Mentor Reflective Essay On Writing

Explore reflective accounts of the mentor’s developing role using a recognised framework

rodrigo | December 14, 2012

WritePass - Essay Writing - Dissertation Topics [TOC]

 

Introduction

The purpose of this assignment is to review and explore reflective accounts of the mentor’s developing role, using a recognised framework.  Ely and Lear (2003) suggest that following a mentorship preparation course, a mentor should have sufficient information to increase their knowledge base in relation to a student’s learning needs; the effectiveness of role-modelling and effective learning environments.  The ability to examine and reflect upon issues relating to; course development and facilitation and assessment of learning should also be developed.  In order to achieve such; a portfolio of learning in collaboration with a reflective critical analysis and evaluation of five learning outcomes will be completed: supported by available literature, this will demonstrate the integration of theory and practice.  Burns and Grove (1999) believe that a literature review should contain only current research from the last five years.  However, as both mentorship and the reflective process are evolving phenomenon, it was felt significant to include reference to material, both recent and classic.          

Although research into the effectiveness of reflection is extremely limited, anecdotally it does appear evident that there are multiple advantages to reflective thinking (Burton 2000). These will be discussed in more detail in outcome 2, but briefly reflection can be regarded as innovative (Pierson 1998), dynamic (Burns and Bulman 2000) and as Burnard (1989) proposes, promotes feelings, thoughts and beliefs to be challenged.  Although reflection is believed by some to be an essential part of professional education and development (Atkins and Murphy 1993), it does however have its critics.  The lack of research into the value of reflection has been noted by Newell (1994) and Macintosh (1998).  Burnard (2005) criticises the point that reflection requires an accurate recollection of an incident.  However, this would not appear to apply during reflection-in-action.

To direct the reflective process throughout this assignment, an adapted version of Gibbs reflective cycle (1988) has been implemented.  As the reflective process entails a recognition of an experience and a subsequent description of such (Powell 1989), it is justifiable to incorporate the use of the first person when discussing related feelings.  Hamill (1999) considers the use of first person to be suitable when writing an assignment that requires an element of personal reflection.  He also believes it to be appropriate when developing personal and professional qualities of self-awareness, reflection, analysis and critique.

In accordance with the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s (2004) guidelines relating to confidentiality, the mentored student will be named Amy.  Throughout the assignment, the author will be referred to as a mentor (although in reality the role was more of an associate mentor since the official requirements for mentorship had not yet been met).  All paperwork and formalities were agreed and countersigned with a recognised ‘mentor’ who had previously undertaken the former 998 course.  This nurse also acted as the authors mentor throughout the preparation course.

Definition of mentorship

Phillips et al (1996) note a lack of clarity in the term mentorship.  A variety of definitions have been offered for the term ‘mentor’, and so for the purpose of this assignment, a considered clear-cut definition provided by a well-regarded source will be applied. ‘Mentorship is a role undertaken by a nurse midwife or health visitor who facilitates learning and supervises and assesses students in the practice setting’ (Department of Health/ English National Board 2001a).

In a longitudinal qualitative study undertaken by Gray and Smith (2000), it was again revealed that students identified a good mentor as a good role model, encompassing skills such as being organised, caring, confident, enthusiastic and professional.  A bad mentor, however, was thought to have a lack of knowledge, expertise and structure in their teaching, who was unfriendly, unapproachable and intimidating.  Although this study provides an insight into the effects of mentorship on student nurses, it can only really be applied to the small sample size employed, as to generalise to a wider population, the sample must be well-defined (Cormack 2000)

Outcome 1

Description

I was not on duty on Amy’s first shift; however, the ward manager introduced her to the nursing team, orientated her around the ward and explained the emergency procedures.  During the first week of Amy’s placement, I ensured that time was allocated to discuss all her learning objectives.  These had been set by the school of nursing, by Amy herself, and included objectives that I felt she would be able to achieve during her 9 weeks on the unit.  Although Amy’s allocated placement was specifically the surgical assessment unit, it was agreed that as the qualified nurses rotated between this unit and the main ward, it would be beneficial for her to do the same, thus ensuring consistency of mentorship and also a broader range of experience.

The course documents were attained from the link educator, and these were discussed with Amy to ensure all outcomes were appropriate to the course module.  It was agreed that although allocated time would be available to discuss her progress, both Amy and I would state any concerns or difficulties that were identified, as and when they arose.

Feelings

During this initial interview Amy appeared extremely enthusiastic to learn, and despite having just entering the second year of her training, she seemed knowledgeable in many significant areas of nursing.  Amy’s enthusiasm had a direct impact on my desires to become a good mentor.  Despite feeling extremely nervous that I may let her down by not encompassing the necessary knowledge and experience to assist her through her placement, I felt eager to prove my capability and to learn more about the mentorship process.

Evaluation/ Analysis

Ely and Lear (2003) state that an initial discussion between the mentor and student should take place at the earliest opportunity, ideally during the first shift of the placement (Gray and Smith 2000).  Phillips et al (2000) believe that the discussions regarding a students assessment, should pre pre-arranged and prioritised, to avoid the student feeling like an added burden.  Time should be spent to ensure a thorough assessment is made, as hurried meetings have been suggested to be of less value (Bedford et al 1993).

Price (2005a) states that during this initial interview, the mentor should make it clear that any developing problems or concerns should be addressed as they arise.  He also suggests that this initial interview act as a reference point for future discussions regarding progression.  Neary (2000a) recommends clearly identifying outcomes at this point to aid the relationship between theory and practice.  These objectives should express the needs required by the individual student (Gray and Smith 2000), the learning opportunities that the placement can provide (Stuart 2003) and as Price (2005b) advocates, meet the module outlines set by the school of nursing.  Rogers (1961) maintains that students are more likely to succeed once they have identified, individual needs and feel confident in their ability to achieve them.  He also states the importance of the student feeling comfortable to ask for advice and express their limitations.  Oliver and Endersby (1994) agree, suggesting that the identification of the student’s individual needs during the initial orientation facilitates their perception of security.

A number of authors have suggested the use of a learning contract as part of the continual assessment process and as a guide to learning (Stuart 2003, Quinn 1998, Priest and Roberts 1998).  Ely and Lear (2003) believe the implementation of a learning contract specifying individual evaluative criteria and outcomes, can promote the individual to take control of their own learning.  This contract is thought to provide a structured plan for ongoing formative assessment, therefore assisting the learning process and providing continuity (Wallace 2003). Although this form of self-directed learning does appear to be advantageous (Hewitt-Taylor 2002), Darbyshire (1993) suggests that mentors may find it difficult to gain control over a learning situation.

Hutchings & Sanders (2001) highlight a study commenced in the Northern Devon Healthcare Trust in 1999, in which a regional project bid was placed to develop formalized, multi-professional learning pathways. The overall aim was to prepare and provide a learning environment that was dynamic and enjoyable and promoted high quality care. A learning pathway was developed in order to ensure equity and consistency in the quality of student practice place. It comprised of three steps: preparation for each placement, induction before each placement and the learning experience.  The study was piloted in 6 clinical areas over 3 months, attempting to evaluate the effectiveness of the model.  A baseline qualitative analysis of the perceptions of service staff and students was completed prior to the study. The results of this were to be compared to a similar evaluation on completion of clinical placements in the pilot areas.  Although suggested that the model will have a positive effect on the quality of the students’ experience, it was noted that the pilot had not yet been completed, and subsequent results have not yet been published.

Conclusion/ Action plan

Following the above reflection and analysis, it would appear that most of the issues highlighted in the literature were actually met in the initial meeting with the student.  It is however noted that my area of practice does not typically implement learning contracts unless a student is repeating a placement.  With this in mind, I devised a form of agreement in conjunction with Amy, which would aim to meet her individual learning needs.  This has been included in appendix1. The main presenting challenge was that of a time constraint.  Working on an unpredictable assessment unit, it is very difficult to prearrange a discussion. To overcome this problem, Amy and I agreed to stay behind at the end of assigned shifts and to utilise any ‘quiet’ time that arose during the placement.

Outcome 2

Description

In order to be an effective role model, I first needed to ascertain how I was perceived by others.  In order to gain an honest insight, I asked my family, friends, and chosen colleagues that I felt would not be afraid to be truthful.  The outcome was that although I was considered caring and enthusiastic to teach others, I sometimes appeared impatient when under stress.  I identified similar attributes when compiling my own list.  With the assistance of my mentor, I compiled a list of self improvements and asked her to observe my behaviour to notice if they were being achieved.

Feelings

I felt very aware and anxious, that my actions and attitudes would be observed by Amy and possibly imitated in her work.  I was therefore conscious of how I acted in front of her, and realised I needed to remain professional, not only when dealing with patients but also away from the clinical area.

Evaluation/ Analysis

It has been suggested that nurses should use self assessment and reflection as part of their professional work and learning (Thorpe 2004).  The Department of Health/ English National Board (2001b) profess that qualified staff should provide good role-models for best practice, valuing learning and encouraging reflection.  Boud et al (1998) emphasise the importance of reflection as both a learning and teaching tool, believing it to facilitate the integration of theory and practice and develop a nurses’ capacity to contextualize knowledge to meet patients’ needs.  Burrows (1995) highlights the effectiveness of reflective thinking for both enhancing clinical practice and affirming the value of practice and knowledge-in-action to the profession. Burrows (1995) does however point out that research suggests students under the age of 25 may not encompass the cognitive readiness or experience required for critical reflection.  Although the student discussed in this assignment is 34 years old, the majority of pre-registration student nurses are in fact included in this category.

The term role modelling has been defined by Bandura (1977) as a process that teaches students to learn new skills from others, that does not involve their personal trial and error.  Donaldson and Carter (2005), consider it to be of such importance, that they advise the value of role modelling to be discussed in the preparation for mentorship module.  Effective role modelling involves competence, enjoying the profession and providing excellent nursing care, and using these qualities when interacting with students and structuring their learning environment (Wiseman 1994).  Murray (2005) lists the behaviours of a positive role model as; listening and responding appropriately, displaying warmth and sincerity, maintaining eye contact and asking questions.  The problems with role modelling, however, can be if the student observes bad practice and consequently mimics such (Charters 2000), or as according to Lockwood and Kunda (1999), if the student feels dampened and de-motivated when unable to achieve high standards set by a high-achieving, outstanding mentor.

Watson (1999) undertook a qualitative ethnographic study to investigate the mentoring experience and perceptions of pre-registration student nurses.  Interviews were conducted within the clinical setting, with 35 students on a common foundation programme, and 15 allocated mentors.  The semi structured interviews, lasting between 20 and 30 minutes, were conducted privately and recorded by the researcher.  The results from the students and mentors were very similar; all saw the mentor’s role as assessor, facilitator, role model and clinical support, although the students identified an additional key role as planning.  This study highlighted some important issues; however, it is not without its drawbacks.  Although a small sample size is often acceptable within qualitative research (Thompson 1999), in order for the results to be generalized Dempsey and Dempsey (2000) explain that the selection of subjects must be thought to be a representation of the target population.  The researcher stated using purposeful sampling, but it was not felt that 35 students at the beginning of their training from 7 ward areas met such requirements.  As the researcher only used one form of data collection (Appleton 1995) and did not ask the subjects to verify the results (Nolan and Behi 1995), the results can not be deemed to hold credibility.  The fact that the researcher undertook the interviews herself, the results could also have encompassed interviewer bias (Carr 1994).

Brereton (1995) believes that a mentor’s insight and understanding of the mentoring role is the most effective bridge over the theory-practice gap.  A number of mentorship roles have been discussed by Thompson (2004) including; sharing personal thoughts, feelings and intuitive practice, being aware of own strengths and weaknesses and their effects on others, and being sensitive to a students needs.

Conclusion/ Action plan

Having read and internalised the literature, I would hope that I am a ‘good’ role model.  To confirm the opinions held by the students, I have encompassed an anonymous questionnaire within the student booklet discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the placement area and feedback regarding their mentor.  I have also learnt to reflect more in and on-action to improve on my own self-awareness and gain further insight into my actions and feelings.

Outcome 3/6/7

Description

My ward area currently has access to the trust intranet and internet, hospital policies and protocols, a small selection of books and journal articles and a welcome pack, notice board and information file designed and intended for student nurses.  Students also have access to lockers, kitchen facilities and the staffroom.  Whenever possible, a student’s off duty is planned around that of their allocated mentor and associate mentor.

Feelings

Although I feel that A6 generally meets the needs of student nurses, some of the resources are very out of date, and many of the books have ‘disappeared’ from the unit.  The absence of an allocated teaching room makes it difficult to discuss a student’s outcomes and/ or progress.

Evaluation/ Analysis

Price (2005a) emphasizes that the learning environment must be fit for practice and conducive to learning.  The ENB & DOH (2001a) state that a clinical setting must be planned, structured, managed and coordinated, in order to provide unique learning experiences and opportunities, to enable the development of competencies for professional practice.

In a quantitative study undertaken by Hart and Rotem (1995), it was significantly verified that the clinical learning environment has a considerable impact on nurses’ perceptions of their professional development.  The 516 questionnaires returned from across five metropolitan teaching hospitals suggested that; autonomy and recognition, job satisfaction, role clarity, quality of supervision, peer support and opportunities for learning all had an effect on professional development.  The statistical significance of p<0.001 would suggest that the results are significant (Couchman and Dawson 1990).  However over a quarter of the questionnaires were not completed in full and for a quantitative study, the sample was still relatively small, and therefore questionable for generalisability to a wider population (Fetter et al 1989).

Price (2004) believes a learning environment should address four issues; practical experience, practice resources, an approach to education and learning support.  These have been individually discussed by a number of authors.  The practical experience should provide sufficient supervision, ensure a range of patient/ clients and procedures, implement the nursing process and practices consistent with local protocols, policies and philosophies (Price 2004).   Myrick and Yonge (2002) advise students to work alongside various members of the multidisciplinary team (MDT) and to seek relevant opportunities from other practice areas to ensure exposure to a variety of clinical experience and expertise.

The availability of a variety of resources, including journals, books and relevant articles has been suggested by Stengelhofen (1993).  Oliver and Endersby (1994) recommend access to policies, procedures and protocols, product and department information, health education literature and a list of contact names.  Ely and Lear (2003) advise the implementation of a dedicated teaching area, believing the use of patient day room, staff rooms and nursing stations to be unsuitable for structured teaching.  Mentors should be knowledgeable of learning centres and resources and take the time to inform students of their availability (Myrick and Yonge 2002).

Characteristics of a good clinical learning environment are said to include a humanistic approach to students in which they are treated with kindness and understanding and encouraged to feel part of the team (Quinn 2000).  Quinn (2000) also emphasises the importance of an efficient management style, encompassing nursing practice that is consistent with that taught in university.  The National Audit Office (2001) strongly encourages partnerships between the school of nursing and the clinicians applying learning in practice to improve the quality of practice placements.

To ensure students are adequately supported, Eaton (1999) insists staff must be dedicated and adequately prepared to undertake the role of the mentor.  The off duty must be carefully planned to coincide a student’s shifts with those of their mentor, and arrangements should be made to ensure other members of staff will ‘look after’ them in their mentor’s absence (Gray and Smith 2000).  Although Landers (2000) suggests that the supernumerary status of students can accentuate their insecurities if they are lacking direction and guidance, Ferguson and Jinks (1994) insist that student allocation should be for the purpose of learning rather than service needs.  Spouse (2001) believes that the ideal situation for learning is an environment encompassing good staffing levels of active learners engaged in problem solving, where there is a knowledge transmission, together with trust and companionship.

Conclusion/ Action plan

On examining my ward area as a conducive learning environment, the literature appears to support the conclusion that it holds many positive aspects, with staff members attempting to make the student experience enjoyable and informative. During recent weeks, the area was audited by the university as a positive learning environment, with no recommendations given for improvements.   Although this is extremely encouraging, it is felt that there are areas that could be improved.  Following discussion with the ward manager, I have devised a teaching system within the ward, which entails a monthly update of a teaching board and a short presentation for the junior staff members, including students.  This is maintained by the link nurse for each speciality and has received excellent feedback for the two months it has been implemented.  I have also updated the student booklet and have suggested providing the students with these prior to the placement with an invitation for them to visit the unit in advance, should they wish to do so.  The ward manager and I have also ordered a selection of books suitable to the ward area and are now continuously updating the policies and protocols on the ward.

Outcome 4

Description

As discussed in the previous outcome, my ward area does currently discuss relevant issues and ideas to ensure practice is evidence based.  On gaining a password from the IT department, all staff has access to the trust intranet, and at the discretion of the ward manger, internet access is also granted.  All staff members, including students, have access to the library. This ensures access to a variety of sources of research.

Feelings

Although relevant and up to date literature is accessible, it is felt it would be beneficial for my ward to hold more recent books and articles on surgical nursing.  Although I do feel that students are relatively well supported in my area of practice, I think they could be more involved in decision making and the planning of patient care.

Evaluation/ Analysis

Sams et al (2004) identify three largely unresolved problems within the healthcare setting: an existing gap between evidence and practice; unnecessary variations in practice and an increasing cost of healthcare.  They explain that these factors are changing nursing practice from routines and opinions to critical appraisal and practices substantiated by evidence.  In doing so; quality and safety of patient care is ensured through the nurse performing the right thing, the right way, the first time (Caramanica et al 2003).  Sackett et al (1996) describe evidence-based health care as the conscientious utilisation of clinical experience and current best evidence in decision making and patient care.  Evidence-based guidelines have been said to include three sources: clinical expertise, patient preferences and most importantly scientific findings (Hinds et al 2003)

Webster (1990) advises clinical staff to keep up to date with current practice to ensure that what is carried out relates to what is taught in university.  Krichbaum (1994) believes student learning in the clinical setting is related to their mentors’ behaviours, including using objectives, providing practice opportunities and asking effective questions.  It has also been argued that teaching methods reflect what the student perceives as most effective (Burnard and Morrison 1991).  Thomson (2004) advises a mentor to transmit their view of nursing into the student’s mind in order for them to understand and evaluate practice from their perspective.  To maximise the benefits of a clinical placement, mentors should teach from the experience the student is having through a combination of a teacher driven approach and the reflective process (Thomson 2004).  The use of reflection has been discussed further in the facilitation of learning, to demonstrate an understanding of concepts, knowledge, skills and attitudes (Dix and Hughes 2004).  Neary (2000a) explains that to reflect in a way that enables them to understand and learn through their experiences, students will need advice and guidance from their mentors.

Craddock (1993) suggests teaching students to process information in a way that becomes more meaningful to them, enabling the integration of theory and practice.  Self directed learning has been proposed as an effective method of achieving such, providing a foundation for practice based on evidence (Burnard and Chapman 1990).

Students should be encouraged to participate in clinical knowledge by sharing ideas on practical issues, facilitated with time to visit the library (DOH/ENB 2001).

Andrews and Roberts (2003) suggested that a mentors’ role was that of support, and to ensure students received adequate teaching within the clinical area, a clinical guide should be employed.  They undertook a study consisting of self-report questionnaires administered to 239 first year students and 450 clinical guides across eight NHS trusts.  They indicated that the students valued the clinical guides’ impartiality, gained further insight into the practice experience and became more proficient in problem solving.  The level of confidence that can be placed in the results is however extremely limited.  Only 65% of students and 21% of clinical guides responded to the questionnaires, the subject’s demographic characteristics were not described (Ryan-Wenger 1992), and no reference was made to the sampling method, (Parahoo 1997) the validity and reliability of the data collection (Mathers and Huang 1998) or the study’s credibility (Carter and Porter 2000).

Conclusion/ Action plan

Following the above literature review, I now understand the importance of involving a student in the assessment, planning and evaluation of a patients’ care as well as the implementation.  I try to involve students in all aspects of the nursing process, explaining our rationale for all decisions.  I have also implemented a self-directed learning approach, asking Amy to briefly research and feedback issues that have arisen.  She seemed to enjoy, and benefit from this style of learning, and in the process I also gained further insight into current evidence.

Outcome 5

Description

I used the outcomes set in the initial discussion as a benchmark for Amy’s learning and assessed her competency on how well I thought she achieved these outcomes.  Amy would observe a task, we would research it where appropriate and I encouraged Amy to ask questions.  When we mutually decided Amy was ready, and on gaining the patient’s consent; I allowed Amy to perform a task, such as completing an admission, administering an injection or redressing a wound.

Feelings

I was extremely nervous of misjudging Amy’s level of competence and consequently allowing her to administer care she was not capable of or restricting her learning.

Evaluation/ Analysis

Myrick and Yonge (2002) emphasize the importance of assessment and evaluation of a student’s learning in facilitating their experience.  Effective assessment is vital in judging a student’s competence to practice (ENB/DOH 2001a).  Watson et al (2002) noted a lack of clarity surrounding the term competence.  However, the NMC’s (2004) definition describes ‘possessing the skills and abilities required for lawful, safe and effective professional practice without direct supervision’.

Rowntree (1987) identifies reasons for assessment as; motivating students, establishing progress and providing feedback, identifying strengths and weaknesses and establishing the level of achievement.  To uphold the reputation of nursing, Price (2005c) considers it vital to assess a learners’ ability to practice in a professional, sensitive and safe manner.  Watson et al (2003) believe that having the competency to practice involves having the competence to learn.  This involves having a positive attitude to learning, taking initiative, recognising learning needs, seizing learning opportunities and understanding how to reflect on; analyse and critique practice.  Benner (1984) advises skilful teaching in the practice setting to ensure students pass through five levels of proficiency from novice to expert.

Calman et al (2002) undertook a study in Scotland to determine the methods, preparation of assessors and student views relating to the assessment of students’ practice. A combination of postal questionnaires, review of programme documentation and interviews with key stakeholders were completed.  They concluded that students had little confidence in competence assessment methods, there is a lack of consistency in the training of student assessors in the clinical areas and a limited number of approaches to clinical assessment are used.  Credibility was ensured through presenting the results to the subjects to verify (Nolan and Behi 1995) and by the implementation of a triangulative data collection method (Appleton 1995).

Wilkinson (1999) states that to ensure an assessment is reliable; student’s abilities should be consistent and the assessment should be made over a period of time and agreed by others.  Validity can only be assured when a students’ performance involves an integration of cognitive, affective and psychomotor skills (Wilkinson 1999).  A vital part of clinical assessment is direct observation, which must involve sufficient time to observe, an awareness of observer bias and the observer effect, and the incorporation of a checklist (Hull 1994).  Greenwood and Winifreyda (1995) devised a model to aid teaching and assign which the use of direct observation with diagnostic questioning of students.  This elicits a students understanding and performance and should be followed up with constructive feedback including; instructions, revisions, encouragement and guidance.  A study by Watson (2002) supports the use of reflective learning contracts as an assessment tool although this has been criticised on ethical grounds. As no single procedure is adequate for assessing clinical competence, a continuous assessment incorporating a variety of methods should be employed (Neary 2000b).

Conclusion/ Action plan

On reviewing the literature, I feel that I now have a deeper understanding of the methods of assessing a students’ competence and will attempt to implement such in the future.  I will also try to provide feedback and constructive advice whenever possible to assist a student in meeting their initial outcomes.

References

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In this chapter we present some examples of written reflection tools that may be useful in mentoring. The tools seem to be used to some extent in school mentoring in Scandinavian countries, but they may also be relevant for mentoring in other countries. First, it seems to be quite common that the mentor and mentee establish some kind of written mentoring agreement. This agreement creates a framework for the following mentoring conversations. In addition the mentee can make an "individual strategy document". This tool can either be a teaching plan or a personal narrative. These documents are intended to support individual reflection. It is also common that the mentee writes a regular log which is used to reflect around practicum experiences. The examples in this chapter are mostly from the mentoring of student teachers, but they are also relevant to the mentoring of beginning teachers.

Mentoring agreement in school practicum[edit]

What is a mentoring agreement?[edit]

A mentoring agreement is a written plan for collaboration between the mentor and the mentee. Its purpose is to establish and maintain a beneficial collaboration during practicum. When creating the mentoring agreement, it is essential that both parties are open about their expectations. Topics such as punctuality, deadlines, schedules for mentoring, development goals, work effort and mentoring pedagogy are often discussed. Often there will exist written institutional guidelines which have been made by the teacher education institution and practicum schools. These guidelines usually recommend how the agreement should be made. The mentoring agreement should also be revised regularly with follow-up questions such as "will we be able to achieve what we decided in the plan?"

Topics to include in a mentoring agreement[edit]

Below we present some of the areas that are usually covered by a written agreement:

Formal information

There should be some formal information about both mentor and mentee like for instance the student's name, field of study and the duration of practicum. The minimum information provided about the mentor should be name and contact information (i.e. telephone number, e-mail address etc.).

Mentor's responsibilities

It´s important that the responsibilities of the mentor are described so that the mentee knows how much follow-up that can be expected. This will ensure that the mentor-mentee relationship has a more formal supportive structure. Some examples are presented below:

  • The mentor should provide practical information about the students in the classroom, use of equipment and teaching aids. Some of this information can be provided orally and some can be written down.
  • The mentor could say something about the relationship. For instance, that the mentor will look after the student and contribute to the student's inclusion into the community of colleagues.
  • The mentor could outline a possible way of organizing of the mentoring process. The agreement could, for instance, state that it is the mentor's responsibility to arrange mentoring before and after a classroom lesson. It is also possible to specify approximately how much of the mentee's teaching the mentor intends to observe.

Mentor's expectations of the mentee

A mentoring agreement should include mentor´s expectations of the student teacher. It is usually specified that the student teacher should meet prepared and be punctual. It also seems common to specify the amount of work the teacher is expected to do. For instance, the student teacher could be asked to make a detailed lesson plan which the mentor will give feedback on. Sometimes the student teacher must write a reflection log after each mentoring session.

The mentor and the mentee may not necessarily agree upon mentee's responsibilities. It is therefore useful to specify the student teacher's working hours, and expected work besides teaching (e.g. teacher collaboration, assessment, teacher-pupil conversations, planning, the use of learning platforms and extra-curricular activities). The agreement should include legal information about confidentiality aspects of the student teacher's job.

Goals and objectives for practicum

The objectives in a mentoring agreement must be closely linked with the broader goals of the teacher training programmes and local practicum plans. These goals may include several different competencies (e.g. didactics, social skills, occupational ethics and change competencies). Here we see some examples of objectives from a mentoring agreement:

  • Planning, execution and evaluation of teaching according to the curriculum;
  • Reflection about own teaching;
  • Understanding the connection between theory and practice;
  • Attending to typical teaching tasks and being part of the school's daily life.

It may be difficult to assess if these objectives have been fulfilled. However, the mentor and mentee could also define more specific objectives within different areas of competence. The student teacher's own expectations should be included in the agreement, and it is also possible for the student teacher to describe personal development goals. If such preferences are taken into consideration, it is more likely that the agreement will be seen as mutually binding.

Time management

Usually the amount of mentoring will be regulated by institutional guidelines. Sometimes the number of mentoring sessions will be specified. Other issues about time use can be agreed upon together with the student teacher. One could for instance discuss whether the mentoring should take place at regular time intervals or when the student experiences a need for it. The agreement could look like this: pre-lesson mentoring sessions at Mondays 8 – 9.30 am and debriefing sessions at Fridays 3.30-4.30 pm. The mentor can decide the time in advance, or the mentor and mentee can arrange a time that fits both parties' schedules when they first meet. Most importantly, the time table must be mutually binding. Furthermore, the student teacher follows a plan for the practicum period that contains information about lessons, planned mentoring sessions, as well as other tasks such as staff meetings, yard duty, team meetings etc. All plans should be flexible, so that they can be adjusted throughout the practicum period.

Evaluation

Evaluation of practicum should be a separate item in the mentoring agreement. Some agreements, for instance, state that the student teacher during a mid-point evaluation will receive feedback on areas of strength and areas that need improvement. It might be beneficial to mention that the student teacher must show a will to change and develop and be prepared to tolerate honest feedback (from students, mentor and others). For instance, it could be stated that the student teacher must be able to constructively receive mentoring, and actively reflect on her own and other's teaching. Additionally, it should be mentioned that the mentor will be evaluating the student teacher. The evaluation will assess that student teacher's skills and aptitude for the teaching profession. The mentor will in addition write a report on the student teacher's practicum.

Individual strategy document[edit]

A key principle in most theories on mentoring is to consider the mentee's needs. A key strategy is to encourage student teachers to make different kinds of reflection documents. An individual reflection document can simply be a memo where needs are specified and which is given to the mentor. There are few restrictions regarding format and content. The mentor should, however, encourage the mentee to be as specific as possible. For instance, the mentee should avoid too many general phrases which do not refer to a specific situation (e.g. “I want to focus on a sense of community in the classroom”). The individual reflection document does not necessarily need to describe a problem, but can be a question or an issue the mentee would like to reflect upon. In teacher education, a reflection document can both be a personal narrative or a personalized written lesson plan.

An individual reflection document makes it easier for both mentor and mentee to prepare a mentoring session. The mentor can read the document before the meeting, thus helping the mentoring process off to a good start. The mentor should not, however, behave as if the meeting was an interview, where all the questions have been created in advance. This may inhibit the mentee's capacity to present own thoughts. While being prepared, it is important to free oneself from one's own notes and follow the dynamic of the conversation (Carson and Birkeland 2009: 75-76).

In a mentoring conversation this document will help the mentor to follow up several different topics. In the early stages of mentoring it is therefore important that the mentee is given sufficient reflection time. If the mentor starts to talk about a topic right from the start, it might be difficult for the mentee to bring up other topics later (Carson and Birkeland 2009:80).

Written lesson plan[edit]

A written lesson plan is a document that is made to support the preparation of a particular lesson. A written lesson plan is often used in a mentoring conversation before the actual classroom lesson. This will allow the mentee to reflect extensively on the forthcoming classroom teaching. As a consequence the mentoring conversation will usually be more specific.

According to Nilssen (2010), many student teachers think that planning documents are unnecessary and difficult to use. There seems to be several reasons. First of all, some student teachers claim that the mentors do not use reflection documents in their own teaching. A lession plan is therefore not regarded as an authentic planning tool. Second, some mentors claim that student teachers are not capable of using a lesson plan in a appropriate way. Both student teachers and mentors may find it difficult to understand the differences between the didactic categories. When asked about the lesson plan in a survey, a mentor named Sara expresses it like this: ''After several occasions where the students expressed discontent and confusion about how to complete the documents they were required to use, I started to wonder: “What do I get out of this, and equally important, what do the student teachers get out of this?” (...)“ (Nilssen 2010: 106-107). She considered the didactic relation model as having little to do with practicum, since the students did not get the opportunity to study examples of the model in actual use. Thus, she started filling out the document along with the students before lessons. She then thought out loud about her own teaching while asking questions of the students: What are we planning to do? Afterwards she started drawing. “I drew circles and arrows while saying for instance, I have to remember which classroom to go to, are my students familiar with this subject matter, what have they learned previously, what are they going to learn now? - I drew while we talked – and we ended up with the didactic relation model” (Nilssen 2010: 107-108).

Even though many teachers do not use a lesson plan for their own teaching, one could suggest that this thinking has been internalized as tacit knowledge. The lesson plan is also meant to further the student teacher's didactic competence. Additionally, it can be used as a starting point for a pedagogical discussion regarding what the student teacher is thinking. A mentor who has actively used this kind of document with her student teachers explain:

This spring my students handed in a lesson plan for “it's learning” two days before the lesson was to be held. I gave feedback that same evening. The day before the lesson we sat down with the lesson plan, where both my and the students' comments where written down. Everyone was responsible for reading the lesson plan and prepare. This lead to many useful conversations and input regarding theories etc. At the end of the practicum period the students expressed that this method made them work on a different level when planning. I realized that it was a good way to make the pre-lesson mentoring more useful on a professional level (Nilssen 2010: 109).

According to Nilssen (2010), however, many mentors claim not to know how to use the lesson plan. There is a danger that this planning document serve only as a ritual document. For instance, many student teachers hand in their documents too late for the mentor to be able to make changes before lessons. The students may also be opposed to the lesson plan because they merely see it as a document to be assessed by the mentor and not as as a learning tool (Nilssen 2010: 107-108). Another disadvantage is that some inexperienced students may follow the plan too strictly, the consequence being that the teaching becomes too rigid with less room for improvisation and adjustment of the plan during the course of the lesson.

Personal narratives[edit]

The term “personal narrative” is typically used about a story from someone's professional life in a daycare, school or healthcare facility. The narratives usually describe important episodes from the personally experienced daily life of the organization. The individuals working in the facility tell their stories, using their own language and concepts (Mørch 2004). The stories are told in the same chronological order as the actual episodes with a beginning, a culmination and an end. When the narrative conveys specific episodes from day-to-day life, it can give insight into a person's feelings, thoughts and values. The complexity and dynamic of a situation are more easily recognized. In addition, the narrative provides an opportunity to discuss ethical and moral dilemmas that face professionals in their daily work (Birkeland 1999; Mørch 2004).

Some argue that personal narratives represent a different tradition of knowledge than the theoretical. A personal narrative refers to personal experiences from a work situation, but does not attempt to present it as an objective reality (Fennefoss & Jansen 2004). Personal narratives do not necessarily say anything about how reality should be, but consists of experiences that are considered significant on a personal level.

There are many different kinds of personal narratives: sunshine stories, success stories, routine stories, turning point stories, blunder stories, hero stories, problem stories, humour stories, exception stories. By using different kinds of personal narratives in a teaching context, we create different conditions for reflection. For instance, a turning point story is a story that turns established conceptions upside down and enables the narrator to develop new ways of thinking or to make new conceptions (Birkeland 2004).

The personal narrative is inspired by Jerome Bruner's idea (1986) that identity also is a narrative construction. He describes the narrative as an inherently different form of knowledge than paradigmatic thinking. Our knowledge about who we are, our personal abilities, values and principles are upheld by our self-stories. The life of an individual consists of a diverse landscape, made up of various acts and occurrences. They all bear witness of the person's abilities, values and experiences, but only a small amount of them end up as a part of the person's self-stories. A plot can be considered as an organizing dimension that transform occurrences into stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. This constitutes the story's core.

Personal narratives can be used in different ways. Fennefoss and Jansen (2004; 2008) suggest that personal narratives can be both a source for understanding and a method for pedagogical documentation. The significance of a story does not lie in the fact that something happened, but the way it happened. By writing down the personal narrative we might be able to discern other perspectives and possible ways of handling a situation, and turn them into subjects of reflection and eventually new attempts. The personal narratives can also serve as a starting point for discussion and reflection on ethical and moral dilemmas in the pedagogical practice.

A mentor in a kindergarten tells the following story: Tore did a lot of thinking about the values underlying his work. I asked him to write a personal narrative based on his interaction with the children. He described a situation which focused on a friendship between two girls. Some of the staff thought that the girls should be kept more apart, for instance by being placed at different tables during meals. Tore, on the other hand, had defended the friendship and tried to protect it. I asked Tore to explain why he thought the girls' friendship was so important. He quickly started talking about his own experiences with friendship and why he felt that friendship was so important. During the conversation, Tore became more aware of the knowledge, experiences and values that were guiding his actions (Carson and Birkeland 2009:73).

Birkeland (1998) refers to how personal experiences inspire mutual reflection among colleagues in the daycare. Mørch (2004) also argues that the purpose of the personal narrative is to understand, develop or document professional work. In this context the stories are made by members of the staff and used in joint problem solving. Colleagues will contribute with different perspectives and create more awareness about dilemmas, conflicts and concerns. These stories might also strengthen the collective identity.

Log writing in mentoring[edit]

A logbook is originally a maritime tool used to record direction and variation in weather and wind conditions, as well as progression and other events. Originally, the logbook would contain short descriptions of central incidents and observations during the course of a day. The purpose of the log was to make this information available for other travellers.

Spontaneous log and reflection log[edit]

As a research method, log writing has been used extensively within ethnography. Today this tool is also used withing an educational context. Log writing is different from the rigid requirements of academic texts in that the texts can be more explorative. Nilssen (2010) refers to Torlaug Løkensgard Hoel who distinguishes between spontaneous logs and reflection logs.

The spontaneous log usually refers to a specific incident or observation. The content is written down in the midst of the situation and the notes are often unstructured. The focus is on the person's feelings in the moment. It can be an expression of frustration or happiness. A student teacher describes the use of spontaneous log like this: “There was no need for fancy expressions, which made the task less complicated and time-consuming. I used key words, complete and incomplete sentences, mind maps, forms as well as reflections where some were related to theory (Nilssen 2010:101).

The reflection log is written more time is available. This log offers more reflective distance to the episodes. In this log it is possible to continue to work with episodes from the spontaneous log. We can add relevant theory which can enrich our interpretation of the episode. The text in the reflection log is also usually more structured. A student explains the interplay between the use of the spontaneous log and the reflection log: "Often when I look at old notes I notice how I was about to discover something that I had not yet understood. I can read between the lines or in my own use of words that I was progressing towards an understanding. By writing my thoughts down on paper I understood that I knew things I didn't think I knew" (Nilssen 2010:102).

Nevertheless, mentors have mixed experiences with the use of logs. Nilssen (2010) refers to a mentor named Anna who finds it difficult to motivate all students to undertand the benefits of writing a log. She has several questions:

  • Does the log require a specific structure, form or content? What type of log gives the best base for reflection?
  • Whose responsibility is it to provide instruction in log writing?
  • How do I motivate the student teachers to use different types of log?
  • To what degree should the mentor have access to student teacher´s logs? How does this affect the log writing? Should other student teachers have access to each others logs?

Anna's group of student teachers has mixed experiences with log writing. Two of the students had written every day and received feedback from their mentor once a week. They found it useful and were hoping to continue with the log writing. Another student wrote a log exclusively for herself. She did not understand its purpose. The fourth student published his logs in the group's online project room, where he received comments from both mentor and fellow students (Nilssen 2010:98).

The pedagogical idea behind log writing is that we develop a better understanding of a matter if we put our thoughts into words. Oral communication will make us aware of our thoughts, but it is through writing that we develop the skill to reflect systematically. We become more aware of what we do, and better at separating the essential from the nonessential in our daily lives. For a reader the log text can appear as incoherent because the text might be unfinished, informal, fragmentary and associative. A student teacher describes her own writing like this: "I knew beforehand that I had gained valuable experience from practicum and learned a lot. But I was not aware of what I had learned specifically. By writing and sorting my thoughts I was able to become more aware. This is crucial if the experience is to be of use later on” (Nilssen 2010: 100).

The log writing can help bring together theory and practical experience. For instance, the mentor can include the use of theory in log assignments. In addition, the log writing can contribute to a better communication between mentor and student teacher. The log will help the mentor understand the student teacher's thoughts and reflections. The mentor Sarah describes it like this: "Even though we try to include everyone in the mentoring conversations, some have a tendency to withdraw. That is why the log is important. In their log writing the students tend to express themselves clearer, and we can use what they have written in the mentoring conversations. It is of course a prerequisite that they think it is okay to share logs. The logs often give me as much knowledge about the students as the mentoring conversations. I can see that Irene focuses on herself, she is describing her feelings and experiences. The same is true with Ina. Iver emphasizes his role as a teacher which is new for him. Erik is mostly concerned with small things that have not worked and that will need to be adjusted before the next lesson. Eli says a lot that shows that she sees the students and reflects on her encounter with them” (Nilssen 2010: 103).

Giving feedback on logs[edit]

In order for the log to become a useful tool in the learning process, it seems to be important to give feedback to the student teachers. The feedback can widen the student teacher's perspective. Below are some examples of how a mentor can give feedback on the logs (Nilssen 2010:103):

  • Questions (“You say it is difficult, do you have any thoughts on how to go about it?”)
  • Refer to theory (“This is a good example of...” “You can read more about that...”)
  • Point to other alternatives, other ways of thinking, what do I as a mentor usually do? (“I understand that you find transitions difficult. With these students I find that it helps to...)

The type of feedback will depend on several factors:

  • What is the purpose of the log? Who is the student teacher?
  • How does the group want to use the logs? Is the log accessible for everyone in the group?
  • What kind of feedback will benefit the student teacher?
  • How much time is available for the feedback process?

Some student teachers feel insecure about log writing. The abovementioned factors can therefore be discussed with the mentee in order to get a common understanding of its purpose. To get the most out of log writing it is a good idea to share the logs with fellow students. Online file sharing has made this easier. With shared logs students have a place to get advice and vent frustration, while also having access to a source of professional knowledge and development. With this kind of openness challenges are easier to share and are made less private. On the other hand, some may feel too vulnerable with an open log. A student puts it this way: "I see the advantage in addressing my thoughts through a log, but I find it threatening that others can read about what I feel that I don't master. (...) " (Nilssen 2010: 104). One mentor has let the log sharing be optional: “The logs don't necessarily have to be accessible. With some groups of student teachers I have made it optional. In some cases, if the logs are very personal, I let the communication regarding the log be solely between the student and me. I have for instance a young student who is struggling with reading and writing difficulties, and who because of this has struggled with self-esteem. Our goal was that she in her 2nd year would dare to publish her logs in the online sharing room" (Nilssen 2010: 104).

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The mentor should not go about the mentor-mentee meeting as if it was an interview.

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