Mentoring: What's a Mentor, Anyway?

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

It is my belief that the school videoconference coordinator is critical to the successful implementation of curriculum videoconferencing in the school. I also believe that it’s critical that the school videoconference coordinator have appropriate support so that they can be successful. I think that those of us at the educational service agency level can mentor and/or coach our videoconference coordinators. So this investigation into the research and theory on mentoring and coaching will hopefully inform and improve my own practice, and maybe yours too!

Article Reference
Mertz, N. T. (2004). What’s a Mentor, Anyway? Educational Administration Quarterly, 40(4), 541-560.

The article begins with an overwhelming and almost frustrating review of all the definitions of mentoring and various supporting relationships and bemoans the lack of consistently used definitions.

Next there is a review of research and theory on mentoring, showing that there are different kinds of supportive relationships, different levels of commitment on the mentor’s part, and varying benefits from the relationship. Theories of interpersonal relationships, such as social exchange theory, can help us understand how people behave in a mentoring relationship. There are different costs and benefits in the mentoring relationship.

So the authors propose a conceptual model for mentoring that includes two main concepts of intent and involvement. Intent is the perceived purpose of the activity and the involvement is the amount of time & effort required.

They also suggest distinguishing between career advancement mentoring and professional development mentoring. Clearly supporting VC coordinators fits into the professional development category.

The model starts at the bottom with the lowest level of involvement and the intent and expands the involvement and intent. The higher levels could also include the lower levels. The level of involvement is represented by the number, and the intent by the words in brackets.

  • Level 1: Role Model, Peer Pal, or Supporter (modeling)
  • Level 2: Teacher or Coach
  • Level 3: Counselor, Advisor, or Guide (professional development / advising)
  • Level 4: Sponsor or Benefactor
  • Level 5: Patron or Protector (career advancement / brokering)
  • Level 6: Mentor

Application to Videoconferencing: Intent
Hmm. So does this model help us think about how we support our school videoconferencing coordinators?

  • Role Model or Supporter. We are role models when we model best practice use of videoconferencing.
  • Teacher or Coach. We teach in training our VC coordinators how to schedule, how to participate in programs, projects, and events, how to find partners for collaborations, how to support teachers, and how to troubleshoot videoconferences.
  • Advisor or Guide. We informally assess their current skill, and help them learn the next skills. We provide them with tips & tricks for supporting VC in their school. We share strategies that have worked for us.
  • Broker. The broker levels of this model and article focus on “getting ahead” and advancing professionally. I don’t think this applies to this situation. Do you agree?

Application to Videoconferencing: Involvement

The article suggests that there are several levels of involvement and that some are easier for many people than others. How many videoconference coordinators do you support? I have 70 schools, so about 100 coordinators. Some schools have two teachers/educators sharing the responsibility, and I would include district technology coordinators in the list as well. How about you?

  • Levels 1 & 2. It takes time to give advice, provide guidance, and lead a friendly ear. Do you ever listen to your coordinators share their challenges in their school? I think this is an important role. It may not require much of an emotional investment to show concern and help a person through challenges and problems.
  • Levels 3 &4. At this level, the article has the educational advisor in mind and includes activities such as sharing information, monitoring progress, advising to gain tenure, etc. This type of formal commitment isn’t applicable to the situation of supporting videoconference coordinators. Still, it is important to share information and monitor the progress of our schools in implementing VC, and provide assistance where problems arise.
  • Levels 5 & 6. At this level, mentors use their networks and “reputation to support their proteges for advancement” and share power and influence. A higher level of trust is required and both parties share thoughts, understandings, and dreams. At this level, a mentor can only interact with a few at a time. As I think about my own videoconference coordinators, I can think of only a few where we talk often enough to approach this level. They call me to report on progress, to vent, and I nudge them to the next level of supporting VC, passing off more and more responsibility for test calls, scheduling etc. This could be stretched to mean advancement, but not strictly as the article describes.

Your Turn
So, now that we’ve both learned a bit more about what mentoring really means, think about your videoconference coordinators (or your teachers if you are supporting VC in your school). At what level are you coaching/mentoring them? Did some new ideas pop into your head of how you could support them? Please comment!

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