Mentoring. A literature review

Mentoring dates back to ancient Greek mythology whereby Ulysses entrusted the care of his young son, Telemachus, to his loyal and most trusted friend Mentor (Ebbeck, M & Waniganayake, 2003; Eby, Rhodes, & Allen, 2007). Mentor’s roles included being a guide, counsellor, tutor, and defender of Telemachus and dispensing discipline during his father’s absence (Ebbeck, & Waniganayake, 2003). The idea behind this kind of mentoring was for Telemachus to acquire the skills and knowledge to be a strong and effective citizen (Ebbeck, M & Waniganayake, 2003; Hays, Gerber and Miniciello 1999; Rosenbach 1999).

Understandings and practices of mentoring have shifted over time and across cultures. The definition of mentoring depends in part on the philosophical stance taken by an organisation, leading to little consensus regarding its definition (Eby et al., 2000). Uttley and Horm (2008) suggest that mentoring, which occurs when an experienced role model offers support to another person, is acknowledged as a successful professional development strategy in a variety of fields, with numerous models implemented across disciplines.


Mentoring has been defined as ‘an alliance of two people that creates a space for dialogue that results in reflection, action and learning for both’ (Rolfe-Flett, 2002, p. 2) or ‘mentoring is the process by which an expert person facilitates learning in the mentee through arrangements of specific learningexperiences’(Tovey,1999 cited in Rolfe-Flett,2002,p.2).Cummins (2004) suggests that mentoring is not a supervisory relationship, but rather, it is an opportunity for colleagues to engage in reflective dialogue that can enhance feelings of empowerment and success. Mentors provide protégés with career functions and psychosocial support (Kram, 1985). Parise and Forrest (2008, p. 226) argue that the career functions include providing protégés with challenging work, coaching, exposure, protection and sponsorship. Mentoring can also be defined by the characteristics that differentiate it from other learning relationships (see Eby et al., 2007).

Early Childhood Context

Uttley and Horm (2008) note that much ‘research on mentoring in educational settings is focused on the undergraduate student teacher and his or her relationship with a seasoned mentor while completing a placement in middle or secondary schools, as opposed to early childhood settings’.Within the early childhood sector, mentoring may be understood as a leadership strategy for optimising learning and professional development (Rolfe-Flett, 2002) and is viewed as a viable strategy for the professionalism of early childhood staff (Martin and Trueax, 1997; Rodd 2006). Law and Glover (2000) understand mentoring as a peer support strategy that engages processes of review and reflection enabling both mentor and protégé to feel valued. Rodd (2006) notes that mentoring is a way of overcoming some of the shortcomings of current approaches to training early childhood practitioners by offering on the job training and professional development opportunities. Further, she suggests that when colleagues mentor each other, they support a culture of learning in the profession and throw a spotlight on quality practice (2006, 172).

Formal Mentoring Programs

A formal mentoring program occurs when an organisation officially supports and sanctions mentoring relationships. In these contexts, organisations play a role in facilitating mentoring relationships by providing some level of structure, guidelines, policies, and assistance for starting, maintaining, and ending mentor–protégé relationships. Organisations play a role in facilitating mentoring relationships by providing some level of structure, guidelines, policies, and assistance for starting, maintaining, and ending mentor–protégé relationships (Scandura and Pellegrini, 2007). This definition distinguishes formal programs from informal mentoring where it is the primary responsibility of the mentor and/or protégé to initiate, maintain, and end a relationship, with little or no official organisational support (Scandura and Pellegrini, 2007). Rodd (2006) suggests that to be effective, formal mentoring programs need the input of high-quality trained mentors. Structured mentor training contributes to the development of leadership capacity because it produces heightened awareness of the complexity of the profession. Successful mentors are recognised for their knowledge and expertise, as well as for their ability to critically examine and reflect on their own and others’ practice (Rodd, 2006).

Characteristics Of Successful Mentoring

Ebbeck,and Waniganayake (2003:25) suggest that the first step in developing a successful mentoring relationship is having credibility and gaining trust, which they believe are essential for creating a climate of change. Rodd (2006) supports this, suggesting that when early and middle childhood leaders take on the responsibility of mentoring another individual, they enter a special ongoing personal relationship with that person which is based on the development of rapport, mutual trust, respect, and openness to learning. The mentor and protégé must be clear about goals and obligations to each other by staying in touch and communicating with each other openly and transparently (Kirner and Rayner 1999, 123).

With regard to selecting mentors, Ebbeck,andWaniganayake (2003) suggest asking the following questions:

  • Is the mentor good at what s/he does?
  • Is the mentor a good teacher as well as a good practitioner?
  • Can the mentor motivate/inspire?
  • What needs and goals do you both want to pursue through this mentorship?
  • What is the mentor’s status/position within the organisation/
  • profession?
  • What is the chemistry and rapport between the participants?
  • Is the mentor flexible and available, especially when most needed?

(Adpated from Zey 1995, cited in Ebbeck, and Waniganayake (2003; 25).

For Rodd (2006), successful mentors display:

  • Empathy and understanding
  • An interest in lifelong learning and professional development
  • Sophisticated interpersonal skills
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Understanding of the role of the mentor
  • Considerable early childhood expertise.

Other attributes include authenticity, gentleness, patience, consistency, positive attitude, teachability and enthusiasm (Hurst and Reding, 2002). Rodd also identifies certain skills associated with effective mentoring which include:

  • Active listening
  •  Effective observations
  • Reflective conversations
  • Awareness of different learning styles
  • Adult/teacher development.

Mentoring Models

In recent times, new theoretical models of mentoring have emerged such as team and network mentoring.The definition of mentoring relationships by scholars such as Levison et. al (1978) and Kram (1983, 1985) as face- to-face, single, dyadic, and potentially hierarchical in relation has shifted to include online relationships sustained primarily through electronic means (Hamilton & Scandura, 1999), team mentoring relations where the team leader mentors members and team members mentor each other (Williams, 2000), multiple mentoring with one protégé having multiple sequential mentoring relations (Baugh & Scandura, 1999), and mentoring where one protégé has a constellation of different mentors at one point in time (Higgins & Kram, 2001). Interestingly, Ebbeck, and Waniganayake (2003) suggest a collective model of mentoring in which a whole group is mentored which they argue is more powerful because of the alliances that are built within a group of people with similar interests. They suggest that in this model, the emphasis is on the process and not the person, and on the relationships, not the performance.

Adults As Learners

Teachers of young children experience different phases of professional development (Katz 1977,Vander Ven 1994). Lillian Katz describes a model for professional growth in four stages (Katz, 1995).

During this stage, the staff member is predominantly focused on themselves and their own needs. Surviving the daily challenges to their role and getting through from day-to-day is the main concern. Many staff at this stage, question their personal and professional competence and in doing so, their desire to continue to work in their role.The survival stage is associated with being new to a role, so therefore may be re-experienced in times of change, either because of moving to a new role or because of new initiatives in the service.

During this stage, new staff will have developed ways of working each day that they find effective and so to begin to broaden their focus to include developing deeper understandings of their role and the characteristics of individual children.

In this stage, staff members are highly competent in their day-to-day work and begin to look for new challenges and ways of extending their expertise.

This stage is characterised by continued interest in extending expertise coupled with deepening interest in ideas, philosophy and the bigger picture aspects of the profession as a whole.

Phases In The Mentoring Relationship

Five phases characterise most mentoring relationships (Rolfle-Flett, 2002):

PHASE 1: INITIATION—This phase includes the following: decision to proceed or not; scope of the relationship defined; broad goals determined; roles clarified; logistics agreed; commitment stated.

PHASE 2: DEVELOPMENT—Objectives may be specified; action plans developed; activities undertaken.

PHASE 3: MATURITY—Action plan completed; objectives achieved, or not; success and satisfaction evaluated; closure or continuance agreed.

PHASE 4: DISENGAGEMENT—closure and celebration or; lack of closure, unresolved issues and/or mourning.

PHASE 5: REDEFINITION—continuance of mentoring, and a return to phase 1 or 2 or; discontinuance or current mentoring but a redefined relationship continued or; no continuance of the relationship.

Limitations of Mentoring

Garvey (2004) identifies three broad areas in which mentoring may ‘go wrong’. These areas are: practical or logistical issues, relationship issues, and scheme and organisation issues. Practical or logistical issues include time management whereby both mentor and protégé need to commit time to their relationship; mentors need time to develop their skills; mentoring relationships take time to develop, and protégés take time to learn, change and develop (Garvey 2004).With regard to relationships, the literature suggests that certain conditions need to be in place for people to learn and develop. Bennetts (1996) suggests that the conditions for a successful mentoring relationship are similar to those of a good counselling relationship. Drawing on this tradition, Rogers (1961) suggests that the ‘core conditions for learning’ include: empathy, genuineness, unconditional positive regard and the ability to communicate all these attributes to others. With relation to the scheme and organisation issues, Kram (1985) suggested a framework for developing a mentoring scheme with four main stages: defining objectives and scope, diagnosis, implementation, evaluation. Ebbeck and Waniganayake, (2003) suggest that one must take into account the limitations of mentoring, including dependency and discrimination, particularly in organisational contexts.

The literature suggests that mentoring is important for the career development of women and ethnic minorities because of the ‘glass ceiling’ or barriers in their career advancement (Morrison, White, & Van Velsor, 1987). Morrison, White, and Van Velsor (1987) describe the glass ceiling as an almost impenetrable barrier that prevents advancement. Mentoring has been suggested as a tool for negotiating the glass ceiling (Ragins, Townsend, & Mattis,1998).

With regard to establishing a non-threatening professional learning environment, Clutterbuck (2004) identifies out of line reporting, that is, a direct line manager or supervisor does not mentor an employee as being important. Clutterbuck also characterises the mentoring relationship as one in which the power and authority of the mentor is put aside for the purposes of the relationship. Consequently, the degree of learning that can occur through mentoring can be measured by exploring changes in people’s behaviour, attitudes and perceptions. Mentoring is also about values and ethics. Rodd (2006) identifies some of the dangers of mentoring which include protégés becoming compliant through perceived powers of mentors who may have control over important aspects of employment, such as pay awards or promotion.

by Cristyn Davies

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