Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Learner-Centered Mentoring: Building from Student Teachers' Individual Needs and Experiences as Novice Practitioners

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Learner-Centered Mentoring: Building from Student Teachers' Individual Needs and Experiences as Novice Practitioners

Article excerpt

Prevailing teacher education reform initiatives call for preservice preparation to be "clinically rich"--shifting the primary locus, and therefore location, of learning from within university walls to schools (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2010; New York State Department of Education, 2011; U.S. Department of Education, 2009, 2011). This shift places increasing responsibility for teacher preparation on the cooperating teacher (henceforth, mentor teacher; MT) and heightens the urgency for preparation programs to partner with effective classroom practitioners who can mentor teacher candidates (for a full discussion of the term cooperating teacher, see Clarke, Triggs, & Nielsen, 2014).

Identifying effective MTs can be challenging because good teachers of children are not necessarily effective MTs (Clarke et al., 2014; Graham, 2006; Koerner, Rust, & Baumgartner, 2002; Leshem, 2009; Wang, 2001). While MTs play many crucial roles in preparing preservice teachers, research has suggested that their focus remains primarily on pupils (Clarke et al., 2014; Crasborn, Hennissen, Brouwer, Korthagen, & Bergen, 2011) and has highlighted the conflicts that often arise between the very different needs of students and teacher candidates (Achinstein & Athanases, 2005; Clarke et al., 2014; Feiman-Nemser, 2001; Feiman-Nemser & Buchmann, 1985; Graham, 2006; Rajuan, Beijaard, & Verloop, 2007). This is particularly true in high-accountability school environments where there are serious consequences for poor student achievement and little leeway for error or experimentation (Anderson & Stillman, 2010).

Our exploratory study documents the practices of a group of MTs in high-need schools within a high-accountability district. These MTs support teacher candidates, called residents, in an urban teacher residency program. Our primary research question--what are the mentoring practices of a group of strong MTs?--led us not only to examine the practices of these MTs but to consider the extent to which they purposefully met the learning needs of their mentees.

In this article, we describe and illustrate what we term learner-centered mentoring, a conceptual notion that emerges from our initial examination of the data. We use the descriptor "learner-centered" to highlight parallels between these mentors' practices and the tenets of learner-centered pedagogy described by educators and theorists, including John Dewey (1938, 1956), Maxine Greene (1978, 1984), Lev Vygotsky (1978), Lillian Weber (1974), and Deborah Meier (1995). Some of these tenets include a focus on the learner's needs, readiness, and purposes for learning; understanding the learner within a developmental trajectory; providing conditions for learner development and autonomy; and positioning the teacher as learner, observer, and supporter. Learner-centered educators--and mentors--also draw on their observations of each learner (Schiro, 2013) to develop curricula and experiences meant to foster individual growth. In many ways, the practices of the majority of the MTs in this study reflect what Clandinin (2000) has called "teacher education concerned with teacher knowledge" (p. 29) and Lave and Wenger (1991) have described as "situated learning." Learner-centered mentoring begins with the knowledge and skills the teacher candidate brings to the classroom, and learning occurs through experiences in the classroom made available by the MT. In so doing, we aim to illuminate a conception of mentoring of and for preservice teachers in ways that can support teacher preparation programs and host K-12 schools in strengthening MT development.

Effective Mentoring in Preservice Teacher Preparation

A considerable body of empirical research has reiterated the general sentiment that MTs play a critical role in developing teacher candidates' skills, knowledge, and dispositions. A portion of this research examines effective MT "inputs"--the characteristics and skills that they bring to the role. …

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