Professions and the mentoring imperative

Year: 2012

Author: Armour, Kathleen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Mentoring has become fashionable. In teaching, however, mentoring may indeed be the answer to some enduring questions about professional development. This paper advances the argument that because teaching is a profession (Hargreaves, Cunningham et al, 2007) mentoring of professional colleagues is an activity in which all teachers should engage as a matter of routine.

Professions are characterised by access to and guardianship of a specialised body of knowledge which they deploy to serve their clients. The 'clients' of the teaching profession are children and young people and teachers have a professional responsibility to practise in the best interests of those clients. If, therefore, teachers draw upon knowledge (broadly defined) that is inadequate, out of date or inappropriate, they cannot fulfil their primary function. This explains why all definitions of a 'profession' identify continuous career-long learning as a defining characteristic (e.g. Brunetti, 1998). Not to engage in professional development would render a teacher unprofessional.

Yet, it has long been claimed that most systems of professional development provided for teachers are inadequate (Wayne, Suk Yoon et al., 2008) because they are too distant from the realities of practice (Timperley, 2008). Moreover, few meet Day and Townsend's (2009) four criteria for effective professional learning: voluntarism, choice, agency and ownership, and control. The term in situ mentoring, where teachers take a degree of responsibility for the professional development of their colleagues (new and experienced), appears to overcome some of the criticisms of traditional forms of professional development.

Mentoring goes beyond notions of training and quality control, and is better understood as the cornerstone of the professional identity of a teacher. From this perspective, teachers can be conceptualised as 'lead learners', to ensure that the classroom and the pedagogical encounter are placed at the heart of professional learning. As Pedder, James and Macbeath (2005, p.237) argue, classrooms and schools 'need to become crucibles of learning for teachers as much as for their students' and they describe learning with colleagues as 'indispensable' in the quest to raise the quality of educational provision.