Mentoring : professional learning in a quality learning circle.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Education
There is a wealth of literature on the induction and support of provisionally registered teachers (Boreen, 2009; Bubb, 2007; Cameron, Lovett, & Garvey Berger, 2007) and the key skills of mentoring (Achinstein & Athanases, 2006; Glickman, 2002). However literature on how to meet the professional learning needs of curriculum leaders developing their mentoring skill set has largely been ignored in leadership literature. This study, informed by MacBeath and Dempster’s (2009)concept of ‘leadership for learning’, upholds the need for leadership work to focus on the improvement of student outcomes (Barber & Fullan, 2005) rather than traditional approaches to education which focussed on making resources available to students. In an outcomes-focussed model of education, the needs of the students are at the forefront of all learning. By focussing on teachers’ professional learning through mentoring and the use of a teacher inquiry model, the students’ learning needs are prioritised.
The focus for my study is the skillset of curriculum leaders for their work with teachers within their learning areas. The participants for this study were five curriculum leaders, all from the same secondary school. This intervention study investigated the factors which contributed to the professional learning of the mentors, their views of their leadership role and the kinds of learning about mentoring which were beneficial to understandings about mentoring. By focussing on key adult learning principles, structures that support learning, and attention to a mentoring skill set, the participants were supported to develop their mentoring skills. The mentors participated in a professional learning experience, referred to as a Quality Learning Circle (QLC), over one and a half school terms, to co-construct their understanding of mentoring practice. In a QLC the focus is on the learners seeking and making changes to their practice in a collaborative, supportive environment (Lovett & Verstappen, 2003).
The mentors collaboratively developed new understandings through deliberate talk in the QLC about their shared interest in mentoring. They also had opportunities for immediate and practical application of their new knowledge. While they participated in the QLC they co-currently developed their mentoring skills by working with a mentee who taught in the same subject area as themselves.
This study features a qualitative methodology with an interpretive case study of experienced curriculum leaders. Data collection tools included a gap analysis survey which explored their understandings of their school’s current professional learning opportunities. A second data source was a career questionnaire which explored their teaching history and experiences of professional learning. This was followed by initial interviews which focussed on how they interpreted their role of a curriculum leader and the extent they could connect leadership with students’ learning. I also analysed transcripts of QLC meetings, and the teachers’ reflective journals. Four of the mentors worked with a provisionally registered teacher (PRT), while one mentor chose to work with a more experienced colleague.
This study offered a new type of collegial interaction for the teachers. The mentors chose their own goals, a mentee to work alongside and the direction of their learning about mentoring. The QLC met five times during the study and the mentors and participant researcher (PR) also kept a reflective journal. In between the QLC sessions the mentors met with their mentees to practise their mentoring skills, such as questioning skills, and the use of observational tools for classroom observations. A typical QLC session focussed on each of the mentors talking about the mentoring practice they had undertaken. The group provided support and guidance on possible next steps of practice. Readings and practical resources were also discussed and there was an expectation that the mentors would practice an aspect of mentoring and report back to the group at the next meeting. At the close of the study the mentors were re-interviewed to compare their views of their leadership role and learning from their initial interviews. An iterative process was used so that emerging understandings of the data could arise. The data is presented according to the three broad themes of ‘effective professional learning’, ‘leadership role’ and ‘professional learning about mentoring’.
The findings of this study highlight the importance of collaborative learning opportunities for teachers where they can state and resolve practical issues in a supportive group (Cochran-Smith, Feiman-Nemser, McIntyre, & Association of Teacher Educators., 2008). Among all of the findings there were four major findings about the development of curriculum leaders’ mentoring skills: the value of opportunities for deliberate talk, the importance of teacher agency, the need for specific tools in developing mentoring practice, and the necessity of understanding the curriculum leaders’ leadership role.
My detailed account of the experiences of the five curriculum leaders offers a practical example of what the development of curriculum leaders’ understandings of mentoring might look like. This study serves to highlight the challenges for schools to provide support for teachers wanting to take responsibility for their own professional learning. In the absence of any formalised leadership professional learning about mentoring for curriculum leaders, this study proved to be a useful study to demonstrate the potential of the QLC approach to support curriculum leaders in their understandings and practice of mentoring. The key findings of this study validate the need for further research on what is needed for effective mentoring to be an integral part of every school.
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