The Adult Educator as Mentor
As a tradesperson most of the learning I have received in my career has been of the practical, on-the-job type as opposed to a classroom based formal learning framework. Most of my instruction has come from older tradespeople rather than trained adult educators. Their role has been that of the mentor showing me the ropes and guiding me throughout the culture of the various workplaces where I was employed. I have worked with older tradespeople who were open and shared their knowledge willingly while others were arrogant and belittled and mocked my lack of knowledge. That is why the role of the adult educator that I identify most with is that of the mentor. I feel that the mentoring relationship is crucial to the educational process, “it is suggested that if one understands good mentoring, he or she will understand what good teaching is as well.” Galbraith (2003) p. 9 In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the mentoring process I read the first three chapters of “Critical Perspectives on Mentoring: Trends and Issues, Information Series” edited by Catherine A. Hansman.
In the opening chapter, ‘Mentoring: From Athena to the 21st Century’, Catherine Hansman states that the earliest recognition of the mentoring relationship occurred in Homer’s epic tale “The Odyssey” about the Greek king Odysseus and his adventures at the siege of Troy and journey home. In the story Odysseus asks the goddess Athena to take the form of Mentor to guide his son Telemachus while he is away. Hansman (2002). Mentoring relationships can be informal relationships that are based on emotional bonds and common interests between the mentor and the protégé. The main goals of these informal relationships are of a psychosocial nature , to build confidence the protégé’s and establish a relationship with their mentor. Formal mentoring relationships are organized by workplaces and educational establishments to support and build the career of the protégé. There were over 500 articles on mentoring process published in the 1990’s but few were empirical studies, most were anecdotal and assumed that mentoring was a positive experience. Later studies began to question this assumption and pointed out problems in the mentoring relationship and posited that the mentoring relationship must change.
In Chapter 2, ‘Emerging Perspectives on Mentoring: Fostering Adult Learning and Development’, Vivian Mott looks at how mentoring can be crucial in our development and learning, “the relationships formed and the processes involved in mentoring can facilitate not only one’s career but psychosocial development in adulthood as well.” Mott (2002) p. 7. The term mentor has many meanings, guide, role model, sponsor, but “Whatever the term, a mentor usually represents the superior characteristics, accomplishments, skills and virtues to which the protege aspires as the result of the mentoring relationship” Mott (2002) p. 7. Mentoring provides the protégé with access to power structures and gives them an understanding of the organization’s culture. Studies show that mentoring relationships go through four developmental phases, initiation, cultivation, separation, and redefinition as the protégé develops and grows.
Research also shows that mentored individuals enjoy enjoy higher self-confidence, self-efficacy, and self-assurance. Protégés develop enhanced ability to reflect, examine their cognitive processes and assess their strengths and weaknesses. However the psychosocial benefits were found to vary depending on the gender of the individuals involved. It was found that mentoring relationships could be power laden depending on the preexisting relationship of the mentor and their protégé. Overall though research has found that “The developmental benefits of mentoring are significant and promising. Among the most common is the use of mentoring to promote cognitive development and intentional learning.” Mott (2002) (p.15).
Mentoring relationships can be transformative for both parties involved and mentoring carries a social responsibility and has a spiritual dimension. Radical humanists believe mentoring should be reciprocal, supportive, and a creative partnership of equals Darwin (2000). “According to Mezirow (1990) and others, mentoring can promote transformative learning and development by fostering an examination of underlying assumptions, encouraging reflective engagement between mentor and protégé, providing deeper understanding of the dynamics of power in relationships, and developing more integrative thinking.” Mott. (2002) (p. 17) Mentoring can assist individuals in negotiating changes that require new and improved attitudes and behaviours and they provide an advantage to individuals entering cultures other than their own.
There are limitations to the mentoring relationship as the processes and outcomes are power laden. Supervisors who act as mentors are able to motivate their protégés but they can also evaluate and punish them and administrative relationships may preempt open communication and a trusting climate between the mentor and the the protégé. Women are often left out of formal mentoring programs because there remain social taboos and suspicion of close relationships between mentoring partners in cross-gender mentoring relationships. Research shows that self-chosen mentoring relationships are the most valuable and productive but the problem with these relationships is that there is a tendency for mentors to chose like minded partners and this prevents the sharing of differing perspectives. There can be acrimony and rancour as the protégé develops or feelings of abandonment at the sudden termination of the relationship. Mentoring can also perpetuate oppressive and exploitative working environments and perpetuate the status quo.
Another problem that occurs in in formal mentorship programs is that they may mismatch partners and the mentors may lack respect for their protégés. Also not everyone has access to mentorship programs where they work or study so some people have an advantage over others in their professional field. However for protégés generally “…for psychosocial development in particular, the dynamics of the mentoring relationships, the context in which they are instituted and maintained, and the relationships that develop are critical components for mentoring success, whether for adult educators, administrators, and other professionals engaged in the continuing professional development of those who look to them for the advantages that mentoring can provide.” Mott (2002) (p. 18-19)
Mentoring has great promise for the individuals involved. English (2000) views mentoring as a means of self-actualization for both mentor and protege. She suggests that adult educators could “initiate mentorship structures in their places of practice, and … encourage individuals to mentor, to pass on their knowledge, skills and proteges and instill in them the social value of the field … fostering in them a shared commitment for the common good” (p. 36) For organizations mentoring contributes to the development of professional expertise, facilitates team building and cross training and enhances job satisfaction (Peterson and Provo 1998). This is becoming increasingly important as we move from a goods based to a knowledge based economy.
In Chapter 3, ‘Mentoring in Contexts: The Workplace and Educational Institutions’, Andrea D. Ellinger looks at some of the research that has been done on mentoring projects in both the work and educational field. Her findings show that protégés in mentoring relationships gain certain advantages These relationships can lead to promotions, early career advancement, a higher income, and greater job satisfaction. The advantages for organizations that promote mentoring relationships are reduced turnover, enhanced organizational socialization, and more rapid assimilation of employees. With the rise of affirmative action in the U.S. mentoring relationships have helped women and minorities overcome organizational barriers to advancement.
Studies have shown that informal mentoring relationships are largely beneficial to proteges because they develop naturally and are voluntary and that employees in these informal relationships receive higher compensation and promotions than non-mentored and formal mentored employees. Protégés with informal versus formal mentors have greater satisfaction and that when mentors and protégés have input into the pairing process their relationships are more successful. A good idea in designing a mentorship program is to use mentors from different departments than the protégé, however the mentors motivation to mentor may be more important than design features to insure the success of the program.
Studies show that mentors choose to become mentors because they are “other focused” or “self focused”. Other-focused mentors have a desire to pass on information to others, to build a competent work force, to help others succeed, to help the organization, and to help minorities and women move through the organizational ranks. Self-focused mentors are motivated by gratification at seeing others grow, having more free time for other pursuits, a desire to work with others, to enhance their personal learning, pride, and a desire to influence others and gain respect. Programs that identify mentors who are committed to the mentoring process may improve the satisfaction within the mentoring relationship rather than programs that force mentors to take part in a mentorship relationship.
Mentoring is widely used in the educational field. In the U.S. teachers leave the profession at a rate of 50% after 5 years and 80% after 10 years (Boreen and Niday 2000) this has prompted many educational institutions to develop mentorship programs for new teachers. One type of program is one that uses buddy mentors to pair a beginning teacher with an experienced teacher. This relationship is to provide personal support, task-related assistance and support, problem related assistance, and advice and critical reflection and feed back on practice. Problems arise when mentors are unreceptive to new techniques, are not good role models, and are unwilling to render criticism Ballantyne, Hansford, and Packer (1995). This is why prepared mentors are more successful Everston and Smithey (2000) their protégés develop and sustain more workable classroom routines, manage instruction more smoothly and can gain student cooperation in academic tasks. Another area where mentoring takes place in an educational setting is when faculty members serve as thesis or dissertation advisers. However Waldeck, Orrego,Plax, and Kearney (1997) found that faculty members were reluctant to mentor students because of increased sensitivity toward legal issues such as sexual harassment and Green and Bauer (1995) found that those students perceived to be more talented or capable were more likely to receive mentoring help from faculty members.
Ellinger concludes that to date research has focused on a traditional conception of mentoring as a single dyadic relationship with the rise of new technologies and the shifting nature of the workplace and educational institutions there is a need to research and explore alternative forms of mentoring. She also sees a need to do research about relationships of power and knowledge in mentoring relationships need further explication. An emerging trend that I looked at more closely was the rise of telementoring or e-mentoring. With more women and people from other races and cultures entering the trades I concur with her that there is a need for more research into cross-gender and cross-racial and cross-cultural mentorship relationships.
I found this information enlightening and I hope to incorporate it into my practice as an adult educator and also as a member of my workplace. I feel it will make me not only a better teacher but also a better tradesperson and more valuable employee. Being a team player is an essential prerequisite for today’s employees and a good mentoring relationship allows both mentors and protégés to develop the camaraderie necessary to attain this goal and become more successful in their career and as human beings.
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