion, mentors suggesting professional reading to mentees, then becomes the basis for a “Digging Deeper” question (p. 149).

Part Two of Starting Strong, “The Mentoring Conversation Playbook,” is a user-friendly guide to mentoring and truly unpacks the underpinnings of meaningful conversation, as well as steps to attain dialogic goals. This section of the book begins with a chapter entitled “Moving the Conversation from Monologue to Dialogue” and breaks down the five levels of a conversation; “monologue,” “transaction,” “interaction,” “collaborative engagement,” and “dialogue” (pp. 165–167). In the following chapter, “Strategies for a Good Conversation,” the authors highlight tips—such as active listening, using open ended questions, and asking for clarification—to move conversations into the true “dialogue” level of communication. Each section in this chapter also includes applicable questions and sentence starters that can be used during mentoring meetings. Finally, this section of the book concludes with perhaps the most utilitarian chapter, “Six Essential Mentoring Conversations.” This chapter aligns to the six chapters in “The Fable” portion of the book. However, in this later section, each mentoring conversation is explicitly broken down and complemented with “Strategies for Success” (such as “Create a schedule for checking in” found on page 187) and “Probing Questions” (for example, “Are you getting out of your comfort zone and stretching yourself?” from page 192).

In general, while we know from research that mentoring is a critical aspect of the success and retention of new teachers, Starting Strong: A Mentoring Fable is an important link in the mentoring puzzle. By sizing down the daunting and complicated process of mentoring into manageable tasks, the authors have created a comprehensive guide to mentoring success. The first portion of the book craftily illustrates the strategies outlined in the informational second half. Mentors, as well as schools and districts struggling to get their mentoring programs rolling or revitalized, would benefit from the germane self-reflection questions and tools for actual mentoring conversations found in Starting Strong.


Carter, M., & Francis, R. (2001). Mentoring and beginning teachers’ workplace learning. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 29(3), 249–262.

Abell, S. K., Dillon, D. R., Hopkins, C. J., McInerney, W. D., & O'Brien, D. G. (1995). “Somebody to count on”: Mentor/intern relationships in a beginning teacher internship program. Teaching and Teacher Education, 11(2), 173-188.

Bullough, R. V. (2005). Being and becoming a mentor: School-based teacher educators and teacher educator identity. Teaching and teacher education, 21(2), 143-155.

Carter, M., & Francis, R. (2001). Mentoring and beginning teachers’ workplace learning. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 29(3), 249–262.

Franke, A., & Dahlgren, L. O. (1996). Conceptions of mentoring: an empirical study of conceptions of mentoring during the school-based teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 12(6), 627–641.

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(1), 207-216.

Ingersoll, R. M., & Smith, T. M. (2004). Do teacher induction and mentoring matter? NASSP bulletin, 88(638), 28-40.

Marable, M., & Raimondi, S. (2007). Teachers’ perceptions of what was most (and least) supportive during their first year of teaching. Mentoring and Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 15(1), 25–37.

Lee, J. C., & Feng, S. (2007). Mentoring support and the professional development of beginning teachers: a Chinese perspective. Mentoring and Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 15(3), 243–263.

Simpson, T., Hastings, W., & Hill, B. (2007). ‘‘I knew that she was watching me’’: the professional benefits of mentoring. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 13(5), 481–498.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 12, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18253, Date Accessed: 5/24/2022 6:23:37 PM

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About the Author
  • Stephanie Shedrow
    University of Wisconsin, Madison
    E-mail Author
    STEPHANIE SHEDROW is an educator and third-year doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in the department of Curriculum and Instruction with foci in literacy, teacher education, educational policy, and qualitative research.
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