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December 1999

Mentoring in the New Millennium

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As the profession undergoes sweeping change, new teachers and experienced ones alike need mentors. But teachers’ concept and practice of mentoring must also change radically.

By Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan

Poor professional judgement can mean that patients die, buildings fall down or students give up on their own learning. So the idea that new recruits to professions should find or be assigned mentors to guide them through developing the skills and managing the stresses of their work has become increasingly accepted.

In teaching, however, while induction and mentor programs have become widespread over the past decade or more, their implementation has all too often been disappointing. Mentoring practice often falls short of its ideals not because of wrong-headed policies or poor program design, but because we fail to regard our approach to mentoring as part and parcel of how we approach teaching and professionalism more widely.

Mentoring of new teachers will never reach its potential unless teachers understand it is central to the task of transforming the teaching profession itself. Historically, approaches to mentoring have changed as the model of professionalism in teaching has evolved.


Public education began as a factory-like system of mass education. The basic teaching methods were most commonly ones of recitation or lecturing, along with note-taking, question-and-answer and seat work. In this pre-professional age, teaching was seen as managerially demanding but technically simple. Its principles and parameters were treated as unquestioned common sense.

In this pre-professional view, teachers are – at best – enthusiastic people who know their stuff and how to "get it across," and can keep order in their classes. They learn to teach by watching others do it, first as a student and then as a student teacher. In the pre-professional view of teaching, teachers need little training or ongoing professional learning. They learn refinements on the job, within the confines of the classroom which the teacher controls. Mentoring here is reduced to a few words of encouragement, perhaps a few management tips offered in the staff room – otherwise new teachers are on their own. This is scarcely mentoring at all.


From the 1960s onward, the status and standing of teachers in many countries improved significantly, compared to the pre-professional age. In this period, the words "professional" and "autonomy" became increasingly inseparable among teachers. One of the overriding characteristics of teaching at this time was its individualism. Most teachers taught their classes in isolation, separated from their colleagues.

Professional autonomy enhanced the status of teaching as the amount of teacher preparation was lengthened and salaries rose. But professional autonomy also inhibited innovation.

The benefits of in-service education seldom became integrated into classroom practice, as individual course-goers returned to schools of unenthusiastic colleagues who had not shared the learning with them. And pedagogy stagnated as teachers were reluctant or unable to stand out from their colleagues.

Induction and mentoring programs did begin to be introduced in a profession that was now acknowledged as being more difficult, but the surrounding culture of individualism meant that helping relationships in a school were confined to new mentoring. The message was that only novices or incompetents needed help. The rest of the teaching staff could manage just fine by themselves.

Not surprisingly, when help was associated with weakness, new teachers sought to extricate themselves from it as fast as they could. The age of professional autonomy provided teachers with poor preparation for coping with the dramatic changes that were heading their way and against which their classroom doors would offer little protection.


By the mid-1980s, individual teacher autonomy was becoming unsustainable as a way of responding to the increased complexities of schooling, yet the persistence of individualism in teaching meant that teachers’ responses to the challenges they faced were ad hoc, unco-ordinated with the efforts of their colleagues and based on rates of development in their own personal knowledge and skill.

At the same time, there were many reasons to create collaborative cultures – the knowledge explosion, the widening of curriculum demands, the increasing range of special education students in ordinary classes and the accelerating pace of change.

In today’s schools, we see increasing efforts to build strong professional cultures of collaboration. Our research shows this helps teachers develop common purpose, cope with uncertainty and complexity, respond well to rapid change, create a climate of risk-taking and continuous improvement and develop stronger senses of teacher efficacy.

Collegial professionalism has significant implications for initial teacher education, ongoing professional learning and mentoring, in particular:

• teachers must learn to teach in ways they have not been taught

• professional learning is seen as a continuous process grappling with complex and evolving issues

• continuous learning is both an individual responsibility and an institutional obligation

• professional learning is not to be found in a choice between school-based and course-based modes of provision, but in an active integration of and synergy between the two

• collegial professionalism means working with, and learning from, teaching colleagues

• teaching must be framed and informed by professional standards of practice that define what good teachers should know and be able to do, as well as what qualities and dispositions they should possess and display to care for and connect with their students.


The world in which we live is undergoing profound social, economic, political and cultural transformations. The boundaries between institutions are dissolving, roles are becoming less segregated and borders are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

What’s "out there" is now "in here," and this has fundamental implications for the roles of teachers and administrators. Teachers are having to learn to work with more diverse communities, to see parents as sources of learning and support rather than interference, to work more with other social agencies and so on.

The content of professional learning now needs to become wider and deeper. It needs to encompass working with parents, becoming assessment literate in relation to standards and data about student learning, keeping up with scientific breakthroughs in the pedagogy of learning, rekindling the purpose and passion of teaching and working with others to bring about positive reforms in education.


After decades of assuming that teachers taught alone, learned to sink or swim by themselves and got better over time only through their own individual trial and error, there is increasing commitment to the idea and the evidence that all teachers are more effective when they can learn from and are supported by a strong community of colleagues, and that new teachers can benefit greatly from having a mentor who will be a guide and coach for them.

At the same time, mentors can gain as much from their protégés as their protégés do from them – developing new insights into their own and others’ teaching, new relationships, and a renewal of commitment and enthusiasm to their craft and career.

An expanding body of research has addressed key issues such as the selection of mentors, how mentors and protégés are assigned or matched to each other, how formal or informal the relationship should be, how mentors should be paid or rewarded more generally for their contribution, and where the time for mentoring is to be found.

What are the challenges to mentoring at the beginning of a new millennium? Four key areas of change will push educators to look at mentoring differently in the postmodern age.


Teaching has become incredibly more complex over the past few years. Teachers’ classroom repertoires are expanding because of developments in the science of teaching – in constructivism, co-operative learning, metacognition and assessment strategies, among others – because of the spread of information technologies, and because of the challenge of adopting instruction to the needs and learning styles of students from culturally diverse backgrounds and students with special needs.

These developments pose challenges for new and experienced teachers alike. The old model of mentoring where expert teachers who are certain about their craft can pass on its principles to eager novices no longer applies.

Although it is always possible to find a few super-teachers who are conversant and comfortable with the wide range of new teaching strategies, these individuals – in professional development schools or elsewhere – are a scarce resource and can quickly become overburdened.

The reality in many schools today is that while assigned mentors may know more than new teachers about school procedure or classroom management, for example, the new teacher may sometimes know more about new teaching strategies than the mentor does.

But if the school assumes that the mentor always knows best, even about teaching strategies, the innovative new teachers might quickly experience the mentor relationship as an oppressive one. Mentors may feel more like tormentors for them, and the process of induction into the profession may instead amount to leading the new teachers away from the purposes and practices they acquired in their pre-service program.

These times call for less hierarchical mentor relationships, in which everyone acknowledges that teaching is inherently difficult, and there are many problems of practice for which even "experts" do not have easy answers. What this also means is that the mentor relationship should not be the only helping relationship in a school. Rather, in a job that is seen as inherently complex and difficult, everyone needs help, not just the incompetent teacher or the novice.


Teaching is an emotional practice. It arouses and colours feelings in teachers and students. Teaching involves not only instructing students, but also caring for them, forming bonds and relationships with them. With the children of many of today’s postmodern families – fractured, poor, single-parented – this burden of caring is becoming even greater.

Teaching is not just about mastering a set of skills. It is a job where teachers repeatedly put their selves on the line. Times of rapid change, whether chosen or imposed, can create even greater anxiety and insecurity among many teachers as the challenge of mastering new strategies calls their competence and confidence into question.

In the drive to standardize teaching – to define and demarcate it through graded levels and benchmarks of knowledge and competence – it is easy to lose sight of teaching’s emotional dimension, of the enthusiasm, passion, care, wisdom, inspiration and dedication that make many teachers truly great.

Emotion energizes teaching but can also drain it. One of the strongest needs of beginning teachers is the need for emotional support. In the emotionally demanding classroom of today, experienced teachers also need this kind of support – to express and talk through their emotions, to manage and moderate their anxieties and frustrations, to be guided and reassured about the limits to the care they can provide when guilt about not doing enough threatens to overwhelm them.

An important part of mentorship, therefore, involves more than guiding protégés through learning standards and skill sets and extends to providing strong and continuous emotional support. In high schools, emotional support for students should not just be a specialist responsibility of one or two guidance counsellors but something for which all teachers feel responsible. In the same way, the responsibility of providing emotional support for teachers should not fall on the shoulders of a few designated mentors, but extend across the entire comm-unity of teachers in a school.


A third change force in teaching in the postmodern age is the way in which increased accountability, school choice and cultural changes in families and communities are making teachers connect more with people and groups beyond the school.

Good mentorship here involves helping teachers work effectively with adults, being sure – as a professional community – of their own judgements while also being open and responsive to the judgement and opinions of others. Teachers have important things to learn from parents and other community members, about the particular children they teach and sometimes – for instance, in relation to information technology – even about ways to teach them.

Teachers are not always the experts, and working effectively with other adults means that they will sometimes be the ones who are learning, not teaching. As Willard Waller wryly observed in his 1932 text, The Sociology of Teaching, "Parent-teacher work has usually been directed at securing for the school the support of parents, that is, at getting parents to see children more or less as teachers see them. But it would be a sad day for childhood if parent-teacher work ever really succeeded in its object."


Teachers recruited in the 1960s and ‘70s to educate the baby-boomer generation are now approaching or already entering retirement. In the next five years, the teaching force will undergo a massive demographic renewal, with large numbers of young teachers entering the profession for the first time.

Over the past two decades, there were few beginning teachers in most schools, with many experienced teachers who were good candidates to be their mentors. Mentors have been able to induct new teachers into the existing culture of the school, and the evidence is that, especially when employment in teaching has been insecure, beginning teachers quickly conform to the existing culture.

Everything will soon be reversed. Large cohorts of experienced teachers will retire, among them many potential mentors. At the same time, young teachers will soon form large groups in many schools, to a point where they may now start to drive and develop a new cultural dynamic in those schools.

This shift creates a massive opportunity for innovation and renewal. It also carries risks of misdirected energy and excesses of error. Large groups of new teachers might be a powerful lever for whole school renewal. But by only valuing their younger teachers, principals and lead teachers could balkanize their schools into older and younger teachers where each group excludes and devalues the contributions of the other.

In these circumstances, the challenge for a dwindling group of mentors or lead teachers may not be to counsel individuals. The challenge will be to bring together the cultures of youth and experience. This will involve harnessing the energies that new teachers bring to the system without marginalizing the perspectives and wisdom of teachers whose knowledge and experience have deep roots in the past.

These are just four of the challenges facing teaching and mentoring in a new century, ones that make mentoring less hierarchical, less individualistic, more wide-ranging and more inclusive in its orientation than it has often been viewed in the past.


Teacher induction programs are becoming more widespread. Many of these mentoring programs will fall far short of their potential, however, because of a failure to realize that they must be integrated with other developments in policy and practice to transform the teaching profession. Any formal mentoring policy can easily degenerate into acts of restructuring – adding formal roles – without reculturing – altering the capacity of teachers.

There are at least three strategic implications for developing mentoring programs that can make a lasting difference.

First, we can conceptualize and design mentoring programs so that they are explicitly seen as instruments of school reculturing. This means that all those involved must work on the deeper meaning of mentoring, seeing mentoring as a way of preparing teachers to become effective moral change agents who are committed to making a difference in the lives of young people, and who are skilled at the pedagogical and partnership developments that make success with students possible.

Mentoring in this sense becomes not just a way of supporting individual teachers but also a device to help build strong professional cultures of teaching in schools dedicated to improving teaching, learning and caring.

Second, mentoring must be explicitly connected to other reform components in transforming the teaching profession. For example, mentoring must address the needs of all new teachers to the district or the school, not just beginning teachers. It must be linked to the redesign of initial teacher education and also to ongoing school improvement.

At the University of Toronto we are implementing teacher preparation programs that have three design components: cohorts of students (up to 60), teams of faculty including members from schools (up to six on a team) and sets of partner schools (up to 10) in which subgroups of students-as-interns work.

In this model, schools of education see themselves as in the business of school improvement, as well as teacher education, and schools see themselves as in the business of teacher education, as well as school improvement.

Furthermore, induction and the continuous development of teachers and administrators must build on the efforts of initial teacher education. All of these in turn must be guided and monitored by standards of practice aligned with concepts of good teaching required for the emerging realities of the postmodern age.

Mentoring, in this sense, is not only an integral part of development and improvement efforts within the school, but part of an entire system of training, development and improvement beyond the school as well.

Third, and more comprehensively, all those involved directly and indirectly in mentoring must realize they are looking at a vital window of opportunity to recreate the teaching profession. The next few years will be a defining era for the teaching profession.

Will it become a force for societal change and social justice? Can it develop its own visions of and commitments to educational and social change, instead of simply vetoing and reacting to the change agendas of others?

Make no mistake about it. Those entering teaching at the turn of the millennium – and new teachers will be entering in huge numbers for years to come – are entering at a time when the future of the teaching profession is at stake.

Mentoring, in other words, is a means to a larger end – the creation of a strong, improvement-oriented profession as a whole in schools, in professional associations and in teacher unions alike. As this challenge is addressed we should see mentoring move in these directions:

• from being performed in pairs to becoming an integral part of professional cultures in schools

• from focusing only on classroom work with students to developing the ability to form strong relationships with colleagues and parents as well

• from hierarchical dispensations of wisdom to shared inquiries into practice

• from being an isolated innovation to becoming an integrated part of broader improvement efforts to reculture our schools and school systems.

These are some of the key challenges for mentoring at the turn of the millennium. The goal is not to create high-quality mentor programs as ends in themselves, but rather to incorporate mentoring as part and parcel of transforming teaching into a true learning profession.

The full version of this article will be published in the Winter 2000 issue of Theory into Practice, published by the College of Education, The Ohio State University, 172 Arps Hall, 1945 N. High Street, Columbus OH USA 43210; www.coe.ohio-state.edu/tip/tip_home.htm .

Michael Fullan is Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto and Andy Hargreaves is Director of the International Centre for Educational Change and professor in OISE’s Department of Theory and Policy Studies in Education. They can be reached at ahargreaves@oise.utoronto.ca