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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Mentoring: Recent Research Highlights

An update on teacher-induction programs.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team

Many professions, law and medicine among the best-known, place student apprentices in real-world, clinical situations early in their training. Traditionally, many beginning teachers have entered the classroom with only minimal opportunity to interact with students and learn from master teachers. In its 1996 report, What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future recommended restructuring the first years of teaching to resemble a medical residency, where new teachers could be mentored by experienced practitioners.

A number of recent research projects and publications have addressed mentoring in teacher professional development. Many excellent formal mentoring programs for teachers, students, and administrators are underway across the country. Sharon Feiman-Nemser of Michigan State University has found that "mentoring is by far the most common induction practice in the U.S. and all [induction plans] recommend a strong mentoring component, which usually means careful selection, training, and support of mentor teachers."

In surveying urban teacher induction programs, Elizabeth Fideler and David Haselkorn of Recruiting New Teachers, Inc., reported that "much of the literature on mentoring asserts that formal programs produce dramatic changes for new teachers. Retention goes up, attitudes improve, feelings of efficacy and control increase, and a wider range of instructional strategies is demonstrated, among other changes." Among districts with induction programs involving mentoring and other support, a "7 percent attrition (for inductees in eighty-nine responding programs) compares very favorably with national estimates showing 9.3 percent attrition of public school teachers within the first year and 23.3 percent within the first three years."

Researchers also suggest that mentoring can provide valuable experiences for veteran teachers. Stan Koki of PREL, the Pacific region's U.S. Department of Education-funded educational lab, states that "formalizing the mentor role for experienced teachers creates another niche in the career ladder for teachers and contributes to the professionalism of education." Other more informal mentoring contacts can lead to productive "teachable moments." Teacher Mary Delgado advises that "the two most practical ways experienced teachers can help new teachers are through chance meetings in the hallways and through scheduled discussions during common preparation times."

Many educators have found that online communication promotes professional development by breaking down barriers of time and distance. Often called "telementoring," these exchanges enable mentors to help with problem solving more quickly than arranging face-to-face meetings. Sandra Kerka, associate director/editor, ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, adds that "telementoring is emerging as a way to pair teachers and learners with subject-matter experts who can provide advice, guidance, and feedback on learning projects." In her book, Judi Harris of the University of Texas at Austin, who is director of the Electronic Emissary Project, describes other telementoring projects -- between students, students and specialists, and other teams -- that expand possibilities for learning and teaching via online connections.

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