Mentoring: Learning to Teach (with Technology?)

This post is part of a series examining research and theory on mentoring and coaching from the perspective of mentoring school videoconference coordinators.

Article Reference
Fairbanks, C. M., Freedman, D., & Kahn, C. (2000). The role of effective mentors in learning to teach. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(2), 102-112.

Note: This article is specifically about mentors in the process of learning to teach. But I wonder if the findings can apply to learning to teach with technology also? Let’s think about it!

The qualitative study focuses on mentoring relationship between the student teacher and the mentor teacher. The authors reference Britzman (1991) that learning to teach is a social process where the student teachers sort through the contradictions between the pedagogical knowledge they learned and the realities of teaching. The article also makes connections to Lave and Wenger (1991)’s situated learning and legitimate peripheral participation (which is a great model for the gradual taking over of teaching that happens during student teaching).

The major categories of assistance and mentoring that occurred during the student teacher / mentor teacher relationship are:

  • Helping student teachers survive their beginning teaching experiences and define their teaching lives
  • Establishing relationships based on dialogue and reflection (negotiation with each other, finding balance between leading and following, articulating craft knowledge)
  • Building professional partnerships (partnering to teach a lesson, developing new curriculum together)

They ended the relationship more as a team than as a mentor/student relationship.

Mentor Teacher Exposition
Mentor Teacher Exposition

Application to VC
So think with me just a wee bit about how this same process goes on as teachers learn a new technology, such as videoconferencing.


The videoconference coordinator / site facilitator / VC champion, if she has a teaching background, often leads the lessons to begin with. The VC coordinator:

  • Chooses the program based on the teacher’s curriculum
  • Signs up for the teacher
  • Helps to prepare the students for the videoconference
  • Stays in the room during the videoconference to help run the camera and facilitate the dialogue


Then, hopefully, the partnership moves to more dialogue and reflection. The VC coordinator:

  • Negotiates with the teacher and starts to encourage the teacher to participate in the process
  • Finds a balance between leading and following, starting to let the teacher take the lead
  • Articulates knowledge about VC: how to sign up, how to prepare students, how to use the remote to mute & use presets


Finally, there is a professional partnership.

  • Teacher and VC coordinator plan lessons together
  • Teacher and VC coordinator create new curriculum (collaborative projects) together
  • The VC coordinator moves into a “supporting” role instead of a “promoting” role

Your Turn!

What do you think? Does this model apply? Which stage are YOU at with the teachers in your school? If you’re at the educational service agency, are you moving through these stages with your school level VC coordinators? Is anything missing at any of the stages?

Please comment! How are you mentoring your teachers in using VC in the curriculum?

0 replies on “Mentoring: Learning to Teach (with Technology?)”

  1. This is exactly the process that I am going through with my teachers. I have a few that I have gotten to step 3 but many are still at step1. I do think that as the librarian (cart manager) I have more time to research available conferences and a broader knowledge of what is (or might be available).

    • Thanks for your comment, Nan! I am glad to know that my “sense” of what my coordinators are doing matches up with what you’re doing too! 🙂

  2. Janine,
    I read your blog this morning, my usual habit and liked your description of the mentor/student process as it relates to video conferencing. I think you have captured it quite nicely and I’ve saved it for later review.

    This past spring I completed a review of my service territory which includes 12 counties, 27 school corporations and approximately 60 VC sites and came away with the same feeling; that even though to some of us IVC is “old hat” to alot of teachers its a new, and unsettling technology at least in the beginning.

    Teachers and school officials do need guidance not only in the use of the technology in the classroom but also in what’s required to make their IVC installations successful i.e., (system maintenance, technical support, internal/external communications etc.)

    My challenge from an ESC perspective is how do I replicate himself and get my schools to take “ownership” of the process. These skills are new but they can be learned and shared the problem from an ESC perspective in my opinion is working through all the various levels and bureaucracy within the school systems. You may finally find that VC “Champion” and be making great process in one school or system then something changes perhaps the educational focus changes, a new Principal or Tech Coordinator comes on board and the gains you’ve worked so hard to achieve are halted.

    Your model of VC Coordinator/VC Novice is a good one but successful lasting VC implementation is a complex and constantly changing battle that is fought each year with the school systems and until school systems embrace and take ownership of the entire process our work will move to bursts and spurts.

    • That’s definitely true, Jerry. One of the ways that I combat the change-over is to always offer new coordinator training every fall. Then in buildings where the coordinator has left, I call and urge the principal to send some. I also give advice on who might be the best person – we discuss it based on staff, how they get along with the teachers, etc.

      I think it’s CRITICAL to have a support structure that includes:
      *technical support & offering programs at the ESC level
      *technical support at the district level (that’s supported by the ESC)
      *principal support – to get this they need to know what the opportunities are and how they benefit kids
      *VC coordinator – who works directly with the teacher, but has the support of the above as well…

      This seems like it will be another good post. Maybe I’ll flesh it out a bit more in another post. 🙂

    • Jerry – I just read this sentence again: “Successful lasting VC implementation is a complex and constantly changing battle that is fought each year with the school systems and until school systems embrace and take ownership of the entire process our work will move to bursts and spurts.”

      Do you really think that at some point the districts can do VC without us at the ESC level?

      • I am currently reading “Here Comes Everybody” and I think it might have implications for this. Since we have gotten the Codian bridge, we have shifted some of our work in a different direction.

        My hope is that some day the technology will just work as easily as tinychat with the HD and advanced capabilities of H. 323 so that we can move into more teaching and envisioning student possibilities.

      • Janine,

        I think that there is and probably always will be a place for an ESC to act as a consultant and resource to the schools for VC training, programs and technical expertise. What I was trying to emphasize in that sentence is that in my experience most schools (in my area) are looking for somebody other than themselves to carry the ball with VC. That can’t happen for a successful, lasting VC program in any school.

        An ESC is an outside resource that can be most helpful to schools in their VC program but in order to make a significant contribution to any school’s curriculum people at that school must embrace it and take ownership.

        Below are the issues that I think must be addressed at the school level for a successful, lasting video conferencing program:

        Defining the role of Distance Learning (DL):
        • Articulate educational goals to accomplish through DL.
        • Develop a policy, announce and distribute it throughout the organization.
        • Build the necessary infrastructure.
        • Support, promote, and enhance the ongoing management of DL. (A technical staff that maintains the systems and a non technical staff that promotes, trains and implements DL in the classroom.)
        • Allow the DL team to develop its own system of communications.
        • Budget for the technology to implement DL. (Systems maintenance, programming fees etc.)
        • Train staff.
        • Develop guidelines and standards.
        • Develop contingency plans
        • Involve all stakeholder groups (DL Team, Faculty, etc.) to evaluate DL program and revise for improved effectiveness.

        Obviously, when personnel are constantly changing within a school system it makes it quite difficult to sustain any program and that’s where an ESC can offer help and guidance,but that doesn’t relieve a school system from their responsibilities if they truly want to offer students an alternative delivery method to the traditional classroom lecture. One of my frustrations is trying to convey this idea to the myriad of school personnel I come in contact with.

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