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Does “Mentoring” in the education sector make sense?

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

This is a question Rafi asked me recently at work. Rafi leads Mantra4Change’s team that works with district-level leadership in Tumkur. His question came from concerns about a low cluster head-to-teacher ratio (even lower as you go up the ed-leadership ladder) in Karnataka and this mentor cadre's primary role being supervisory. His curiosity about whether Mentoring is feasible in education got me thinking - is it?


I reflected on the focus of my work over the last two years; at Colab, we’ve contributed to the National Council of Teacher Education’s (NCTE) Bluebook on Mentoring in partnership with ShikshaLokam based on how it is talked about in the National Education Policy 2020. We’ve also been piloting mentoring solutions with many organisations in different geographies at different scales.


However, besides all the work we’ve been doing in this area, my interest in exploring the potential of mentoring in education comes from observing mentoring structures worldwide and my personal experiences with it.


Mentoring has been presented as a shared dialogue between individuals, one of whom poses thought-provoking questions and the other engages by asking their own questions, similar to the Socratic method of fostering critical thinking through discussion. We’ve seen this all around us - from Aristotle mentoring Alexander the Great to Dr Benjamin Elijah Mays mentoring Martin Luther King to Sachin Tendulkar mentoring Virender Sehwag.


Through the industrial revolution and the subsequent advent of impersonal and standardised training, mentoring has now started re-emerging as an essential and effective method to enhance learning and skill-building. All modern-day organisations have a list of mentors they keep going to to help them grow (hello, Colab mentors!).


Today, all physicians in the US and UK are part of structured mentoring programs to help them deal with preparing for working as a medical professional and assimilating into the medical community better. Studies have found problem-solving and change management to be the key areas of improvement for physicians as a result of them being mentored.


In Finland, a peer-group mentoring (PGM) structure serves 2000 teachers by filling in the zone between training in universities and training in municipalities and as a means for continuous professional development. A study of 116 participants conducted by the Institute for Education and Information Sciences (Belgium) and the Finnish Institute for Educational Research saw teachers unanimously agreeing that PGM was an essential tool for professional development throughout their entire teaching careers.


Closer home, we’ve seen examples of the Delhi Mentor-Teacher Program and TISS’ Mentoring Program for 2000+ teachers in Assam towards a constructivist use of technology in secondary schools showing immense success. This is in addition to the many undocumented instances of formal and informal mentoring within schools and clusters for teachers and school leaders that help them build capacity and troubleshoot in areas they find critical to their growth.


During our work on Mentoring at Colab, we’ve encountered many instances of our stakeholders discussing how mentoring has helped their work. Here is a quote from a school leader in Uttar Pradesh who succinctly described the value mentoring added to his career in education:

“I think of my first HT (head teacher, another term for school leader), who was my margdarshak (guide). I was trained well by the DIET (District Institute of Education Training) in the pedagogical and technical aspects of my job, but all of what I learnt about managing my work, time, energy, and vyavhaarik gyaan (others’ behaviours, attitudes, etc.) was done by my HT.“

This is an example of an SL who engaged with a mentor without a formal structure, and what they learnt makes up a great deal of how they do their work today. We know what this means about the power of unstructured mentoring. If unstructured mentoring can lead to this, I envision incredible things being enabled by structured mentoring programs that provide mentoring access to educators in different areas they may be interested in!


We know it is needed because it has worked incredibly for a long time. Mentoring is a means to an end - it is an efficient and effective means to the end that is capacity building because it incorporates awareness of the context of the stakeholder and accounts for customisation for it. Mentoring respects stakeholders' aspirations to decide what they want to work on and promotes consistent growth. So, the question isn’t “Does mentoring in the education sector make sense,” or “Is mentoring feasible,” but “How do we make mentoring in the education sector possible.”




References:

  1. Hansman, C. A. (2002). Critical Perspectives on Mentoring. Center on Education and Training for Employment, College of Education, The Ohio State University.

  2. Bligh, J. (1999). Mentoring: an invisible support network. Medical Education, 1, 2–3. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2923.1999.00360.x

  3. Steven, A., Oxley, J., & Fleming, W. (2008). Mentoring for NHS doctors: perceived benefits across the personal–professional interface. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 11, 552–557. https://doi.org/10.1258/jrsm.2008.080153

  4. Heikkinen, H. L. T., Pennanen, M., Markkanen, I., & Tynjälä, P. (2020). A Brief History of the Peer-Group Mentoring Model in Finland: Struggling for Space in a Contested Niche. In New Teachers in Nordic Countries - Ecologies of Mentoring and Induction (pp. 107–128). Cappelen Damm Akademisk/NOASP. http://dx.doi.org/10.23865/noasp.105.ch5

  5. Geeraerts, K., Tynjälä, P., Heikkinen, H. L. T., Markkanen, I., Pennanen, M., & Gijbels, D. (2014). Peer-group mentoring as a tool for teacher development. European Journal of Teacher Education, 3, 358–377. https://doi.org/10.1080/02619768.2014.983068

  6. Sen, S., Charania, A., & Sarkar, D. (2021). Implementation Strategies and Challenges in an Online Teacher Professional Development Program in the COVID-19 context (Proceedings of SITE Interactive Conference, pp. 250–256). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).






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