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Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger than the person being mentored, but he or she must have a certain area of expertise. It is a learning and development partnership between someone with vast experience and someone who wants to learn. Interaction with an expert may also be necessary to gain proficiency with/in cultural tools. Mentorship experience and relationship structure affect the "amount of psychosocial support, career guidance, role modeling, and communication that occurs in the mentoring relationships in which the protégés and mentors engaged."
The person in receipt of mentorship may be referred to as a protégé (male), a protégée (female), an apprentice or, in the 2000s, a mentee. The mentor may be referred to as a godfather or godmother or a rabbi.
"Mentoring" is a process that always involves communication and is relationship-based, but its precise definition is elusive, with more than 50 definitions currently in use. One definition of the many that have been proposed, is
Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)".
Mentoring in Europe has existed since at least Ancient Greek times. Since the 1970s it has spread in the United States mainly in training contexts, with important historical links to the movement advancing workplace equity for women and minorities, and it has been described as "an innovation in American management".
- 1 Historical
- 2 Professional bodies and qualifications
- 3 Techniques
- 4 Typology
- 5 Benefits
- 6 Contemporary research and practice in the US
- 7 Corporate programs
- 8 Matching approaches
- 9 In education
- 10 Blended mentoring
- 11 Reverse mentoring
- 12 Business mentoring
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 Further reading
- 16 External links
The roots of the practice are lost in antiquity. The word itself was inspired by the character of Mentor in Homer's Odyssey. Though the actual Mentor in the story is a somewhat ineffective old man, the goddess Athena takes on his appearance in order to guide young Telemachus in his time of difficulty.
Historically significant systems of mentorship include the guru–disciple tradition  practiced in Hinduism and Buddhism, Elders, the discipleship system practiced by Rabbinical Judaism and the Christian church, and apprenticing under the medieval guild system.
In the United States, advocates for workplace equity in the second half of the twentieth century popularized the term "mentor" and concept of career mentorship as part of a larger social capital lexicon which also includes terms such as glass ceiling, bamboo ceiling, networking, role model, and gatekeeper—serving to identify and address the problems barring non-dominant groups from professional success. Mainstream business literature subsequently adopted the terms and concepts, promoting them as pathways to success for all career climbers. In 1970, these terms were not in the general American vocabulary; by the mid-1990s they had become part of everyday speech.
Professional bodies and qualifications
The European Mentoring and Coaching Council, also called the EMCC, is the leading global body in terms of creating and maintaining a range of industry standard frameworks, rules and processes across the mentoring and related supervision and coaching fields e.g. a code of practice for those practising mentoring.
The focus of mentoring is to develop the whole person and so the techniques are broad and require wisdom in order to be used appropriately. A 1995 study of mentoring techniques most commonly used in business found that the five most commonly used techniques among mentors were:
- Accompanying: making a commitment in a caring way, which involves taking part in the learning process side-by-side with the learner.
- Sowing: mentors are often confronted with the difficulty of preparing the learner before he or she is ready to change. Sowing is necessary when you know that what you say may not be understood or even acceptable to learners at first but will make sense and have value to the mentee when the situation requires it.
- Catalyzing: when change reaches a critical level of pressure, learning can escalate. Here the mentor chooses to plunge the learner right into change, provoking a different way of thinking, a change in identity or a re-ordering of values.
- Showing: this is making something understandable, or using your own example to demonstrate a skill or activity. You show what you are talking about, you show by your own behavior.
- Harvesting: here the mentor focuses on "picking the ripe fruit": it is usually used to create awareness of what was learned by experience and to draw conclusions. The key questions here are: "What have you learned?", "How useful is it?".
Different techniques may be used by mentors according to the situation and the mindset of the mentee, and the techniques used in modern organizations can be found in ancient education systems, from the Socratic technique of harvesting to the accompaniment method of learning used in the apprenticeship of itinerant cathedral builders during the Middle Ages. Leadership authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner advise mentors to look for "teachable moments" in order to "expand or realize the potentialities of the people in the organizations they lead" and underline that personal credibility is as essential to quality mentoring as skill.
Multiple mentors: A new and upcoming trend is having multiple mentors. This can be helpful because we can all learn from each other. Having more than one mentor will widen the knowledge of the person being mentored. There are different mentors who may have different strengths.
Profession or trade mentor: This is someone who is currently in the trade/profession you are entering. They know the trends, important changes and new practices that you should know to stay at the top of your career. A mentor like this would be someone you can discuss ideas regarding the field, and also be introduced to key and important people that you should know.
Industry mentor: This is someone who doesn't just focus on the profession. This mentor will be able to give insight on the industry as a whole. Whether it be research, development or key changes in the industry, you need to know.
Organization mentor: Politics in the organizations are constantly changing. It is important to be knowledgeable about the values, strategies and products that are within your company, but also when these things are changing. An organization mentor can clarify missions and strategies, and give clarity when needed.
Work process mentor: This mentor can speed quickly over the bumps, and cut through the unnecessary work. This mentor can explain the 'ins and outs' of projects, day to day tasks, and eliminate unnecessary things that may be currently going on in your work day. This mentor can help to get things done quickly and efficiently.
Technology mentor: This is an up-and-coming, incredibly important position. Technology has been rapidly improving, and becoming more a part of day to day transactions within companies. In order to perform your best, you must know how to get things done on the newest technology. A technology mentor will help with technical breakdowns, advise on systems that may work better than what you're currently using, and coach you through new technology and how to best use it and implement it into your daily life.
These mentors are only examples. There can be many more different types of mentors. Look around your workplace, your life, and see who is an expert that you can learn something from.
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There are two broad types of mentoring relationships: formal and informal. Formal mentoring relationships are set up by an administrative unit or office in a company or organization, which solicits and recruits qualified individuals who are willing to mentor, provides training to the mentors, and then helps to match the mentors up with a person in need of mentoring. While formal mentoring systems contain numerous structural and guidance elements, they still typically allow the mentor and mentee to have an active role in choosing who they want to work with. Formal mentoring programs which simply assign mentors to mentees without giving these individuals a say have not performed well. Even though a mentor and a mentee may seem perfectly matched "on paper", in practice, they may have different working or learning styles. As such, giving the mentor and the mentee the opportunity to help select who they want to work with is a widely used approach. Informal mentoring occurs without the use of structured recruitment, mentor training and matching services. Informal mentoring arrangements can develop naturally from business networking situations in which a more experienced individual meets a new employee, and the two strike up a rapport.
In addition to these broad types, there are also peer, situational and supervisory mentoring relationships. These tend to fall under the categories of formal and informal mentoring relationships. Informal relationships develop on their own between partners. Formal mentoring, on the other hand, refers to a structured process supported by the organization and addressed to target populations. Youth mentoring programs assist at-risk children or youth who lack role models and sponsors. In business, formal mentoring is part of talent management strategies which are used to groom key employees, newly hired graduates, high-potential employees and future leaders. The matching of mentor and mentee is often done by a mentoring coordinator, often with the help of a computerized database registry. The use of the database helps to match up mentees with mentors who have the type of experience and qualifications they are seeking.
There are formal mentoring programs that are values-oriented, while social mentoring and other types focus specifically on career development. Some mentorship programs provide both social and vocational support. In well-designed formal mentoring programs, there are program goals, schedules, training (for both mentors and protégés), and evaluation. In 2004 Metizo created the first mentoring certification for companies and business schools in order to guarantee the integrity and effectiveness of formal mentoring. Certification is attributed jointly by the organization and an external expert.
There are many kinds of mentoring relationships from school or community-based relationships to e-mentoring relationships. These mentoring relationships vary and can be influenced by the type of mentoring relationship that is in effect. That is whether it has come about as a formal or informal relationship. Also there are several models have been used to describe and examine the sub-relationships that can emerge. For example, Buell describes how mentoring relationships can develop under a cloning model, nurturing model, friendship model and apprenticeship model. The cloning model is about the mentor trying to "produce a duplicate copy of him or her self." The nurturing model takes more of a "parent figure, creating a safe, open environment in which mentee can both learn and try things for him-or herself." The friendship model are more peers "rather than being involved in a hierarchical relationship." Lastly, the apprenticeship is about less "personal or social aspects... and the professional relationship is the sole focus".
In the sub-groups of formal and informal mentoring relationships: peer mentoring relationships are relationships where individuals are at the same skill training, similar positions and stages of career. However, one person may be more knowledgeable in a certain aspect or another, but they can help each other to progress in their work. A lot of time, peer relationships provide a lot of support, empathy and advice because the situations are quite similar.
Situational mentoring: Short-term relationships in which a person mentors for a specific purpose. This could be a company bringing an expert in regarding social media, or internet safety. This expert can mentor employees to make them more knowledgeable about a specific topic or skill.
Supervisory mentoring: This kind of mentoring has'go to' people who are supervisors. These are people who have answers to many questions, and can advise to take the best plan of action. This can be a conflict of interest relationship because many supervisors do not feel comfortable also being a mentor.
Mentoring circles: Participants from all levels of the organization propose and own a topic. They then meet in groups to discuss the topic, which motivates them to grow and become more knowledgeable. Flash mentoring is ideal for job shadowing, reverse mentoring, and more.
Flash mentoring: Creates a low-pressure environment for mentoring that focuses on single meetings rather than a traditional, long-term mentoring relationship.
Meta-analysis of 112 individual research studies found mentoring has significant behavioral, attitudinal, health-related, relational, motivational, and career benefits. These benefits for a mentee depend on which of the different (not mutually exclusive) functions is performed by the mentor. Originally, the concept of mentoring functions was developed based on qualitative research in a organizational context with functions being subsumed under two major factors: psychosocial support (e.g. role modeling, friendship, emotional support, encouragement) and career-related support (e.g. providing advice, discussing goals). An early quantitative approach found role modeling to be a distinct third factor. In mentoring for college success, a fourth function concerning knowledge transfer was additionally identified. Later research also found this function in the context of mentoring creativity.
Especially in the workplace, there are also many benefits for an employer in developing a mentorship program for new and current employees.
Career development: Setting up a career development mentoring program for employees enables an organization to help junior employees to learn the skills and behaviours from senior employees that the junior employees need to advance to higher-responsibility positions. This type of mentoring program can help to align organizational goals with employees' personal career goals (of progressing within the organization). It gives employees the ability to advance professionally and learn more about their work. This collaboration also gives employees a feeling of engagement with the organization, which can lead to better retention rates and increased employee satisfaction.
High potential mentoring: The most talented employees in organizations tend to be difficult to retain, as they are usually seeking greater challenges and responsibilities, and they are likely to leave for a different organization if they do not feel that they are being given the opportunity to develop. Top talent, whether in an innovation or management role, have incredible potential to make great things happen for an organization. Creating a mentoring program for high-potential employees that gives them one-on-one guidance from senior leaders can help to build the engagement of these talented employees, give them the opportunity to develop, and increase their retention in the organization.
Diversity mentoring: One of the top ways to innovate is by bringing in new ideas from senior employees and leaders from underrepresented groups (e.g., women, ethnic minorities, etc.). Who is an underrepresented group depends on the industry sector and country. In many Western countries, women and ethnic minorities are significantly underrepresented in executive positions and boards of directors. In some traditionally gender segregated occupations, such as education and nursing, however, women may be the dominant gender in the workforce. Mentors from underrepresented groups can empower employees from underrepresented groups to increase their confidence to take on higher-responsibility tasks and prepare for leadership roles. By developing employees from diverse groups, this can give the organization access to new ideas, new ways of looking at problems, and new perspectives. This also brings cultural awareness and intercultural dialogue into the workplace. Mentor/mentee relationships between homogenous (majority/majority or minority/minority) can provide a sense of security and belonging within an organization. These relationships tend to lead to success within the organization and increased job satisfaction. Majority mentors are afforded the opportunity to learn about and empathize with the culture and experiences of the minority mentee, but if they are unwilling to adapt their cultural views, this could impede the mentoring relationship  Members of the majority culture are perceived as more competent while members of the minority culture receive less credit for the same amount of work; therefore, a majority mentor, by virtue of their status, can assist a minority mentee in receiving the recognition and job advancement they deserve. Minority mentors often feel pressure to work harder than other mentors to prove their worth within an organization. However, when paired with majority mentees, their perceived worth automatically increases due solely to the majority status of their mentees. Minority mentors tend to impart emotional benefits onto their mentees. Furthermore, minority mentors strengthen majority mentees’ ability to perform in heterogeneous work groups.
Reverse mentoring: While mentoring typically involves a more experienced, typically older employee or leader providing guidance to a younger employee, the opposite approach can also be used. In the 2000s, with the rise of digital innovations, Internet applications and social media, in some cases, new, young employees are more familiar with these technologies than senior employees in the organizations. The younger generations can help the older generations to expand and grow towards current trends. Everyone has something to bring to the table, this creates a "two way street" within companies where younger employees can see the larger picture, and senior employees can learn from young employees.
Knowledge transfer mentoring: Employees must have a certain set of skills in order to accomplish the tasks at hand. Mentoring is a great approach to help employees get organized, and give them access to an expert that can give feedback, and help answer questions that they may not know where to find answers to.
Mentorship provides critical benefits to individuals as well as organizations. Although mentorship can be important for an individual's career advancement, in the United States it historically has been most apparent in relation to the advancement of women and minorities in the workplace. Until recent decades, American men in dominant ethnic groups gained most of the benefits of mentorship without consciously identifying it as an advancement strategy. American women and minorities, in contrast, more pointedly identified and pursued mentorship in the second half of the twentieth century as they sought to achieve the professional success they had long been denied.
In a 1958 study, Margaret Cussler showed that, for each female executive she interviewed who did not own her own company, "something—or someone—gave her a push up the ladder while others halted on a lower rung." Cussler concluded that the relationship between the "sponsor and protégé" (the vocabulary of "mentorship" was not yet in common use) was the "magic formula" for success. By the late 1970s, numerous publications had established the centrality of mentorship to business success for everyone and particularly for women trying to break into the male-dominated business world. These publications noted the many specific benefits provided by mentorship, which included insider information, education, guidance, moral support, inspiration, sponsorship, an example to follow, protection, promotion, the ability to "bypass the hierarchy," the projection of the superior's "reflected power," access to otherwise invisible opportunities, and tutelage in corporate politics.
This literature also showed the value of these benefits. A Harvard Business Review survey of 1,250 top executives published in 1979, for example, showed that most had been mentored or sponsored and that those who received such assistance reported higher income, a better education, a quicker path to achievement, and more job satisfaction than those who did not. The literature particularly emphasized the necessity of mentoring for businesswomen's success. For example, although women made up less than one percent of the executives in the Harvard Business Review survey, all of these women reported being mentored. In subsequent decades, as mentoring became a widely valued phenomenon in the United States, women and minorities in particular continued to develop mentoring relationships consciously as they sought professional advancement.
Contemporary research and practice in the US
Research in the 1970s, partly in response to a study by Daniel Levinson, led some women and African Americans to question whether the classic "white male" model was available or customary for people who are newcomers in traditionally white male organizations. In 1978 Edgar Schein described multiple roles for successful mentors. He identified seven types of mentoring roles in his book entitled, Career Dynamics: Matching individual and organizational needs (1978). He said that some of these roles require the teacher to be in a position of power such as "opener of doors, protector, sponsor and leader."
Capability frameworks encourage managers to mentor staff. A manager can mentor their own staff, but more likely will mentor staff in other parts of their organisation, staff in special programs (such as graduate and leadership programs), staff in other organisations or members of professional associations.
Mentoring covers a range of roles. Articulating these roles is useful not only for understanding what role you play, but also for writing job applications. Demonstrating how you go about mentoring needs a language of behaviours.
Two of Schein's students, Davis and Garrison, undertook to study successful leaders of both genders and at least two races. Their research presented evidence for the roles of: cheerleader, coach, confidant, counsellor, developer of talent, "griot" (oral historian for the organization or profession), guardian, guru, inspiration, master, "opener of doors", patron, role model, pioneer, "seminal source", "successful leader", and teacher. They described multiple mentoring practices which have since been given the name of "mosaic mentoring" to distinguish this kind of mentoring from the single mentor approach.
Mosaic mentoring is based on the concept that almost everyone can perform one or another function well for someone else — and also can learn along one of these lines from someone else. The model is seen as useful for people who are "non-traditional" in a traditional setting, such as people of color and women in a traditionally white male organization. The idea has been well received in medical education literature. There are also mosaic mentoring programs in various faith-based organizations.
Corporate mentoring programs are used by mid-size to large organizations to further the development and retention of employees. Mentoring programs may be formal or informal and serve a variety of specific objectives including acclimation of new employees, skills development, employee retention and diversity enhancement.
Formal mentoring programs offer employees the opportunity to participate in an organized mentoring program. Participants join as a mentor, protégé or both by completing a mentoring profile. Mentoring profiles are completed as written forms on paper or computer or filled out via an online form as part of an online mentoring system. Protégés are matched with a mentor by a program administrator or a mentoring committee, or may self-select a mentor depending on the program format.
Informal mentoring takes places in organizations that develop a culture of mentoring but do not have formal mentoring in place. These companies may provide some tools and resources and encourage managers to accept mentoring requests from more junior members of the organization.
A study of 1,162 employees found that "satisfaction with a mentoring relationship had a stronger impact on attitudes than the presence of a mentor, whether the relationship was formal or informal, or the design of a formal mentoring program." So even when a mentoring relationship is established, the actual relationship is more important than the presence of a relationship.
Fortune 500 companies are also implementing formal mentoring programs on a global scale. Cardinal Health has had an enterprise-wide formal mentoring initiative in place since 2011. The initiative encompasses nine formal mentoring programs, some enterprise-wide and some limited to specific business segments and functions. Goals vary by program, with some focused on employees facing specific challenges or career milestones and others enabling more open-ended learning and development.
New-hire mentoring programs are set up to help new employees acclimate more quickly into the organization. In new-hire mentoring programs, newcomers to the organization (protégés) are paired with more experienced people (mentors) in order to obtain information, good examples, and advice as they advance. It has been claimed that new employees who are paired with a mentor are twice as likely to remain in their job than those who do not receive mentorship.
These mentoring relationships provide substance for career growth and benefit both the mentor and the protégé. For example, the mentor gets to show leadership by giving back and perhaps being refreshed about their own work. The organization receives an employee that is being gradually introduced and shaped by the organization's culture and operation because they have been under the mentorship of an experienced member. The person being mentored networks, becomes integrated easier in an organization, gets experience and advice along the way. It has been said that "joining a mentor's network and developing one's own is central to advancement" and this is possibly why those mentored tend to do well in their organizations.
In the organizational setting, mentoring usually "requires unequal knowledge", but the process of mentorship can differ. Bullis describes the mentoring process in the forms of phase models. Initially, the "mentee proves himself or herself worthy of the mentor's time and energy". Then cultivation occurs which includes the actual "coaching...a strong interpersonal bond between mentor and mentee develops". Next, under the phase of separation, "the mentee experiences more autonomy". Ultimately, there is more of equality in the relationship, termed by Bullis as Redefinition.
High-potential mentoring programs are used to groom up-and-coming employees deemed to have the potential to move up into leadership or executive roles. Here the employee (protégé) is paired with a senior-level leader (or leaders) for a series of career-coaching interactions. These programs tend to be smaller than more general mentoring programs and mentees must be selected based on a list of eligibility criteria to participate. Another method of high-potential mentoring is to place the employee in a series of jobs in disparate areas of an organization (e.g., human resources, sales, operations management, etc.) all for short periods of time, so they can learn in a "hands-on", practical fashion, about the organization's structure, culture, and methods.
- Matching by committee
Mentees are matched with mentors by a designated mentoring committee or mentoring administrator usually consisting of senior members of the training, learning and development group and/or the human resources departments. The matching committee reviews the mentors' profiles and the coaching goals sought out by the mentees and makes matches based on areas for development, mentor strengths, overall experience, skill set, location and objectives.
- Matching through self-match technology
Mentoring technology, typically based on computer software, can be used to facilitate matches allowing mentees to search and select a mentor based on their own development and coaching needs and interests. This mentee-driven methodology increases the speed in which matches are created and reduces the amount of administrative time required to manage the program. The quality of matches increases as well with self-match programs because the greater the involvement of the mentee in the selection of their mentor, the better the outcome of the mentorship. There are a variety of online mentoring technology programs available that can be utilized to facilitate this mentee-driven matching process.
- Speed mentoring
Speed mentoring follows some of the procedures of speed dating. Mentors and mentees are introduced to each other in short sessions, allowing each person to meet multiple potential matches in a very short timeframe. Speed mentoring occur as a one-time event in order for people "to meet potential mentors to see if there is a fit for a longer term engagement."
Mentoring in education involves a relationship between two people where the mentor plays a supportive and advisory role for the student, the mentee. This relationship promotes "the development and growth of the latter's skills and knowledge through the former's experience." In many secondary and post-secondary schools, mentorship programs are offered to support students in program completion, confidence building and transitioning to further education or the workforce. There are also peer mentoring programs designed specifically to bring under-represented populations into science and engineering. The Internet has brought university alumni closer to graduating students. Graduate university alumni are engaging with current students in career mentorship through interview questions and answers. The students with the best answers receive professional recommendations from industry experts build a more credible CV.
A specific focus of youth mentoring that addresses the issues that cause students to underachieve in education while simultaneously preparing them to deal with future difficult circumstances that can affect their lives and alter their success is the fostering of resiliency. Resilience is "the ability to withstand and rebound from disruptive life challenges" and has been found to be a very useful method when working with students of low socioeconomic backgrounds who often encounter crises or challenges and suffer specific traumas. Education and students' performance and achievement in school are directly affected by these challenges, so certain negative psychological and environmental situations that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds disproportionately encounter provide a framework for explaining the achievement gap. Resiliency does not provide a solution to the struggles and trauma that these students are experiencing, but instead focuses on giving them the tools to adapt to these situations and respond to them in a way that avoids a negative outcome and enables them to emerge stronger learn from it.
Protective factors and risk factors
Protective factors "modify or transform responses to adverse events so that [students] avoid negative outcomes" and encourage the development of resiliency, while risk factors are circumstances that perpetuate these poor outcomes and prevent that student from acquiring resilience as a tool. The development of these protective factors enable students to apply them to challenges and engage in them in a positive manner that does not negatively affect their education, personal lives, and successes. Examples of these protective factors identified by Reis, Colbert and Hebert in their three-year study of economically disadvantaged and ethnically diverse students include having "supportive adults, friendships with other achieving students, the opportunity to take honors and advanced classes, participation in multiple extracurricular activities both after school and during the summer, the development of a strong belief in the self, and ways to cope with the negative aspects of their school, urban and family environment." Risk factors, on the other hand, impede the student's ability to positively engage in their challenges and in many cases prevent these students from achieving at the same level as students who do not encounter the same situations. Risk factors can include family tragedy, having an older sibling who became involved in drugs and/or alcohol, family instability, personal pain and academic failure. "Just as risk factors and childhood stressors may co-occur within a particular population or within a particular developmental period, protective factors are also likely to occur together to some degree."
Counseling and guidance
Underachieving students who come from these certain, risk factor-filled environments often have little support, so the role of educators can be very beneficial for students if it extends beyond the basic structures within the classroom. In these environments, students are often exposed to coercive interactions, so positive, personal and harmonious interchanges between the student and some supportive figure can help develop adaptive qualities. Teachers who see students as talented and care about them as individuals by establishing a genuine relationship creates their additional roles as a mentor and advocate—an extra familial support system that can serve as an additional protective factor. A supportive adult (in this case, a teacher) can help reduce the negative impact of certain events and risk factors while strengthening the positive factors that help them cope effectively. Some of the components that facilitate this development of resilience when combined with the existence of a strong adult-student relationship include after school programs, more challenging classes, peer support programs, summer programs and gifted programs. In getting to know students better—especially their home life and individual circumstances—teachers and/or counselors can provide specific support to each student by looking beyond their disadvantaged backgrounds, recognizing their abilities, nurturing their strengths and maintaining high expectations rather than lower their expectations because of the circumstances.
Instructional coaches are former teachers or principals that have shown effectiveness in their work of teaching or leading and go through additional training to learn more about the technical skills needed to be an effective coach. In her book The Art of Coaching, Elena Aguilar recommends that a coach "must have been an effective teacher for at least five years." Though skills that were effective in the classroom are a must, the coach must also be confident in working with adults, bringing strong listening, communication, and data analysis skills to the coaching position. Ultimately, an instructional coach is a former teacher who was successful in the classroom and is respected in the field, with the respect carrying over into this new position.
Coaches seek to work one-on-one with teachers or in a small group setting with teachers to build student achievement in the classroom based on data collected and discussed by both teacher or coach. According to Melinda Mangin and KaiLonnie Dunsmore, instructional coaching models may include: "cognitive coaching, clinical supervision, peer coaching and mentoring, formal literacy coaching, informal coaching, or a mixed model. Other researchers have described categories of coaching such as data-oriented, student-oriented, managerial, and coaches who work with individual teachers or with groups of teachers". Ultimately, coaching roles are designed to increase teacher capacity and push teacher improvement through learning opportunities. The practice of instructional coaching is embedded within the work of a teacher, not in isolation of their everyday teaching. In other words, the coach works with the teacher throughout the school year and meets during the school day with the teacher regarding current lessons, planning, and the observations/data collected. The discussions between the instructional coach and teacher are built upon mutual respect and a trusting relationship through confidentiality. Overall, instructional coaching is meant to serve as professional development for the teacher(s).
A coach's main responsibility in this way is to change practice and build knowledge on "new instructional materials, programs, and initiatives" with the teacher. This professional development can come through discussion, but also can come in other forms. Instructional coaches can model lessons and instructional strategies in the teachers' classroom to show examples and have teachers feel more confident in using these strategies. Teacher observations is one of the most powerful ways that coaches can put data for change in front of teachers. Coaches doing observations and collecting data to debrief with teachers helps paint a picture for teacher improvement.
According to a three-year research study done by the Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching, there was an increase in student success when instructional coaching was used in the classroom. This, however, could not be viewed as solely "instructional coaching" in isolation of other factors. The coaching "model emphasizes the simultaneous use of four strategies: one-on-one teacher engagement; evidence-based literacy practices applied across the curriculum; data analytics; and reflection on practice." Yet, teachers have shared that:
- Ninety-one percent of teachers coached regularly stated that coaches helped them understand and use new teaching strategies.
- Seventy-nine percent of teachers coached regularly said that their coach played a significant role in improving their classroom instruction and practice.
- Teachers who were regularly coached one-on-one reported that:
- They made significant changes in their instructional practice.
- Their students were more engaged in the classroom and enthusiastic about learning.
- Attendance increased dramatically in their classes.
In addition to this, "the most effective professional development model is thought to involve follow-up activities, usually in the form of long-term support, coaching in teachers' classrooms, or ongoing interaction with colleagues." In most cases, instructional coaching can provide this support and meet this definition of effective professional development.
There should also be support from administration around the instructional coaching to align the work of the coach and teacher with the school's mission or vision. Knight focuses on the partnership with the principal being at the core of successful coaching. Knight explains that the principal and the instructional coach need to be aligned in their goals for the coaching occurring. If they have differing desired outcomes for teaching, then the teacher will be receiving mixed messages and caught between improvement and a standstill. Aguilar suggests that coaches continually ask about the school's goals as well as action steps to meet these and bring into daily coaching.
In conjunction with this partnership and observations, Knight's belief of data usage is critical for teacher improvement during coaching sessions. Knight shares how giving opinions and telling a teacher how to improve stops the learning for the teacher and instead creates a barrier between the coach and teacher and makes the teacher expect hand-holding. Instead, the data needs to tell a story for the teacher to determine moves to try to improve. This allows ownership for the teacher as well as understanding of their work in conjunction with the work.
The relationship and trust between the coach and coachee are a critical component of coaching. A coach having specific content knowledge and respect in a teacher's field of teaching would help build trust. Another way to build this trust is through confidentiality. By keeping all conversations confidential and sticking to that, the coachee knows that your word is good. In addition to relationship building, it is important to let the coachee feel comfortable talking to you about anything—there may need to be the time when a crisis they are facing trumps conversation about the lesson. Starting a coaching conversation about how life is going for a coachee is also important to relationship building.
Content and pedagogical knowledge
According to Nelson and Sassi, "knowledge of pedagogical process and content knowledge must be fused" in both understanding teaching and observing teaching. For example, an instructional coach that is working with a math teacher should know "current mathematics education reform efforts are built on the notion that the ideas in a subject, and the ways in which students and teachers work with the ideas, matter." It seems clear that a deep pedagogical knowledge as well as deep content specific knowledge are required for the teacher to have confidence in the coach and for the coach to be able to step in and assume the role of the teacher.
Knowledge that coaches need to be effective span just content and pedagogical knowledge. Aguilar uses the ladder of inference to allow coaches to evaluate their own thoughts, and ultimately use this ladder to help principals and teachers evaluate their own beliefs before jumping to assumptions. Aguilar states that her "list of beliefs has changed over the years. You can change yours, too. The point is to be mindful of the beliefs from which we're working and to notice the effect of working from those beliefs." Beliefs can change about approaches to teaching, classroom management, or even content knowledge.
Blended mentoring is an implementation of information technology (IT) into the traditional mentoring program, intended to give to career counseling and development services the opportunity to adopt mentoring in their ordinary practice. Rather than a strict form of e-mentoring where all the communication between the mentor and mentee are done electronically, or simply the traditional model of face-to-face mentoring that has not adapted to the changing times, blended mentoring has been found to increase student satisfaction (which is inherently tied to effectiveness) by combining online group mentoring sessions with individual, face-to-face meetings with a mentor. In incorporating IT with the traditional mentoring method, students are able to benefit from the technologies of e-mentoring while also receiving direct and personal advice from the traditional method.
In the reverse mentoring situation, the mentee has less overall experience (typically as a result of age) than the mentor (who is typically older), but the mentee has more knowledge in a particular area, and as such, reverses the typical constellation. Examples are when young internet or mobile savvy millennial generation individuals train executives in using their high end smartphones. They in turn sometimes offer insight in business processes.
The concept of mentoring has entered the business domain as well. This is different from being an apprentice; a business mentor provides guidance to a business owner or an entrepreneur on the entrepreneur's business. An apprentice learns a trade by working on the job with the "employer". Technology company PushFar helps businesses with internal mentor matching and management solutions.
A 2012 literature review by EPS-PEAKS investigated the practice of business mentoring, with a focus on the Middle-East and North Africa region. The review found strong evidence to suggest that business mentoring can have real benefits for entrepreneurs, but highlights some key factors that need to be taken into account when designing mentoring programmes for this to be the case, such as the need to balance a formal and informal approach and to appropriately match mentors and mentees.
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