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Mentor Teachers’ Work with Prospective Teachers in a Newly Formed Professional Development School: Two Illustrations


by Diane Yendol-Hoppey - 2007

Background/Content:

Since a large gap exists between the rhetoric of reform-minded teacher education and what actually transpires in student teachers’ field experiences, this study sought to fill a gap in current scholarship which has yet to document how mentor teachers, conceptualized as school-based teacher educators, shape and conduct their own work with student teachers assuming the role of full-year undergraduate interns.

Focus of Study:

The purpose of this study was to explore how two successful mentor teachers enact their work with interns in a newly created inquiry-oriented professional development school.

Research Design:

This investigation uses case study methodology informed by both ethnographic and phenomenological perspectives. Using these lenses and data collected over an eighteen-month period, the stories of two mentor teachers are captured and analyzed.

Conclusions:

Three themes emerged within each case that characterized the unique work of each mentor. The three themes that shape the work of the first mentor offer insight into a conceptual illustration represented by a gardening metaphor. The three themes of the second case suggest a mentor as co-inquirer’s approach to mentoring. A look across the cases augments our understanding of mentoring prospective teachers.



A slew of metaphors can be found in the literature that elicits alternative images of mentoring. For example, Schien (1978) describes a mentor as a coach, positive role model, developer of talent, opener of doors, protector, and sponsor. Galvez-Hjornevik (1986) suggests that a mentor is a trusted guide, counselor, or teacher-guardian. Additionally, Borko (1986) outlines the role of a mentor as a colleague teacher, helping teacher, peer teacher, and support teacher. In addition to these metaphors, Goldsberry (1998) focuses on the pedagogical knowledge base a mentor possesses and defines a mentor as “an experienced practitioner who guides the development of an inexperienced one” (p. 438). Similarly, Feiman-Nemser and Beasley (1996) view mentoring as assisted performance which entails the mentor teacher supporting and guiding the mentee as they jointly work on authentic teaching tasks. On the other hand, Zimpher and Grossman (1992) focus on the affect as they conceive a mentor as “a master of the craft of teaching and personable in dealing with other teachers; an empathetic individual who understands the need for a mentorship role” (p.145). At times, the term mentoring is used to describe those who work with beginning teachers in the induction process, yet others suggest that mentoring is a stance rather than a position that is assumed by persons across roles (Yamamoto, 1988).


As a result of the definitional multiplicity surrounding mentoring, Harris (1998) concludes that the mentoring role lacks clarity as a conceptual model. Existing metaphors and definitions of mentoring are ambiguous and offer little guidance in defining, understanding, sharing, or enacting successful conceptual models of mentoring. This study recognizes the power of metaphor (Kliebard, 1982; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Palmer, 1997) in eliciting and sharing images of professional practice and then moves beyond the metaphor as a naming vehicle to explore the defining conceptual underpinnings upon which the metaphor rests. The goal is to develop some conceptual illustrations grounded in the work of practicing mentors that can be used to provoke further discussion around the work of mentor teachers.


Two other issues complicate our understanding of mentoring. First, given the fact that two million new teachers will enter the profession during the next decade (Gerald & Hussar, 1998), too few classroom teachers have developed strong mentoring practices to support prospective teacher learning (Feiman-Nemser & Beasley, 1996). Second, the mentoring literature that does exist is drawn from studies of cooperating teachers who work with prospective teachers within a context defined and often controlled by others. For example, in traditional student teaching experiences, the university defines the parameters and expectations for both cooperating teacher and student teacher and the bulk of the supervision is left to university faculty. In this context, mentors have very little space to conceptualize themselves as teacher educators and thus their role is often limited to helping the intern carry out the tasks listed in the university handbook.


The movement of the last decade toward extended field experiences where year-long interns teach side by side with mentor teachers (The Holmes Group, 1990; National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 1996) offers teachers who once assumed the traditional cooperating teacher role the opportunity to reconceptualize their own role as mentors of prospective teachers and participate in constructing experiences and expectations for their intern’s field experience. Zeichner (1993) echoes this call in his critique of the organizational conditions offered to cooperating teachers and suggests that teacher education needs to attend to the importance of role and involvement of cooperating teachers. The professional development school (PDS) is one vehicle that offers a context for mentors to engage in role exploration, reconceptualization, and change (Silva & Dana, 2001).


The goal of a professional development school is to support the development of both prospective and practicing teachers (see, for example, Bullough, Kauchak, Crow, Hobbs, & Stokes, 1997; Darling-Hammond, 1994; Levine, 1997; Sirotnik & Goodlad, 1998). Darling-Hammond (1994) describes professional development schools as:


Providing new models of teacher education and development by serving as exemplars of practice, builders of knowledge, and vehicles for communicating professional understanding among teacher educators, novices, and veteran teachers. They support the learning of prospective and beginning teachers by creating settings in which novices enter professional practice by working with expert practitioners, enabling veteran teachers to renew their own professional development and assume new roles as mentors, university adjuncts, and teacher leaders. They allow school and university educators to engage jointly in research and rethinking of practice, thus creating an opportunity for the profession to expand its knowledge base by putting research into practice and practice into research. (p. 1)


Since the goals of the professional development school include stimulating learning for all participants, the PDS becomes a vehicle for creating new models, new roles, and growth for mentors through authentic participation and collaborative professional practice. In another study, conducted in this context, Silva and Tom (2001) identify three moral imperatives: the importance of the mentor embracing her work with her intern, creating a caring context, and engaging in pedagogical mentoring that moves interns beyond competency (Lemma, 1993) to encourage pedagogical thinking that includes reflection and critical thought (La Boskey, 1994; Zeichner & Liston, 1996). More research is needed to uncover the pedagogy that underpins successful illustrations of mentoring.


Nolan and Huber (1989), in their review of the literature of reflective practice and instructional supervision conclude:


The literature review leads to one final undeniable conclusion: The need for empirical inquiry that looks at the process of supervision more directly from the reflective practitioner’s perspective is great. Case studies and research programs are needed that delve more deeply into the process of nurturing reflective teaching through instructional supervision. . . . Case studies are needed that link supervision to teacher reflection in both short- and long-range time frames. (p. 215)


Correspondingly, little research exists describing mentors who engage in reflective practice and instructional supervision work with interns over extended time frames. Finally, Hawkey (1997) notes that mentoring is indeed idiosyncratic and that mentors and student teachers bring different professional strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, orientations, concerns, and pressures to the shared enterprise of mentoring. As a result, we need to understand how these activities play out as one builds a mentoring practice. To date, few studies have explored what essentially happens in the classroom when a teacher is mentoring an intern. How do mentor teachers conceptualize and enact their role as they engage in the preparation of prospective teachers? The purpose of this study is to understand the ways mentor teachers engage in their work with interns in a newly created professional development school. What does becoming a mentor in a professional development school do to teachers? What does their work look like? How do they construct their new roles, identities, and practices? How do these teachers conceive their work? These questions are significant because little is known about the ways teachers’ construct their work as they assume the mentor role in a new “space,” the professional development school. This study looks directly at mentoring as a form of supervision that begins with a metaphorical conception of mentoring and moves toward building an understanding of the process behind the metaphors.


RESEARCH METHODOLOGY


Teacher stories provide a powerful tool for sense making and sharing. Barone (1998) concludes that to date, “the notion of story has rarely been related to the field of supervision within empirical research” (p. 1109). This study is in many ways a story of mentoring practices that is interpretive (Erickson, 1986) in nature and draws on case study methodology (Stake, 1995) informed by both ethnographic (Wolcott, 1994) and phenomenological (Moustakas, 1994) lenses. This methodology focuses the spotlight on the ways two mentor teachers conceive and enact their work with prospective teachers over an eighteen-month period. The unit of analysis was mentor teachers who were selected from a pool of six closely studied mentors using a unique case selection procedure (Goetz and LeCompte, 1984). In this case, the unique attributes included: 1) the mentors’ membership in a newly formed, inquiry-oriented PDS, 2) the mentors’ willingness to rethink their traditional role as cooperating teacher and conceptualize themselves as a school-based teacher educator, and 3) the intern and mentor’s successful collaboration as perceived by intern, mentor, and university faculty. After a six-month period, the pool of mentors studied narrowed based on this selection criteria resulting in the following cases of “Bridgett” and “Claudia.”1


The techniques used to enhance the quality of the analysis and ensure trustworthiness of the study include source triangulation, method triangulation, theoretical triangulation, and member checks. Source triangulation required examining the consistency of different sources within the same method (Patton, 2002). Method triangulation relied on probing the consistency of findings generated by different data-collection methods (Patton, 2002). The data sources used in this analysis included: 1) journal entries written by mentors and interns, 2) fieldnotes, 3) interviews, 4) e-mail, 5) meeting minutes, and 6) observation sheets. Theoretical triangulation occurred as the data was analyzed using both ethnographic and phenomenological lenses (Patton, 2002). Finally, periodic member checks with the mentors, teachers, the principal, and other university faculty were also a part of the analysis. Mentors participated in three semi-structured interviews focused on their experiences working as a mentor. Interns participated in ongoing informal weekly discussions with the researcher and engaged in a single semi-structured interview near the end of the school year. The tape recordings of each interview were transcribed, allowing for accurate reporting of the participants’ responses and enabling the researcher to interpret specific responses in the context of the entire transcript. The typical length of the responses was in the form of many paragraphs.


After reviewing the data set multiple times utilizing Wolcott’s (1994) methodological structure of description, analysis, and interpretation, themes emerged within each case that depicted the mentoring work (Stake, 1995). As patterns emerged, systematic searches of the data for disconfirming and confirming evidence to support the themes were conducted (Erickson, 1986). Additionally, meetings were held regularly with the participants to check on the adequacy of the emerging stories and the metaphorical naming of the cases were collaboratively cultivated. The remaining sections of this paper present a description of the learning to teach context where Bridgett and Claudia mentor and an analysis and interpretation of the two mentors’ work.


Constructivist epistemology views learning and my role as a researcher as an interpretive process in which researchers engage in unique constructions of knowledge as they make sense of their multiple experiences (Bentley, 1998; Fleury, 1998). In my role as a researcher, I became a participant observer as I listened to the mentor make sense of her new work as a classroom-based teacher educator and the intern make sense of her learning to teach experience in that mentor’s classroom. My participant observation sought to understand the social world from the teacher’s and intern’s point-of-view.


Rigor in ethnography necessitates clarifying the position of the ethnographer within the process of which he is a part. As a researcher, I became a full participant in the PDS context, my role as a researcher was known by the participants as we met to begin defining how mentoring unfolded in each dyad. As a result, the full purpose of the study was disclosed to the participants and prolonged observation focused on capturing a holistic view of the context which would let the teachers’ stories emerge (Patton, 2002)


My own long-term relationship with the teachers in this study, as well as the eighteen months of fieldwork in the same school, heightened the level of mutual trust. This trust made my entrance into the setting much less invasive and contributes to the level of candor and openness characterized in the words of the participants. Although prolonged engagement can enhance fieldwork, the approach can also present the danger of falling back on my own perceptions or personal practical knowledge of the work, context, and people. As a result I relied on frequent member checks as well as my researcher’s journal to guard against losing my researcher’s judgment.


DESCRIPTION OF CONTEXT


In 1998, all the teachers in Mountainside Elementary, a small, six-classroom, kindergarten through second grade school officially agreed to have their school become a Professional Development School (PDS) and to assume the role of mentors. The shared goal was to actualize the rhetoric of PDS simultaneous renewal and reform (see, for example, Bullough et al., 1997; Darling-Hammond, 1994; Levine, 1997, Sirotnik & Goodlad, 1998) and with enthusiasm these teachers and the administrator of this school self-selected participation in the school-university partnership. As a result, the mentoring explored grew out of the mentor teachers’ lived experiences and were not the result of training by university faculty or clinical training (see Silva & Dana, 2003). The teachers did not engage in any formal mentor training or professional development. Rather, the teachers were given a space to explore their own mentoring practices, an audience for sharing their emerging thoughts about mentoring, and the motivation to shape their work as mentors or school-based teacher educators.


The work of “teachers becoming teacher educators” began as the traditional student teaching handbook with the detailed list of expectations, weekly tasks, and activities was replaced with much shorter overview of the university teacher education outcomes. Using these outcomes rather than the highly specified “how to” handbook, the teachers were given the space, opportunity, and authority to create an individual intern plan that met the specific needs of their own intern and their classroom. During this period, the teachers began their daily work with an intern in their room. This work included teachers’ planning and implementing instruction with interns, engaging in informal observations, providing feedback, and attending meetings focused on developing the roles and responsibilities of a mentor teacher in these professional development schools.


During the year-long internship, the interns worked alongside the mentors, as well as completing nine credits of university coursework in math, science, and social studies and three credits of field experience (Silva & Dana, 2003). Additionally, these teachers also typically met informally “in person” or “over the phone” with the building Professional Development Associate (PDA), formerly referred to as the university supervisor, on a weekly basis to discuss, highlight, and troubleshoot their intern’s progress (Silva & Dana, 2001). As a part of the teachers’ work during this phase, the teachers also received professional development school information at faculty meetings, developed an advisory board, requested and conceptualized the creation of a mentor teacher resource guide, planned and taught seminars for the interns, and completed readings in the areas of PDSs and supervision for graduate credit. Collectively, these changes symbolically represented the university’s commitment to reconceptualizing the roles and responsibilities of all the partners in preparing prospective teachers.


CASE ONE: BRIDGETT


The first mentor, Bridgett, was a kindergarten teacher in a small six-classroom primary school in central Pennsylvania. Bridgett was selected to participate because of her authentic interest in working with an intern. She states, “I really want more professional hands in my classroom” (Fieldnotes, 6–98). The following excerpt provides a description of Bridgett as a PDS participant:


When I see our interns, I really feel like you have to initially play on people’s strengths and what they feel comfortable doing and what they like to do. (Bridgett, interview B, 79–81)


Bridgett is interested in being a part of the PDS work because she is interested in more human resources for children in her room and she enjoys sharing her room with another competent adult. The three dominant themes that emerge in Bridgett’s mentoring work include: teaching interns as teaching children, mentoring as decision-making, and creating spaces as pedagogical tools.


TEACHING INTERNS AS TEACHING CHILDREN


At the beginning of the internship year, Bridgett did not see parallels between her work with children and her work with Angela:


I guess I just don’t see myself as Angela’s teacher. I am just there to facilitate. I don’t look at teaching children and teaching Angela the same at all. I feel responsible for the children. I feel responsible for making this the best part of their day and for providing meaningful activities for them and as individually appropriate as possible. With the intern, I just really feel like she is part of the team from the beginning and I think for me that is important to make that distinction. I don’t feel I am teaching her anything. She can go observe any teacher, any day, and she can pick up good things and pick up things that she can say, “Wow, I hope that is something that I never, ever do.” So I look at it totally differently than when I am working with my students. (Bridgett, interview A, 190–198)


Although Bridgett doesn’t initially believe similarities exist between the way she teaches children and the way she mentors, over the course of the school year parallels emerge. The three parallels that surface between Bridgett’s mentoring of interns and teaching of children include her interest in building relationships, making meaningful connections (Fosnot, 1989), and recognizing individual abilities and strengths (Bredekamp, 1987).


From the onset, Bridgett commits to building a relationship with Angela. Her success is evidenced in the following:


I was really lucky. Having some kind of rapport with my intern initially before the students walk in the door. Even that first week when we come back for the inservice days aren’t enough. . . . (Bridgett, interview A, 362–365)


Bridgett also recognizes the time it takes to develop a strong and effective mentoring relationship:


It takes time to develop such a trusting relationship between the classroom teacher and intern, and the year-long PDS program format certainly enhances the opportunity to build such a trust between mentor teacher and intern. By experiencing each and every day together, a positive professional relationship has a chance to naturally evolve. (Bridgett, Journal, 5/99)


Just as Bridgett values relationships in her work with children, she wants Angela to feel trust in their relationship. The importance of developing a strong professional relationship is consistent with the traditional student teaching literature suggesting that the cooperating teacher is the single most influential participant in the prospective teacher’s field experience (Glickman and Bey, 1990; Guyton and McIntyre, 1990). Bridgett believes the full-year internship offers the time to develop a strong relationship that is less likely to occur in shorter field experiences (Silva & Tom, 2001).

Just as Bridgett focuses on understanding her children’s strengths and weaknesses, she also strives to understand Angela’s unique needs and strengths.


In working with elementary children, it is necessary to know where they are on the continuum of learning to help them to make progress. Likewise, in working with practicing teachers, it is important to understand what they know/understand in order to help them make informed teaching decisions. (Bridgett, Journal, 5/99)


Bridgett includes in her thoughts about mentoring the need for individual appropriate practice with an intern in similar ways to her use of individual appropriate instruction with children (Bredekamp, 1987). Just like her students arriving at kindergarten with a wide range of prior social and academic experiences, Bridgett acknowledges that all interns do not arrive at the field experience with the same abilities. Understanding her children’s and intern’s unique needs drives Bridgett’s work as both mentor and teacher.


As Bridgett identifies Angela’s natural abilities early in the internship, she provides Angela room to learn by doing the work of a teacher and helps Angela make connections as she learns to teach.

 

She gives me a lot of room, to explore and figure out on my own. She does the same for children allowing them to enjoy learning. Come in, and explore my own ideas. She has given me all the freedom I wanted to take and I am able to go in the directions I want. Much like she is with her own students. She lets them explore . . . and leaves room to take risks and to fail. And I know that she is going to be there for me no matter what . . . and it is the same with her students. (Angela, interview, 18–25)


Throughout the internship year, Bridgett creates opportunities to actively explore and make meaningful connections. Her mentoring emphasizes the importance of risk-taking and actively constructing knowledge about teaching.


This last excerpt drawn from Bridgett’s journal in the final months of the internship year demonstrates her current thinking or reconceptualization about the relationship between the way she teaches interns and the way she teaches children:


There are general similarities between teaching teachers and teaching in the elementary classroom. Understanding their developmental level. . . . One intern may be ready to discuss and understand the theoretical basis of the lesson while another may be having difficulty with the general sequencing of putting a lesson together. Understanding their most successful learning style(s)—to help anyone learn, it is important to know if they learn best visually, kinesthetically, and so on, or in what combination. Understanding that people learn best by doing—no matter what the age of the student, having the actual experience facilitates the best and longest lasting learning. (Bridgett, Journal, 5/99)


Consistent with Hawkey’s (1998) findings, Bridgett’s original definition of what it means to be a “teacher of teachers” resonated with images of her own traditional field experiences. However, similar to Martin (1997) over the course of the year-long internship, Bridgett moved away from this definition of mentoring defined by her own past towards a newly constructed alternative image of possibility. Today, Bridgett envisions possibilities for her work as a teacher educator from within the professional development school classroom and she believes similarities exist in the way she nurtures the children and the way she nurtures Angela.


MENTORING AS DECISION-MAKING


Frankes, Valli, and Cooper (1998) discuss the emerging role of teacher as decision-maker as a part of a mentor’s PDS work. According to Frankes, Valli, and Cooper, teachers in PDSs “determine school goals and instructional decisions” (p. 71). Bridgett’s work as a mentor introduces an additional conception of teacher as decision-maker within the PDS. This decision-making differs from the broader involvement in school goal-setting described by Frankes, Valli, and Cooper. Bridgett focuses on her role as instructional decision-maker and goal-setter in defining the instruction for both Angela and the kindergarten students within her classroom. In looking at Bridgett’s mentoring, five types of decisions were prominent in her work. They included deciding: 1) when to step in and when to step out, 2) when to teach together and when to teach apart, 3) when to have Angela teach and when to have her observe, 4) when to spend time with Angela, and 5) when to have Angela make decisions and when she should make decisions herself.


Due to space limitations, one decision-making example is shared. In the following example, Bridgett acknowledges the importance of these decisions since too much “stepping in” or too much “stepping out” are actions that can either facilitate or inhibit Angela’s growth.


With the afternoon class I have felt like I needed to take a more direct role in helping with management because she is so quiet and they are challenging. Angela doesn’t make me feel like I am stepping on her toes and the children just need a different set of expectations. . . . (Bridgett, interview B, 397–401)


At the same time, Bridgett wonders:


Even with the afternoon class, I wonder when to let Angela take over. In talking to my husband, he reminds me that I am not allowing this person to actually try out some strategies and not be there to fix things up all the time. (Bridgett, interview B, 222–225)


This is one example of the many decisions or tensions that Bridgett considers as she mentors.


CREATING SPACES AS PEDAGOGICAL TOOLS


Bridgett’s mentoring creates a “garden” of “pedagogical spaces” for Angela to learn in throughout her internship year (Silva, 1999). Much like a gardener, Bridgett believes a teacher needs multiple spaces where she can develop, contemplate, and improve her work as a teacher. Table One shows the types of spaces Bridgett creates: a space to be, a space to explore, a space to raise questions, a space to improve, and a space to celebrate. These spaces comprise a “garden of possibility” that Angela works in as she learns to teach. The garden created by Bridgett includes a variety of the central tasks of learning to teach discussed by Feiman-Nemser (2001): examining beliefs critically in relation to vision of good teaching, understanding learners, developing a beginning repertoire, and the cultivating the disposition to study teaching. This garden provides the space or opportunity where a prospective teacher’s growth and reflection can occur as she assumes increasingly complex roles and tasks resulting in intern self-confidence and growth.


Table 1. Mentoring Spaces Created in Bridgett’s Garden


Spaces in the Garden

Description of Spaces

Space to Be

A space where Angela can feel like a teacher. Bridgett believes this space contributes to a sense of efficacy and is a prerequisite for successful exploration of other spaces.

Space to Explore

A space where Angela can observe others as well as experiment with her own teaching.

Space to Raise Questions

A space where Angela can raise questions about her own teaching or the teaching of others.

Space to Improve

A space where Angela focuses on her own specific teaching goals and collects data as evidence of professional growth.

Space to Celebrate

A space where Angela and Bridgett take time to share successes and renewal efforts.


Angela experiences each of these spaces throughout the year and Bridgett is careful to adjust teaching tasks for Angela as she reaches different benchmarks of development (Kagan, 1992). Because Bridgett adjusts expectations to Angela’s development, these spaces reappear as the tasks change:


I really think the way we work will change dramatically in the second semester as Angela gains more experiences and finishes the coursework. I feel like I have been pretty directive but I am trying to provide more choices and options now. (Bridgett, interview A, 284–289)


Oberg (1989) discusses this concept of “space” as an element of the creative act of supervision associated with the work of university faculty and administrators. Oberg believed the key function of space was that it provided “times and places for teachers to contemplate what it means to be educators in their situations” (p. 63). Oberg also defines a psychic space that undergirds different spaces Bridgett creates for Angela:


More crucial than the physical space and time for reflection is the psychic space where it can happen. Teachers who feel that a supervisor knows better than they themselves do or who feel they will be held to behavioral specifications of their jobs are not likely to ask the kinds of penetrating questions that reach down to the very ground of their practice. Common sense attests to the superior persuasive power of a feeling of self-confidence, which is stimulated by due measures of trust and respect. The tone that invites teachers to enter into a reflective space is a discriminating respect balancing appreciation for the already developed with positive expectations for the not-yet-developed. (Oberg, 1989, p. 64)


Similarly, this conception of psychic space and supervision rings true for Bridgett’s work as a mentor.


Bridgett assumes an “organic gardening” stance to mentoring (see Table 2) characterized by a number of key elements. First, Bridgett develops a relationship with Angela based on shared responsibility that is organic in nature. This organic frame of mind is similar to that discussed by Garman (1982):


A heightened sense of collegiality is possible when I can imagine myself as a member of an organic unit, when the distinction between supervisor and teacher is less discernible and I can transcend my conventional role status. . . . As an organic member I’m aware of the individual and collective possibilities when members are involved in the flow of the experience toward common goals. As a member of an organic unit I am active and reactive, inductive and productive during the life of the experience. I can be most effective when I imagine how other members might contribute. I’m able to see that much of the activity and results of the involvement will unfold in a manner that will lead to new and unpredictable states. Seeing others can energize me to make important contributions, discovering potential we never imagined ourselves. (p. 42)


Based on this organic frame of mind, Bridgett provides the “spaces” within her garden for Angela to unfold in unpredictable and energized ways resulting in yet undiscovered potential. These spaces included: space to be, space to explore, space to question, space to improve, and space to celebrate. As Bridgett mentors, she nurtures intern development by preparing the garden for learning. Finally, Bridgett and Angela’s reflections remain deeply and somewhat quietly provoked through internal dialectics around issues of their daily practice, the context of their work, and the children in their classroom.



Table 2. Summary of the Two Mentoring Illustrations



Relationship

“A Gardener’s Mentoring”


Bridgett

“An Inquirer’s Mentoring”


Claudia

Philosophy

Developmentally Appropriate Practice for Interns


Constructivist Teaching


Context for Risk-taking

Developmentally Appropriate Practice for Interns


Constructivist Teaching


Context for Risk-taking

Strategy

Mentored Spaces:

“Space to Be”

“Space to Explore”

“Space to Raise Questions”

“Space to Improve”

“Space to Celebrate”

Mentoring Cycle:

Co-planning

Co-teaching

Co-reflecting

Co-problem posing

Mentor’s Style

Nurturer

Challenger

Communication Style

Nurtured- Dialectic provided by individual reflection and tasks around issues of daily practice, context of work, and children in classrooms

Provoked- Dialectic provided by collegial conversations around issues of daily practice, context of work, and children in classrooms


CASE TWO: CLAUDIA


The second mentor, Claudia, was a first-grade teacher at the same small six-classroom school in Central Pennsylvania. Claudia was selected because of her enthusiasm for the PDS work and her interest in teacher education. The following excerpt provides a description of Claudia as a participant:


I was asking to have a full-year student teacher even before this program and they said no. So because of my experiences, I believe the kids [prospective teachers] need to get into the classrooms. They need to be in there as much as possible, doing all different things, and getting as much exposure. The exposure will help them along with the theory and the coursework. So when this program came up. I already didn't need to be sold since I really believed in this and I also believed part of being a professional involves helping to train future professionals. Somebody took me when I was green and I'm sure that there were things that I added to her job even though I helped her. But I never got a sense of being unwelcome, unwanted or that she was unwilling to help. So I think those are some real personal reasons and also some beliefs philosophically about being a professional and willing to not just train but help with the development of future teachers. (Claudia, interview A, 114–130)


Similar to Hawkey’s findings (1998), Claudia is motivated to participate in the PDS work and the positive experience of her own teacher education contributes to her continued interest in teacher education.


The dominant themes that emerge in looking at Claudia’s mentoring work include teaching interns as teaching children, voice and silence as pedagogical tools, and problem solver as problem poser. These themes serve as an organizational framework for understanding Claudia’s work as Julia’s mentor.


TEACHING INTERNS AS TEACHING CHILDREN


Just as Bridgett eventually viewed her work with children and interns in similar ways, from the onset Claudia identifies parallels between her work as a teacher and as a mentor.


I don’t care what you teach. I don’t care if it is a craft. I don’t care if it’s an academic subject. I don’t care if it’s an adult or a child. I think there are basic teaching qualities that cross these boundaries. (Claudia, interview A, 322–331)


I think one thing I want Julia to know is how easy it is to teach. In a sense it is a natural process. . . . It is truly a joint experience and it really isn’t technical. . . . You need to come back to learning as a process—discussion, dialogue, process-oriented activities, and thinking, and thinking about your thinking. (Claudia, interview B, 82–90)


Since Claudia sees parallels between the natural process of working with children and interns, many similarities exist in both her teaching and mentoring philosophy and pedagogy.


Philosophically, Claudia’s teaching of both interns and children center around three key concepts including: 1) developmentally appropriate practice, 2) constructivist teaching, and the 3) importance of risk-taking. These three concepts are evidenced in existing literature surrounding teaching children and teaching prospective teachers. Developmentally appropriate practices for mentoring interns draws on Bredekamp’s (1987) emphasis on age and individual appropriateness with young children. As Claudia mentors Julia, she considers both Julia’s “stage” of development (Fuller & Bowen, 1975) and Julia’s individual needs. Fosnot’s (1989) work also suggests that prospective teachers benefit from constructivist teaching practices:


Teacher candidates themselves need to be immersed in an environment where they are engaged in questioning, hypothesizing, investigating, imagining, and debating. They need to be part of a community that actively works with them as learners and then allows the experience to be dissected, evaluated, and reflected upon in order for principles of pedagogy and action to be constructed. (p. 21)


Finally, Barth (1990) highlights the important role risk-taking plays in both student and adult learning. Risk-taking becomes something that should be embraced rather than avoided because it fosters learning, adaptability, and improvement (Hargreaves, 1994).


Claudia also uses two pedagogical tools that she finds appropriate in both her work with Julia and her work with children. These tools include: 1) modeling in conjunction with focused observation, and 2) moving the intern back and forth between observation and teaching. Claudia believes her modeling is most effective when she offers a focus or purpose for the observation. This focus is useful since knowing what to focus on is sometimes beyond the intern’s or child’s developmental perspective. Similarly, Lemma (1993) highlighted the important role of ongoing contact and heightened feedback in moving the intern beyond the level of basic competence. Edwards and Collison (1996) also discuss the role of active mentoring which includes modeling and focused observation as tools to scaffold prospective teacher learning. Claudia stimulates Julia’s growth by moving her back and forth between observation and practice. Claudia believes this experience moves Julia beyond basic competence by returning Julia to an observational role even in areas where Julia demonstrates strength. For example, Claudia periodically shifts Julia’s role in various activities away from the “doing” of teaching back to the “observing” of teaching, offering Julia the opportunity to observe from a new developmental position that results in her noticing new aspects of the teaching/learning context. The observations also stimulate Julia’s reflection by juxtaposing her own teaching with Claudia’s teaching and simultaneously raising questions about both.


Sprinthall and Thies-Sprinthall (1983) identify three elements, role-taking, reflection, and balance, connected to Claudia’s movement of Julia in and out of observation and teaching roles. Role-taking involves selecting a specific role or experience in the classroom. Following the experience, the teacher takes time for “guided reflection.” In Julia’s case, the “guided reflection” takes the form of Julia’s movement back into an observational role where she is provoked to think about her own teaching as she watches Claudia. In this case, rather than the supervisor guiding the reflection, it is Julia’s observational re-encounter with the same experience that leads to her reflection. Sprinthall and Thies-Sprinthall emphasize that a balance between experience and reflection optimizes growth.


VOICE AND SILENCE AS PEDAGOGICAL TOOLS


A second theme that arises in the analysis of Claudia’s work is her deliberate use of voice and silence as pedagogical tools. In the critical literature (Freire, 1974; Giroux, 1988), voice and silence have been employed to convey historical instances of domination and oppression as well as the political actions taken by individuals to express opinions and overcome domination and control. The voice metaphor is also used in feminist theory where we have learned that women speak “in a different voice” (Gilligan, 1982). In Claudia’s case, she intentionally chooses to use voice and silence as mentoring tools. For example, Claudia deliberately withholds or shares information depending on Julia’s current needs or readiness. Her deliberate choice to use voice or silence centers around four mentoring principles: valuing listening, sharing thinking, offering specific feedback, and encouraging problem solving.


Claudia acknowledges listening as a valuable form of silence and a way of knowing her work with Julia. Throughout the yearlong internship, Claudia listened carefully to Julia’s questions and comments while Julia reflected on her own teaching. By being a careful listener, Claudia was often able to collect “data” about Julia’s worries and then focus future discussions and teaching experiences in ways that explored and complemented the issues Julia raised. Claudia shares this idea in the following excerpt:


If something is not working I am going to hear about it from Julia. So when I keep hearing about it I am thinking I can then help her with what I hear her saying. For example, I hear management repeatedly so I say, this is what we are going to do. Or what are your ideas. . . . Two-way communication is real important because I get to know some things that maybe she doesn’t even realize she is saying but she says them several times. (Claudia, interview B, 522–526)


This concept of listening to Julia is a vehicle for helping Julia “name” an area that she feels needs attention. Grimmet and Crehan (1990) talk about the importance of the teacher “naming” the problem as a legitimate focus. Listening becomes a powerful teaching tool for Claudia and has challenging implications for mentors who work with interns who are less vocal.


Claudia also uses her voice to share her thinking about teaching with Julia. This takes the form of talking out loud so that Julia can gain insight into the teaching process and ultimately draw on that knowledge in her own teaching:


Julia, you have to realize that I am thinking out loud and I am really just refining my ideas as I speak.” (Fieldnotes, 11/98)


Julia also recognizes the importance of Claudia talking or thinking out loud:


I think she talks a lot out loud to me so that I understand her thinking and I am the one who listens. (Julia, interview, 264–265)


In this case, voice actually becomes a “way of knowing” their individual and collective teaching for both Claudia and Julia.


As a part of her mentoring, Claudia also acknowledges moments when she needs to be directive and use her voice to provide specific feedback or direction. Typically, Claudia provides this type of direction when she thinks Julia needs information that is beyond her current developmental perspective. For example, early in the year Julia may not have recognized particular children’s behaviors as she taught because she was so consumed with the acts of “doing” the teaching.


Although Claudia often shares her thinking to scaffold Julia’s teaching in developmentally appropriate ways, she also refuses to provide specific feedback or answer some of the questions Julia poses:


To some extent, I know Julia looks at me traditionally, like I have the answers and she looks to me to tell them to her. Whereas I feel, she really has a lot of answers and some of it she needs to get by doing. She has the major things thought out but now she needs to work on the details. . . . Sometimes she will ask me a question as she is teaching and I will just put my head down so that she has to decide. (Claudia, interview B, 128–135)


Claudia deliberately chooses silence because she wants Julia to learn to problem-solve and reflect-in-action (Schon, 1989) as she teaches.


Claudia also recognizes the important role Julia’s voice plays as she poses her own questions and solves her own problems. For example, Julia will ask questions or Claudia will prompt her to ask questions about past, current, or future lessons. Then, together they brainstorm specific solutions or ideas. In many cases, Claudia will often provide foreshadowing for Julia to keep in mind as she makes teaching decisions. Typically, Claudia believes that Julia’s questions raise her own thinking on that topic to a more conscious level because the questions require her to make her own thoughts explicit for Julia.


As Claudia mentors, she experiences a tension between when to give Julia specific feedback and when to let her independently problem solve. Her decision regarding when to use each is connected to her beliefs about knowledge construction being a critical component of intern growth. To these ends, Claudia encourages Julia to consider possibilities, take thoughtful risks, carry out the lesson, and then revise as evidenced in the following:


The intern needs to put some thought into what they are doing so it isn’t solely trial and error. However, I do believe in trial and error and risk-taking but there is thought going on before each trial. Someone that is thinking rather than just trying. . . . That is the pattern. (Claudia, interview B, 103–108)


Claudia will often choose to withhold her own voice to encourage Julia to problem solve through thoughtful risk-taking.


PROBLEM SOLVER AS A PROBLEM POSER


A teacher’s ability to identify, define, and frame a problem is of central importance to her own professional learning as well as her students’ learning. O’Gorman (1989) in her supervision work found that knowing begins with problem setting and Schon (1989) distinguishes between problem solving and problem posing:


In the process of problem solving . . . problems of choice or decision are solved through the selection, from available means, of the one best suited to the established ends. Here we ignore problem setting, the process by which we define the decision to be made, the ends to be achieved, the means which may be chosen. (p. 10)


Grimmett (1989) identifies these two behaviors—problem posing and problem solving—as strategies for helping prospective teachers make their work problematic.


Claudia values problem posing as a part of her work as both a mentor and a teacher. Claudia shares the following comments about making her teaching problematic:


I understand making my work problematic is looking at things that don’t run smoothly and looking at things year after year. Teaching is not static. We are dealing with human beings and those interactions are not static. So you constantly have to be looking at the uniqueness of our classroom community and adjust accordingly. I think making your work problematic feels interesting to me. Sometimes it is unnerving because I have to get the children somewhere and sometimes we aren’t moving at the pace we need to go. So then I have to try new things. (Claudia, interview B, 427–433)


In this excerpt, Claudia alludes to the internal tension as well as exhilaration associated with making her own work problematic.


Because Claudia is a problem poser herself, Claudia’s mentoring includes modeling problem-posing behavior for Julia and developing Julia’s problem-posing capacities. Claudia’s problem-posing stance includes a cycle of collaborative planning, teaching, reflecting, and problem posing. Claudia and Julia work through this cycle by exploring alternatives, teaching, collecting relevant data, and making judgments about teaching. This emphasis is demonstrated in the following excerpt:


I think Claudia thinks inquiry is a part of what she does everyday. One example she tells me about is how she wonders about something and then she goes home and really thinks about it and then she tries something. There is action with the thinking. Doing something new and trying new ways. (Julia, interview, 415­–419)


Claudia emphasizes this same point using the following description:


Within the classroom, I feel inquiry can be used as a way to benefit your students, if you are looking into why something occurs or how to change something you are doing to improve your teaching and also to help students be successful. I feel that inquiry is something that goes on throughout teaching. It is just something that is an integral part of teaching. (Claudia, interview B, 12–15)


Using this inquiry-oriented style, Claudia stimulates her own development as a teacher by making her work with children problematic, by posing questions to herself, observing carefully, thinking, and making changes. Claudia’s work with Julia throughout the year provides a model for inquiry-oriented mentoring.


Claudia adopts a “connected inquirers” approach to mentoring (see Table 2) as she carefully cycles through purposeful experiences. But what is this connected form of inquiry that Claudia seems to have constructed? Similar to the organic gardener, inquiry-oriented mentoring grows out of developmentally appropriate and constructivist teaching practices. However, although sharing these common elements, inquiry-oriented mentoring takes an alternative path where, instead of becoming an organic member of a unit as in Bridgett’s case, the mentor assumes the role of a connected participant as described by Garman (1982):


Genuine collegiality is possible when I can become the connected participant. It is that spirit that allows me to “connect” with another person so that both of us are aware of the connectedness. I am able to identify with the other at a level of respect and affection, I am not ‘at odds’ with my colleague, even though I may not agree with him or her. I accept the image of myself as a participant in an educational alliance and I share some of the responsibility. I have faith that together we can discover the kind of contributions we make to each other. (p. 41)


Given this frame of mind toward her work, Claudia then creates a context where collaboration occurs in planning, teaching, reflecting, and problem posing. In this connected inquiry-driven approach, Claudia challenges Julia’s thinking and together they make their reflections public for others to see.


SUCCESSFUL MENTORING


Two questions emerge in reviewing these cases. First, what made these successful cases of mentoring and how do we know mentoring is successful? In looking at both cases of mentoring side by side, a number of similarities are found. First, both mentors teach interns much like they teach children. They engage in constructivist practices, draw on concepts of developmental appropriateness, and provide a context that encourages risk-taking. Additionally, both mentors recognize the decision-making that is a part of their work. Bridgett’s decision-making emerges as she creates the spaces for Angela’s teaching to unfold. Claudia makes decisions around when to use her voice and when to remain silent. Finally, both recognize the importance of problem-posing and problem-solving behavior. However, Bridgett’s mentoring relies on the intern leading that activity and Claudia envisions problem posing and problem solving as a connected or collaborative effort.


Their cases demonstrate that mentoring grows out of each teacher’s unique strengths, her context, her own teaching style, and the needs and abilities of her intern. However, although similarities exist between Bridgett’s and Claudia’s successful mentoring, their work looks and feels different. Bridgett and Claudia’s differing forms of mentoring, although equally compelling, highlight two different mentoring illustrations that result in successful intern learning: the organic gardener and the connected inquirer.


Although these two mentoring illustrations described looked different to those observing and felt quite different to those participating, both illustrations successfully promoted intern growth. This became most evident at the end of the year when each intern wrote a final journal entry that took the form of a letter to next year’s interns. In these letters both interns spoke to the legitimacy and success of the two approaches to mentoring.


I experienced a tremendous amount of GROWTH (growth in reflecting upon my own teaching, growth in reflecting on teaching practices, growth in professionalism, growth in communication, growth in my ability to try out new ideas and techniques, growth in inquiring into my own classroom happenings, growth in communicating about my teaching beliefs. (Angela’s letter, 5/99)


Angela also shares the importance of having opportunities to experiment as a way of finding a comfortable personal teaching style:


I was able to explore and experiment with different teaching styles and methods, in order to find a style that matches my very own teaching philosophy and one that I feel comfortable using! (Angela’s letter, 5/99)


Angela also identifies the importance of the mentor and intern relationship as an essential building block for learning:


I formed a very open, trusting, caring, relationship with my mentor. She has become one of the most influential people in my life. I owe so much to her for allowing me to enter her classroom, to find my own space and style, to take risks, to overcome failures, and most importantly, to learn what it means to be a successful teacher! (Angela’s letter, 5/99)


Angela also highlights the confidence she has gained through her work with Bridgett:


I gained a tremendous amount of pride and confidence in myself, my own abilities, and my profession. I know that teaching is, without a doubt, the profession where I belong. I cannot imagine any other choice but to TEACH! This internship has given me a renewed sense of passion for what I do. What I do is reach out to young individuals everyday, letting them know how important they are, and how much I value their lifelong growth and learning. Knowing that makes my job one of the most important jobs on earth. (Angela’s letter, 5/99)


Bridgett’s mentoring has developed a confident and competent prospective teacher.


Julia also acknowledges incredible growth and passion toward her chosen profession. Her mentored experiences were equally powerful. Julia teaches us how she has grown as a result of her work with Claudia in the following excerpts drawn from her letter:


I believe the most valuable thing I did in the beginning of my experience was to observe and reflect. “Why is your mentor doing what he/she is doing?”, “What is the environment/climate in the classroom?”, reflect on specific students, and ask questions, lots of questions. Ask questions to your mentor, your PDA, and more importantly to yourself! These questions will guide your observations, decisions, and the way you look at the classroom. Please do not be afraid about asking your mentor questions. That is one of the ways I learned the most this year. After I asked a question we would often reflect together. It may have been about a lesson idea, a way to deal with a child, a procedure, or just why he/she taught a concept in a certain way. You will never know if you do not ask. (Julia’s letter, 5/99)


The process described by Julia within this excerpt highlights the process of inquiry-oriented mentoring that she engaged in with Claudia. She observed, questioned, taught, and reflected in a continuous cycle.


Julia also talks about the importance of learning by doing and appreciated having a safe context for risk-taking:


Unfortunately one of the best ways to learn to teach is to fall on your face “a lot”. I learned the most this year when I taught my first whole group lesson and everything went wrong. As my class was crumbling around me I was thinking, “Oh, I see how I could do this differently.”, “Next time I should do this.”, “Why in the world did I do it this way?” These reflections made my next lesson 100 percent better. You will never know if something works until you try it. It may take many alterations but you will find what works for you. (Julia’s letter, 5/99)


Claudia was successful in creating an environment where thoughtful risk-taking was an expectation for Julia.


Julia also acquired a problem-posing stance modeled by Claudia in her daily work as indicated in the following excerpt:


The inquiry process is one of the most rewarding and powerful experiences as an intern. From the beginning of the year continually verbalize your wonderings about the classroom, your teaching, and the students within it. Instead of the inquiry being a project at the end of the year it can be something you start from day one. These wonderings are great topics for journal reflections and discussions with your mentor. (Julia’s letter, 5/99)


Julia is becoming an inquiry-oriented practitioner. These multiple excerpts, drawn from the reflections of both interns, suggest that mentoring is an art form that may look different as mentor teachers draw on their own unique strengths, philosophy, and pedagogy.


DISCUSSION


The purpose of these two case studies was to understand these teachers’ ways of enacting their work as mentors. Given such a small study, the onus of the responsibility for judging the extent to which the findings are specific to a particular case or may have wider applicability rests on the reader. Although the approaches to mentoring used by Bridgett and Claudia took different forms, we can look at the two stories and identify the unique features as well as places where the underlying themes of their work overlap and contribute to the other.


When studying Bridgett’s portrait as a teacher educator, three themes emerge: (1) teaching interns as teaching children, (2) mentoring as decision-making, and (3) creating spaces as pedagogical tools. Because Bridgett embraces the mentoring work, a story emerges that illustrates an “organic gardener” form of mentoring which utilizes many types of “spaces” created for Angela. Bridgett’s and Claudia’s work as mentors provide examples of Saunders, Pettinger, and Tomlinson’s (1995) loose typology of mentoring. Bridgett’s mentoring connected to the hands-off facilitator orientation as she emphasizes discussion with Angela rather than shared or team-teaching. On the other hand, Claudia’s work with Julia reflected the progressively collaborative mentor orientation as Claudia emphasized working alongside Julia, offering ongoing insight and advice. In studying Claudia’s daily work three themes emerged: (1) teaching interns as teaching children, (2) voice and silence as pedagogical tools, and (3) problem solver as problem poser. As a result of her commitment to mentoring, Claudia develops an “inquirer’s” approach. Claudia creates a connected relationship with her intern built on co-planning, co-teaching, co-reflecting, and co-posing problems.


This study indicates that teacher education programs can benefit greatly by helping mentors embrace their role as a school-based teacher educators. By reconceptualizing their role as cooperating teacher, mentors find the space to construct their participation in the education of prospective teachers:


Universities need to feel unthreatened by ever more delegation of responsibility to schools. Mentors need to feel self-confident in their own agency as teacher educators. . . . Such a shift, therefore, might require something of a change in the prevailing culture of teacher education, although as partnerships between universities and schools develop and strengthen, the prospect of this is certainly there. (Hawkey, 1998, p. 668)


This shift offers mentors the opportunity to join university faculty in building a vision for reforming teacher education and central involvement in orchestrating learning experiences for their intern. Additionally, this type of participation recognizes that mentors need to have the time to reflect on their own professional development as mentors and feel support from university partners as they pose questions about teaching. By opening up these avenues to mentors, the possibilities for mentors to develop as teacher educators become viable and opportunities for embracing an inquiry stance toward educational reform during the internship are created.


Although these two cases were considered successful, there could have been unsuccessful results with either of the two mentor/mentee relationships. For example, if Bridgett had been paired with a mentee who was less capable of structuring her own work within the “spaces” created, the learning context may not have been as rich. Similarly, if Claudia had been paired with a mentee who was less articulate and “intellectual” about her teaching, the mentee might not have interpreted the mentoring cycle as “supportive and challenging” (Daloz, 1986). This dilemma is consistent with the work of Maynard & Furlong (1993) who indicated that student teachers typically move through five distinct stages of development and that mentors often adopt one of three models of mentoring (ex. apprenticeship model, competency model, or reflective model). Hawkey (1997) described each of these approaches are considered partial and probably more useful at particular stages of mentee development. If this is the case, then the use of the “gardener” and the “playwright” may not be useful at all stages. These examples indicate the importance of considering the characteristics of the mentee as well as the stage of development of the mentee in adopting a mentoring approach. As a result, the complexity of the mentoring enterprise becomes evident.


These cases uncover and describe the ways two mentor teachers come to develop their role as teacher educators. However, these stories capture only a small slice of time in the evolution of the teachers’ work. Future case studies could look across chapters of mentor’s stories of development as teacher educators. Additionally, more case studies of effective mentoring need to be conducted in order to recognize other conceptual illustrations that mentors use to facilitate intern growth and development. Future efforts are also needed to help mentors understand multiple ways of working with interns and how they can move in and out of various mentoring illustrations in response to the unique needs of their intern.


More investigation is also needed into the characteristics of teachers who serve as mentors. Specifically, we need to understand what allows a mentor to shift away from mentoring the way he or she was mentored. We need to explore how a mentor’s cognitive complexity, passion for renewal, interest in participating in a problem-posing culture, ability to build and maintain relationships, pedagogy, professional philosophy, past experience, and willingness to take risks interact with who they are as mentors. Although this study provides some metaphorical clarity and description of two conceptual illustrations of successful mentoring, our understanding of the complexity of mentoring is far from complete. The elements of mentoring are still not well developed and deserve continued and substantial attention if we are to enhance and facilitate the learning and work of mentors. Research is needed to deepen our understanding of the role and to develop mechanisms and pedagogy that will support mentors as they assume each role.


These mentors are contributing to the future by shaping the work of prospective teachers who will exponentially touch the lives of many children. What we learn from the cases of Bridgett and Claudia is that mentoring is an art that plays out in unique ways. Although different in approach, both Claudia and Bridgett’s mentoring was successful in developing two fine teachers and their work as mentors has made a powerful contribution to the children whom Julia and Angela will teach as they begin their professional career.


Note


1 “Bridgett” and “Claudia” are pseudonyms.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 3, 2007, p. 669-698
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12828, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 3:48:34 PM

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About the Author
  • Diane Yendol-Hoppey
    University of Florida
    E-mail Author
    DIANE YENDOL-HOPPEY is an associate professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at the University of Florida. Her research interests focus on developing teacher leadership within K-12 schools targeted at enhanced teacher education and improved student learning. Recent publications include Encountering New Spaces: Teachers Developing Voice within a Professional Development School and The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research: Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn through Practitioner Inquiry.
 
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