In Ontario's Other Professions

The teaching profession is likely to see the increasing use of mentoring programs to support the professional development of the ever-growing number of new teachers. In doing so, it will be following in the footsteps of the most established of the Ontario self-regulating professions.

By Lois Browne

By 2005, about 50,000, or two in five of Ontario’s 124,000 full-time teachers, will have five years experience or less in Ontario classrooms.

That’s a direct result of the massive demographic shift the teaching profession is going through as huge numbers of teachers retire between now and 2010 and they are replaced by new graduates. So it’s no surprise that mentoring – the process of using experienced professionals to pass on their expertise to those new to the profession – is increasingly regarded as an essential component of professional development. Each school board is responsible for orienting their new employees and a number of boards have begun developing their own mentoring programs.

In the December 1999 issue of Professionally Speaking, OISE/UT’s Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan looked at some of the key challenges to mentoring for the teaching profession. One of their principal conclusions was that mentoring programs, although they have become widespread, have not been as successful as they could be because “we fail to regard our approach to mentoring as part and parcel of how we approach teaching and professionalism more widely.” With the announcement by the Ministry of Education that an induction, or mentoring, program will be part of its teacher testing program, there is likely to be an opportunity to maximize the effectiveness of mentoring programs. The development of an induction program was one of a number of recommendations made to the ministry by the College in its advice about the government’s proposal for a teacher testing program.

M A N Y      P O S S I B I L I T I E S

The College’s recommendation suggested a number of possible elements, including an orientation program, mentoring by experienced teachers and vice-principals and principals, reflective journal writing, online support through discussion groups, formal in-service sessions and in-service courses.

As an induction process for new teachers is developed, it is interesting to look at how other professions in Ontario integrate newly trained people. Mentoring is also a factor in other Ontario professions, but the range of programs that they provide is very wide, varying from emphasizing relatively brief periods of hands-on experience in the presence of a qualified professional to a lengthy program of oversight and fairly intense discussion about the mechanics and the philosophy behind the work. Not all mentoring activities go by that name. Graduate lawyers go through a process called articling and newly licensed doctors do a residency. But in each case, the central principle is to have new entrants to a profession taking responsibility for patients or clients while supervised to varying degrees by more experienced colleagues.


The legal profession, which requires new lawyers to article after the successful completion of a law degree, has one of the most organized and integral mentoring programs. Articling encompasses 12 months of work in a law firm and is intended to provide practical experience under close supervision of lawyers. It is one part – and the most substantial part – of a bar admission course that also concentrates on skills such as client interviewing, legal research and writing and practice management.

Lawyers who mentor – known as articling principals – must have at least three years experience and must apply in writing to the law society and be subject to an annual review. A lawyer who doesn’t have three years experience may be allowed to act as articling principal, but in such a case the law society appoints a mentor to the articling relationship – a mentor for the mentor, in fact. The articling relationship mentor will usually have had mentoring experience and will work with the mentor and student to develop an education plan that outlines what the student will be doing. The articling process includes mid-term and final evaluations.

Health care professions tend to have a lot of clinical work incorporated into basic training that ensures that by the time students graduate, they have already had practical experience that prepares them for taking responsibility for patients. This includes a wide range of health-related professions such as nurses, physicians and surgeons, audiologists and speech pathologists, chiropodists, chiropractors, dental surgeons, midwives, psychologists and others. Post-graduate mentoring, however, is usually handled by the employers and it can vary widely.

C L I N I C A L      T R A I N I N G

Nurses, for example, do not have what the College of Nurses calls a mentoring program, but they do train and operate in a practice environment, says Ru Tagger, practice consultant for the College of Nurses of Ontario. That is, both registered practical nurses and registered nurses begin spending some time with patients from the earliest stages of their nursing education. By their final year of training, registered nurses are assigned to specific patients with direct supervision by qualified nurses.

“Most hospitals provide orientation for new nurses in which they are buddied with more experienced personnel,” creating a mentoring environment, says Tagger, and there is always a resource person on each unit.

Doctors are regulated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario which requires medical school graduates to do a period of residency – supervised practice – in a teaching hospital, as part of their training before they can apply for a licence to practice independently. The residency period depends on the specialty; family medicine, for example, requires a two-year residency. Dental surgeons don’t have a formal mentoring program, but again clinical practice is introduced early in the lengthy education process. “The third and fourth years of training are largely clinical,” says Dr. Michael Gardiner of the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, “where students see patients morning and afternoon, supervised by qualified dentists.”

Dental surgeons do have lots of opportunities for learning from more experienced colleagues, says Gardiner, through professional associations and local organizations. And quality assurance is addressed through regulations about mandatory continuing education, College practice guidelines and a new program still in the pilot phase of practice review by the College. Audiologists and speech pathologists have a formal mentoring program that registrants to their College must go through before they can earn their certification. Registrants themselves arrange for a mentor either through a potential employer or with the help of the College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists of Ontario. A registrant working full time must be mentored for six months. At the end of the process, the mentor completes a performance evaluation and recommends the applicant for general certification.

S T A N D A R D S      F O R      M E N T O R S

The mentor also has to meet specific requirements. They must have completed four years of professional practice and be in good standing with the College.

Colleen Myrie, who monitors the College’s mentoring program, says that at present registrants and their mentors establish their own professional objectives but the College is moving towards standardizing these objectives and will be setting professional practice standards that will be incorporated into the mentoring contract. The Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) have a voluntary mentoring program, called the Engineering Internship Training Program, for applicants for an engineering licence.

“All engineers need 48 months of acceptable experience before they can be awarded a licence,” says PEO’s Gerry Meade. When an engineering applicant has any doubt whether their experience is considered acceptable for the purposes of meeting the experience requirement, says Meade, they can join the Engineering Internship Training Program. Those most likely to join are engineers who are foreign-trained or those who are working part-time. PEO can provide the guidance and monitoring necessary to ensure that their experience is acceptable for licensing purposes.

The mentoring program is still informal, says Meade, in large part because providing the resources to establish a mandatory mentoring program for up to 3,000 people who begin the application process a year is prohibitive.

College of Teachers Deputy Registrar Doug Wilson says that, while the Ministry of Education’s work on a mentoring program is still in its early stages, “The wide variety of mentoring models in different professions will give all the partners who will be involved in developing teaching’s approach lots of food for thought. “It’s clear that the profession must find an effective way to transmit the collective wisdom of experienced teachers to the new generation and provide more support for them in their early years in the classroom.”

To link to the Fullan and Hargreaves article in the December 1999 issue of Professionally Speaking, visit our web site at

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