Assistant Prof. Dr. Valeria Negovan
University of Bucharest
The present study aims to give a general overview of the information on mentoring that already exists in the specialized literature. The aim of this necessary synthesis is to emphasize the acute need for its systematic research from a more subtle psychological perspective, one from which the psychology of learning should not miss. The theoretical perspective from which we treat this issue is suggested by a classical definition of mentoring (which can be found in many other definitions) that states that mentoring is “a protected relationship in which experimentation, exchange and learning can occur and skills, knowledge and insight can be developed” (Mumford, 2002, p.215). Our central argument is that the difficulties one encounters when trying to discover the efficiency of natural mentoring on the level of programmatic mentoring are due to the fact that research on mentoring to date has overlooked the contribution that the psychology of learning can bring to the shaping of this concept.
Keywords: mentor, mentoring, mentoring program, no-training intervention, long life learning
A series of reports that monitor the mentoring phenomena suggest that, at present, “mentoring as one non-training intervention has grown rapidly in the last twenty years. From teacher education to aerospace, from financial firms to community foundations, mentoring relationships are wide spread, and have a variety of purposes.” (Hull, 2000, p.2). This situation is meant to stimulate the in depth and more subtle approach of its research through methods and instruments specific to psychological knowledge.
Specialists in different social sciences, receptive to the vast offer of mentoring programs draw attention on a phenomenon that is specific to the personal and community development programs, and that is that these programs are first of all put into practice and only afterwards understood and explained: “Many development methods have been taken up because they became available for the first time and their proponents extolled their virtues” (Mumford, 2002, p.208). This practice may have unwanted consequences as far as the quality and efficiency of programs is concerned and in the end can limit the good intentions that these programs started off with. A specialist in mentoring issues notes that “to create and implement a successful mentoring program, one must understand the true definition of mentoring, its critical elements, and its role within the overall performance system” (Hull, 2000, p.5) which means a solid scientific research, theoretical grounding and practice planning. It seems that the most frequently used theoretical frameworks that approach the mentoring process are the ones offered by the psychology of individual differences, by counseling, psychotherapy, management, organizational development and training technology.
The summaries that already exist in the specialized literature point out a somehow eclectic approach to mentoring, that can be explained by the absence of a holistic conceptual-methodological framework, of an integrating perspective on the phenomenon as a whole (with causes, conditions, mechanisms, resources and consequences). This dynamic and holistic perspective on mentoring can be offered by the comprehensive theory of learning, in the same way in which the mentoring practice points out, unequivocally, the main assumptions and principles of the learning activity.
The dynamics of two concepts that have become popular: mentor and mentoring
As all the bibliographical sources that refer to mentoring state, the significance of the concept of “mentor” (and the practice associated to it) are connected to the legendary Mentor, friend of Odysseus, whom the latter put in charge of his son, Telemachus, during the time he could not honor his educational-formative responsibilities, as he was fighting in the war of Troy. Yet, we must not forget to widen the semantic meaning of the term by involving a superior entity in the “guidance” relationship established between Odysseus, Mentor and Telemachus, under the face of Mentor being often mentioned the goddess Athena herself. The old meaning of the term “mentor” was modified in the modern age when by “mentor” one understood the person – model (expert) for an apprentice, novice or beginner in a profession. Clutterbuck (2001) states that nowadays “the Mentor’s name – with a lower-case “m” – has passed into our language as a shorthand term for wise and trusted counselor and teacher”. The meanings of the word “mentor” have changed even more during the last decades: in the 1960′s Stodgill defined a mentor as an ‘ambitious authority figure’ while in the 1970′s Levinson described a mentor as a ‘transitional figure in a man’s life’. In the Web definitions of the concept of “mentor” we find terms that make reference to 1. the roles of the mentor: teacher, counselor; guide, advisor, friend, expert in the community, model; 2. his/her concrete attributions and responsibilities (what does the mentor do): provides guidance and recommendations, shares experience, knowledge and wisdom, serves as role model, assists in a training, has a general support role, offers one to one encouragement/advice/befriending, has a positive influence, help; 3. the pole of the communication relationship in which the mentor is involved (to whom does he/she offer what he/she has to offer): to a junior person, to parents of children with similar limb differences, to the younger generation, to the student in reaching his or her educational goals, on youth, for an individual, to an inexperienced individual, to students; 4. the content of the communication – and, we also appreciate, of the learning they promote (on what): for courses of action and behavior, about a particular occupation or about the workplace in general, to become aware of career opportunities, work ethics, and the importance of positive self-esteem; 5. the features, qualities a mentor must have (how he/she should be in order to be a mentor and not something else): has knowledge and familiarity in any field of work or study, he/she is an experienced colleague, having grown up with many of the same issues and concerns, is willing to act as a teacher with children and give advice in a specific area of interest, is prepared to help a colleague or fellow student, is trusted, older, experienced, expert.
A general definition of the term “mentor” must include the idea of 1.experienced/trained person, 2.willing to communicate and to share to some less experienced people, 3. some of their accumulated experience, 4. using less formal methods than the ones formal/institutionalized training uses, 5.in the context of interpersonal relationships that limit the negative effects of the public communication threatened by the danger of the lack of personalization, as didactic communication tends to be at present.
As it is stated in most of the bibliographical sources focused on the concept of mentor, “In recent years, especially in the management and human resources literature, mentor, which is a noun, has become a verb as well and – with or without “ing” as an appendage – now refers to the patterned behaviors or process whereby one person acts as mentor to another. (…) It will surprise some, but not others, to learn that there are consultants whose practices centre on advising the rest of us regarding the mysteries of mentoring.” (Nickols, 2002).
The Web definitions of the term “mentoring” present it as “the process in which…” as “a component of the partnership movement between schools, employers, and the community” or as ”an opportunity for individuals to have a positive influence on youth”. Just as the meaning of the concept of “mentor” has changed with time, the meaning of the concept of “mentoring” has also changed: “in the 1980′s the view of the mentoring process was very much of “managerial tutelage” but this view has become inappropriate as organizations become flatter and individuals become more self-reliant. In her book Transformational Mentoring, Hay (1995) describes mentoring as a “developmental alliance”; a relationship between equals in which someone is helped to develop” (apud http://www.edu.salford.ac.uk/scd/documents/docs/Mentoringonlinepapers.rtf).
We notice that, in general, the definitions of mentoring comprise descriptive terms that make reference to learning: “to help and support people to manage their own learning in order to maximize their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance, and become the person they want to be.” (Parsloe, 1992); “A mentor is that person who achieves a one to one developmental relationship with a learner; and one whom the learner identifies as having enabled personal growth to take place” (Bennetts, 1994); “Mentoring is an age-old method of supporting development which we find in business, education, and all areas of life, with adults and with youth (…) mentoring can occur any time during a career, but especially when someone seeks to learn from someone else who has experience in the topic for learning.” http://www.mentoringgroup.com/html/mentor_41.htm/); Mentoring is “an instructional strategy in which students select (…) an adult from the local community (…) Students maintain ongoing contact with their mentors, preferably over several years, using them as resource people with whom they share and discuss fine arts concepts and skills and their application in the real world.” (www.bced.gov.bc.ca/irp/dan11_12/apf.htm); Mentoring is “a form of teaching that includes walking alongside the person you are teaching and inviting him or her to learn from your example” (www.imb.org/CPM/Glossary.htm); mentoring is “Educational and professional development support provided by experienced colleagues.” (www.itslifejimbutnotasweknowit.org.uk/lt_glossary.htm); “Mentoring as a learning and development tool includes: sharing experience, offering encouragement, insight through reflection and mutual learning (http://www.edu.salford.ac.uk/scd/documents/docs/Mentoringonlinepaper.rtf).
Even the unprecedented growth of the request for mentoring assistance is explained by phenomena included in the complex activity that is learning: “The fast-paced, competitive, and global nature of information flow, changes in business and other professional transactions, and new models for decision making all require that we all be actively and continually learning. That list suggests that the goal is for everyone to be learning and working with a mentor. This conception of career-long learning means that people in pre-employment education and training, new employees in orientation and training (what I call induction), experienced employees, middle managers, and executives should all have mentors.” (Mason, 2005, p.1)
An observation from the specialized literature that must not be neglected in order to understand correctly the educational aspects of mentoring is the one regarding its characteristic of being “learner centered”: “Mentoring is a process in which (…) the Mentor is able to support and help the Mentees to develop their knowledge, skills, thinking and behaviors and thus problem solving and performance in a current role as well as longer term career development planning. The primary focus for a mentor is on the person, less so the mentee’s specific tasks, though help in these will always be welcomed” (Mason, 2005, p.1) and in a more subtle manner: “The mentoring process should be viewed as a two-way exchange of information, tapping into both individuals’ abilities to learn. In companies moving towards self-directed and cross-functional teams, mentoring should be employed for a greater variety of individuals, and linked to performance-based competencies” (Van Slyke, Van Slyke, 1998)
Social settings and mentoring models
Even though mentoring was approached in relationship with: the career development, management/leadership, study skills, teaching and learning, after the year 2000, the concept of mentoring is more and more explicitly analyzed related to areas such as: 1. Support for education; 2. Support with day-to-day living; 3. Support in the workplace.
Mentoring is practiced in many settings: it is most common in business, but also in a medical setting, in educational settings, especially with “at risk” students and in programs such as “Big Brothers and Big Sister”, very popular in many countries with a long tradition in the efficient administration of the community resources destined for helping the others (e.g. the United States). In the community, schools, faith-based community, businesses, it includes tutoring, career exploration, life skills development, game playing and going to sports, entertainment or cultural events, life skills development, job shadowing – with small differences according to the specific of the social setting.
Nowadays the concept of mentoring is almost part of the common language: Mozilla Firefox shows 54 million locations as search results of the terms of „mentor” and „mentoring”. We enumerate, as information, a few, identified on September, 10, 2005: MENTOR: Expanding the world of quality mentoring. (An organization that promotes, advocates and is a resource for mentors and mentoring initiatives nationwide); National Mentoring Center Homepage (P/PV Publishes New Look at School-based Mentoring); The Mentoring Group Mentoring Ideas; Tips for Mentees: People keep telling you to “manage” your mentoring); Peer Resources – Starting and Maintaining Mentoring (Starting, maintaining and evaluating a mentor program in business, education, and community, including matching mentors, examples of best practices); The European Mentoring & Coaching Council); Mentoring (A mentor has knowledge and experience in an area and shares it with the person); The International Mentoring Association Home Page (Resources, support & guidance for mentoring in every setting & age level); Mentor.org etc.
The MENTOR American organization (a generous and fertile initiative for efficiently understanding, explaining and administrating the resources of mentoring), states as its mission: “To lead the national movement to connect America’s young people with caring adult mentors. Fulfilling such an important mission requires leaders of creativity, enthusiasm and integrity: men and women with vision, energy and commitment.” (http://www.mentoring.org/about_us/). As it is stated in the presentation page, MENTOR “focuses on three essential strategies designed to help bridge the mentoring gap”: 1. to build and support critical infrastructure at the state level – expressed through establishing the Mentoring Partnerships network; 2. to create and sustain a National Mentoring Institute as a forum of some mentoring experts that would design and offer to the market a series of specialized instruments and services, including guides for conceiving and implementing some efficient programs. MENTOR has organized a “Research Corner”, where the latest research on mentoring theory, practice and programs is presented. The one responsible for this “research corner” (and actually the one who created it) is Jean Rhodes, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and a researcher associated at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This restless researcher in the field of mentoring keeps track of the researches made in the United States and elsewhere and makes a pertinent analysis of their methodological and practical value. The researches mentioned by the cited author point out the most common fields in which mentoring is put into practice: school/education; work/organizations; daily life in general.
As examples of school-based mentoring programs that are applied in school and in general, there are mentioned programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters; Program for Elementary Students; Program for Children and Adolescents in Foster Care; Mentoring Immigrant Youth; Caring relationships in after-school settings; Mentoring children of prisoners; Group mentoring for Youth, Mentoring and race; “Mentors for at-risk adolescents; Mentoring Economically Disadvantaged Students. The results of these programs make the author state that: “The school-based setting provides an invaluable infrastructure and school staff possess insights into youth’s lives that can simplify the process of forming and monitoring relationships (…) school-based mentoring is a promising response to the infrastructure problems facing community-based programs.” (Rhodes, 2006, c., p.6). A program initiated at the University of Delaware (“Mentor program matches college students with kids” conducted by Jongyeun Lee and Bonnie Cramond, 1997) pointed out the fact that “participation in a school-based mentoring program led to improvements in students’ self efficacy, aspirations and ideas of what they could be – their possible selves. Kids get help from trained tutors and mentors; college students contribute to schools and the community in a meaningful way” (Lee, Cramond, 1997). Also, the mentoring programs during some work activities proved out to be very efficient for young people. For instance “Cornell Youth Apprenticeship Demonstration Project” – which emphasizes opportunities for youth to learn at work, begins in students’ junior year of high school and involves workplace teaching, advising and mentoring. Students are provided with course credit and formal certification on completion. “New York City Mentoring Program” – The New York City Mentoring Program matches groups of at least 15 or more employee-volunteers from an organization with students at a specific high school. Through the program, employees serve as one-to-one mentors to public high school students. Since 1983, The New York City Mentoring Program has trained thousands of mentor volunteers and provided technical assistance to many businesses, organizations and government agencies in how to provide mentoring. Also, the work-based mentoring programs that had as a purpose to provide low-income students with job skills training, exposure to the world of work and access to labor market opportunities proved out to be very efficient. (Rhodes, 2006, b, p.1). Another direction in the development of mentoring interventions among young people is the tendency, noticed by the same researcher of mentoring programs, that: “some of the youth groups of yesterday are being “repackaged” as the group mentoring programs of today. “(Rhodes, 2006, e, p.1). In GROUP mentoring, one or more caring adults meet with the youth in small, time-limited groups on a regular basis.
Another framework of the educational field in which mentoring is successfully practiced in many countries is that of higher education (see: H.T. Frierson, 1997, Mentoring and Diversity in Higher Education, vol.1, Greenwich, Connecticut: Jai Press Inc.; H. Fullerton, 1996, 1998 „Facets of Mentoring in Higher Education” SEDA Publications, Birmingham, England). The programs put into practice in this field of activity show that the role of the mentor is extremely complex: model, acculturator, sponsor, supporter, and educator. As a model – he/she inspires, demonstrates; as an acculturator – he/she helps others to integrate in a culture; as a sponsor – he/she opens doors, introduces the mentee to appropriate professionals, uses his/her resources in order to help the one who is being protected; as a supporter – he/she stands beside the mentee, offers opportunities, acts as a catalyst; as an educator – encourages reflection and putting theory into practice, creates opportunities so that his/her protégée attains his/her learning goals. (SEDA paper). A project put into practice at the Universities of Cambridge and Chelmsford by the Student Support Services, entitled “Employer Mentoring Scheme” pointed out the positive effects the relationship has on the mentors. “This Anglia Ruskin University Scheme matches second year students with employees from local companies. The employees act as ‘Business Mentors’ providing a career related voice of experience for the student. The Scheme is designed to assist students in improving their employability through developing workplace skills and business awareness“ From the great number of personal declarations that the program coordinators show as proof of its efficiency and popularity, we select a mentee and a Mentor’s statement, which we appreciate as being relevant for the effect of mentoring on higher education: “I am not a 1st class degree student and therefore it is important for me to show additional skills along with intellectual ability. I am very pleased that I took part in the scheme, it gave me confidence, improved my CV and provided me with a contact that was willing to discuss how she managed to get where she is today. I felt as though she would answer all of my questions, however minor or silly they seemed. This scheme helped to lift my motivation levels and maintain my determination to succeed”.(Student, Law, mentee) and “Becoming a mentor made me reflect on my own personal abilities as well as gaining the knowledge that I helped someone else through a tricky period of life. It reminded me of my better qualities and made me revisit mistakes and development opportunities that I have previously encountered and look at them in a new way. This helped me to better understand them and helped my own development and improved my approach to work. I really hope that the guidance that I have provided for my mentee will be beneficial. Even in the last few meetings I have seen a positive improvement in my mentee’s attitude and approach to working life, leading me to believe that the process has been worthwhile” (ANET online community, 2005)
One of the most important observations when monitoring the efficiency of mentoring in the school and university environment is that Young people need and want mentoring for a variety of reasons. This observation can generate deep reflections on the consequences of not satisfying these needs and desires.
In the field of work, organizations and management, in which mentoring has the most coherent tradition, one can notice profound movements of re-conceptualizations and renewal: “Companies are increasingly relying on formal mentoring to tie in with their continuous learning and development initiatives.” (Gibbons, 2005). This led to the development of a set of methodological instruments that would ensure a more scientific character for the interventions: how to prepare as a mentor, how to conduct mentoring sessions and how to maintain the relationship through the different stages of the training, as “A well-placed and well-defined mentoring program can meet these challenges and transform an organization into a “learning community” (Murray, 1999). Amongst the most recent objectives of mentoring, within the community and organizations as well, proves to be “Mentoring for Diversity” – “It shows how mentoring can be used as a proactive part of equal opportunity policy, as well as demonstrating how diversity is of interest to companies wishing to ensure that they have an innovative and diverse workforce.” (Gibbons, 2005).
A new setting in which mentoring is practiced is the electronic environment: “It appears that ONLINE mentoring offers important opportunities that are not afforded by exclusively face-to-face mentoring, while presenting several practical and ethical challenges.” (Rhodes, 2006, d) The specialized literature mentions as a major advantage of the online programs the fact that they allow the implication of a great diversity of mentors, as far as category is concerned (e.g., corporate executives, busy parents, adults who travel a lot or are physically disabled) and mentees (incarcerated, in residential treatment facilities, rural) who would not otherwise participate. But “Although the vast majority of the information about online mentoring (in news articles, on Web sites, etc.) focuses on the positive aspects, this strategy does pose some key challenges. Online communication is considered by some to be a “cold” or “emotionally spare” medium that cannot support close relationships. Indeed, because it does not permit for voice tone or nonverbal forms of communication (e.g., smiles, pauses, body language), there appear to be missed opportunities for forging closer ties”. ((Rhodes, 2006, d).
The specialized literature acknowledges the existence of two mentoring models, an American and a European one, each one with its specific traits (the American one centered on the idea of “sponsorship” and the European one on that of “development” (Hamilton, 1993; Clutterbuck 2001). The American model involves a hierarchical relationship between mentor and disciple/apprentice, in which the mentor is the „ambitious authority figure” and “the mentee is the ‘protégé’ (Stodgill) while the European one defines mentoring as “off-line help by one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work or thinking” (Clutterbuck, Megginson, 1995).
Colin Mason, director of Learning and Teaching Development, University of St. Andrews, describes in a material titled “Briefing session for Mentors and Mentees. Mentoring Theory and Practice”, the following models of mentoring:
- Peer mentoring (equal friends model) – that implies informal arrangements between colleagues;
- Senior colleague model (mentee chooses mentor) – claims a few “mentor characteristics: experience in role or discipline; interest in career development; networking skills” and it is often coordinated by an independent person who may also check on progress of the relationship;
- “Skills/interests/styles matching models – These relationships are initially established by attempting to match against particular criteria e.g. learning styles coupled to an understanding of the drawbacks and advantages of alike or not alike matching)”;
- Arranged marriages model – Line manager (Head of School) assigns mentors to mentees, based on personal judgments of ‘goodness of fit’ – with get out clauses;
- Matching agency schemes – Maintenance of a pool or list of willing mentors and mentees are assigned almost randomly. There are great difficulties of stability e.g. mentor moving on (not confined to this model!);
- Single gender schemes – These have predominantly occurred in female-female schemes thus avoiding the criticism of power imbalances arising through cross-gender matching;
- Internal/external organization models – These models are typified by cross-institutional schemes for Senior Managers or Executives. This removes the politics (to some extent!) and can be combined with matching for styles etc. (Mason, 2005, p. 9).
Conclusions – directions in the development of research in mentoring process
The specialized literature mentions as mentoring problems that were discussed but from which one can still expect a series of theoretical contributions: defining mentoring and differentiating it from good managing, coaching, training and supervising; identifying the characteristic skills and attitudes of successful mentors; identifying those critical components of a successful mentoring relationship; evaluating the costs as well as benefits, to individuals and institutions, of establishing a mentoring program; the ways of organizing a mentoring session; the stages of the mentoring process; the ways of evaluating the quality and efficiency of the program (Mason, 2005, p. 8 – adapted from ‘Everyone Needs a Mentor’, by David Clutterbuck – IPD)(http://www.mentoring.org/mentors/about_mentoring/mentors_role.php).
However, the following still need to be researched: the psychological process of mentoring, the difference between natural mentoring and formal mentoring programs, between the psychological profile of an informal mentor and the one of a formal mentor, the causes of the fact that not all those who are experts in a field of activity can also become good mentors for the apprentices or disciples in that field, the bonds that develop between mentors and youth, what each group brings to the process and what they get out of it, how programs are structured and the importance of training mentors because “an informal, unofficial, voluntary, mutually-agreeable, and self-selected interaction between two people has become a program – an institutionalized stratagem for trying to force what probably can only come about naturally”. (Nickols, 2002).
We appreciate that a more subtle psychological approach of the mentoring process could offer precious suggestions for finding solutions to a serious threat of our times (and maybe of the future, also): the loneliness and lack of orientation of the individual on the sinuous path of personal development. The lack of existential models as well as the great diversity of models (moral, ideological, professional, existential), sometimes claimed in the name of the individual’s right to self-determination, leaves fundamental needs of the individual, such as the need to belong and the safety need, unsatisfied, and this leads to a pronounced level of frustration. If this dangerous phenomenon takes place on the level of groups of young people who aspire to personal fulfillment through work and organizational and social commitment, the consequences of a higher level of frustration are even more serious. The mentor, as an existential model, specially trained in this direction, can be a solution validated by a long socio-cultural experience. But we appreciate that only under the circumstances in which the mentor’s training is made on the principles of human learning and with the purpose of applying them, can he go beyond the status of an existential model and honor that of a … true mentor. We learn how to be or not to be a “mentor”, to look or not to look for mentors, while mentoring actually means “living”, not “teaching” the mentoring relationship. Still, “living” the guidance does not mean denying the principles of teaching but “melting” them in the substance of real life.
The immediate practical implications of this perspective on mentoring consist of its defining, especially with the purpose of conceiving and implementing a mentoring program, under the aspect of: 1. the field of psycho-social development of the disciples upon which the mentors will act (professional, socio-affective, behavioral etc); 2. the learning tasks through which the mentors will promote the mentees’ development; 3. the type of the relationship (relationship within which the partners can try new ways of working and relating); 4. the mentees’ abilities, availabilities, capacity and experience of learning; 5. the methods that are going to be used in order to support and guide the mentees through the necessary life transitions which are part of their learning;
Valeria Negovan, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Bucharest, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Psychology Department, Professor of Educational Psychology, Learning Psychology and Career Psychology (master) courses. Dr. Negovan is member of the Psychologists’ Association in Romania, the International Council of Psychologists, USA, the International School Psychology Association, Denmark, the International Federation of Educational Communities – IFEC – Romania and the editorial staff of “Protecţia socială a copilului – revistă de pedagogie şi asistenţă socială” (“Child’s social protection – pedagogy and social assistance magazine”) published by the International Federation of Educational Communities – IFEC – Romania. Her scientific research activity focuses on research areas such as: learning strategies and learning style, the role of values in career development, academic learning.
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