Learning to Mentor-as-Praxis: Foundations for a Curriculum in Teacher Education
reviewed by Cheryl J. Craig - May 18, 2010
Title: Learning to Mentor-as-Praxis: Foundations for a Curriculum in Teacher Education
Author(s): Lily Orland-Barak
Publisher: Springer Publishing, New York
ISBN: 1441905812, Pages: 200, Year: 2010
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Just when everything that could possibly be said about mentoring appears to have been said, along comes the book, Learning to Mentor-as-Praxis: Foundations for a Curriculum in Teacher Education (Springer, 2010), authored by Lily Orland-Barak with a Foreword by Christopher Clark. In contrast to some volumes flooding the market (many of which seem hatched before their time), Orland-Baraks book is exquisitely written and the product of a rigorous research program fifteen years in the making. The result is a theory of action and interaction, of learning at the highest level of professional and personal transformation (Clark, p. viii)in short, the careful conceptualization and convincing instantiation of mentoring-as-praxis.
Orland-Barak begins her volume with a broad sweep of the mentoring literature, honing in on multi-faceted shifts in orientation (see pp. 5-6). The most significant shift is the change from assuming a mentoring role to being a mentor embedded in situations alongside mentees. As Orland-Barak keenly explains, a focus on acts rather than on traditional roles underscores the practical, action-oriented character of mentoring and mentored learning (p. 7). As such,
Learning to mentor-as-praxis attend[s] to questions such as which texts are being responded to in mentoring interactions; how participation and communication is reciprocated, legitimated, improvised and sustained; what roles are assumed and valued; what is recorded, listened for, and for what purposes; and how various cultural and organizational codes and rituals of practice are represented and appreciated. (p. 10)
As indicated, Learning to Mentor-as-Praxis not only discusses theory and the qualities of an enacted mentoring program, it digs deeply into the nature of praxis. According to Orland-Barak, praxis involves dialectics and phronesis. In this view, mentoring is a discursive practice that has to do with how teachers and prospective teachers position themselves and make sense of their experiences forged in context. Orland-Barak most especially awakens readers to the fact that mentoring-as-praxis takes place in situations involving competing values, which produce tensions that are never completely addressed and dilemmas that are never fully resolved. Consequently, mentors/mentees wrestle with issues alongside one another, learning to negotiate a multitude of in situ complexities.
In Learning to Mentor-as-Praxis, readers are introduced to Fatin, Sanna, Eianat, Mirit, and many others. At first, the pseudonyms and circumstances seem to have a distant ring to them. However, the political, social, and cultural turmoil of the Middle East becomes easily translatable to situations in ones own national, racial, and cultural backyard. One quickly learns the contested classroom space (Craig, 2009) knows no boundaries. The need for high quality mentoring strategically situated at the core of a curriculum for teacher education is universal.
Orland-Baraks vision of a foundation for a curriculum in teacher education is richly presented. To her, three domains of praxis are prerequisite to learning to mentor: (1) appreciation, (2) participation, and (3) improvisation. Appreciation as a discursive activity involves dialogues between the mentor and mentee and different positioning and readings of situations. In this first domain, attention is paid to such matters as perspective-taking, role boundaries, contradictory and competing accountabilities, and appropriate modes of support. As for the second domain, participation, its discursive character also has to do with positioning and construing. However, focus on this domain of praxis is placed on mediating persons, contexts, and content; assuming diverse supportive roles; managing accountabilities; and establishing and sustaining professional relationships. Improvisation is the third domain in Orland-Baraks mentoring-as-praxis teacher education curriculum. Improvisations dialogic character revolves around dialogues of enactment. These dialogues of enactment have to do with connecting emotionally, professionally, and responsively to contextual differences; analyzing and articulating teaching, learning and subject matter; responding on the spot; and prefiguring connections between cultural codes, values, and strategic and pedagogical reasoning. Further, Orland-Baraks curriculum for learning to mentor includes reciprocal connections arising from dyadic interactions and group interactions.
Most authors of books on mentoring would end their discussions long before this point. But Orland-Barak continues to press into uncharted territory, providing ideas about course syllabi, degree requirements, authentic assessment, and the use of a variety of mentoring practices ranging from cases, critical incidents, and portfolios to visuals, video, and story. Here, she underscores the pointand not inconsequentiallythat discourse necessarily must become action-oriented because the aim is equipping students with tools for decision making in situ (p. 199).
To conclude her treatise on a foundation for a curriculum in teacher education, Orland-Barak reflectively returns to the constructivist pedagogy with which she launched her version of mentoring-as-praxis. In contrast to those who call for evidence-based practice, Orland-Barak, following Eraut (2004), favors practice-based evidence (p. 201). This shift profoundly changes the underlying dynamic, giving rise to a sorely needed dialectical relationship between theory and practice as opposed to theory dictating what evidence is worthy of note in practice. For the author, this is a most positive consequence of constructivist pedagogies. But there are also potential downsides that she makes known. These include the possibility of imposing reflective approaches on students emanating from cultural traditions who are taught not to question orthodoxies. The downsides also include the identification of more problems than the one being addressed in problem-solving situations and the potential heightening of levels of anxiety.
In the end result, Lily Orland-Barak leaves her lifes work on mentoring-as-praxis as a foundation for a teacher education curriculum in the hands of readers. She rightfully recognizes it is they who will responsibly direct its further evolution as guided by the values and moral commitments to the profession (p. 208). For this reason, I strongly recommend Learning to Mentor-as-Praxis: Foundations for a Curriculum in Teacher Education to the Teachers College Record readership. The teaching profession and teachers as professionals stand to greatly benefit from Lily Orland-Baraks outstanding contribution to teaching and teacher education.
Craig, C. (2009). The contested classroom space: A decade of lived educational policy in Texas schools. American Educational Research Journal, 46 (4), 1034-1059.
Eraut, M. (2004). Practice-based evidence. In G. Thomas & R. Ping (Eds.) Evidence-based practice in education (pp. 91-101). Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.