It became necessary in the infancy of self-mentoring to conduct studies to determine if self-mentoring could be beneficial to others and if self-mentoring was beneficial, HOW was it beneficial? The studies, for the most part, were predominantly in educational environments –public school district teachers and university faculty.
The first study was a pilot in a school district that is now in its third year of continual data collection. There were less than a dozen teachers in the first study; all were beginning teacher volunteers. Another nearby school district joined during the second year of the original study and is now in it’s the second year. The results for each study have been analogous. Teachers continuously gain confidence and demonstrate increased self-efficacy after participating in self-mentoring.
Self-mentoring was also introduced to higher education faculty at a southeastern university in North Carolina through a call for volunteers by the university’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE). The faculty members, from the School of Nursing, were not new to the profession but new to the university. While they were accomplished researchers, one faculty member was struggling in the new environment and with the organization at large. Most astonishing to the faculty members, as they explained, was the simplicity of self-mentoring as something they admitted to knowing they should do but never took the time to think about how to put it all together. Self-mentoring was a process that was logical and easy to implement. After being introduced to self-mentoring, each faculty member developed an implementation plan and began the process. The results were consistent with the public school teacher studies.
While additional studies are not being conducted with higher education faculty at this time, self-mentoring is being used at the university level through different departments and by department chair(s) to support newly hired or existing faculty as needed. The Center for Teaching Excellence maintains the service on their webpage for all faculty campus-wide, as needed.
In addition to the educational sectors in the United States, self-mentoring is being introduced to Australian administrators as a support for those leaders who often feel isolated in leadership roles. This study is in the planning stage, so those results are not available at the time of this publication.
In addition to the adult studies in self-mentoring, new research has been focused on students. Self-mentoring is being introduced to high school students to determine if the same results are yielded with young adults. At the time of this publication, the study had just begun so information was not readily available. So, there are additional findings on the horizon that may shed more light on self-mentoring and the impact it has on additional individuals or groups.
Studies in business and industry have not been a focus nor are even contemplated at this time primarily due to the demand for self-mentoring as a training program in the United States as well as internationally for business employees. A detailed overview of the initial studies in the two school districts will be the focus of this chapter.
In The Beginning: A Pilot Study
A rural school district in North Carolina was the focus of the first study. The school district was eager to find support for teachers either in danger of being placed on improvement plans or who were new and lacked experience. The county did have a Beginning Teacher (BT) support program that provided mentors for the first three years of a new teachers’ career, so self-mentoring was viewed as a potential option for additional support. It was viewed as an intriguing idea – the thought that mentoring could be internally driven. The impetus for the study was the need to know if and how self-mentoring could be used to strengthen and build leaders and in this case, teacher leaders and the following questions were derived:
A grounded theory was applied since this theory supported rich descriptive data often captured in qualitative inquiry such as interviews, which were considered indispensable in data collection. A qualitative method was deemed as most suited to uncovering the unexpected and exploring new domain. The benefit of using grounded theory is that this emergent theory is related to the participants’ perceived reality rather than to what the researcher, prior to conducting the research, assumes to be true (Marshall and Rossman, 2010), which was also vital.
There were nine teachers, one male and eight female, who were selected by the local school district or who volunteered to be participants. The only male participant dropped out for unknown reasons at the beginning of the pilot and is not included in the following demographics. The teacher participants taught in grades 1-3 and 6-12 and prior to the pilot year, taught in grades K-1, 3, and 5-12, which was representational of elementary, middle, and high schools. The average teaching experience for the participants was 4.3 years (3-5 years of experience). Age range of the participants was four 20-30 years old; three 31-40 years old; and one 51-60 year old. All participants lived in the county and were natives to the area. None of the participants had acquired education beyond a bachelor’s degree. In regard to mentoring experiences, seven of the participants had 3 years of prior mentoring and one participant had four years of mentoring. Each of the teachers involved in the study reportedly were attending due to a need to have a stronger presence in the classroom or school setting as both a teacher and a school leader.
As a qualitative study, interviews were used as the primary data source and data was collected before, during, and after four scheduled seminars during the school year. Additional data was collected from participant’s journals, seminar videos, seminar group and individual observations, and pre- and post-seminar questionnaires. Pre-and post-assessments were used to collect data on what each participant knew about self-mentoring, involvement in mentoring programs, and leadership initiatives. These data sources were used to cross-reference with the primary and additional data sources. Without interview or survey materials available on self-mentoring, mentoring survey instruments that had been previously validated and reviewed reliable were used.
The participants met over a period of nine months in four seminars that were approximately two or more hours in duration. The seminars aligned with the levels in self-mentoring: Seminar 1: Self-Awareness, Seminar 2: Self-Development, Seminar 3: Self-Reflection, and Seminar 4: Self-Monitoring. The teachers were from different schools and while some differences in climate were noted from school to school, it was acknowledged that they were in an overarching supportive culture.
During Level 1 Seminar, the participant’s completed leadership assessments and developed individual expectations. From the group, two primary expectations emerged: to become a stronger leader in the school environment and/or to become a better teacher in the classroom. At the completion of the first seminar, each teacher signed a self-mentoring contract as a testament of commitment.
During Level 2 Seminar, each teacher articulated an expectation, developed measurable strategies, aligned activities, established a timeline for implementation, and selected appropriate measurement methods to assess and evaluate the progress. Each teacher committed to a set amount of time each week during which they would concentrate on meeting the expectation.
Level 3 Seminar complimented the previous work as the participants reviewed the data they collected, analyzed the information, reflected on the findings, and gathered additional data if needed.
During the Level 4 seminar, the focus was on the continued efforts to self-mentor in the absence of any formalized structure or external support from the researchers. Teachers were provided time to reflect in groups by sharing and reviewing available data. Recommendations for future planning and goal setting occurred and each individual developed a monitoring plan.
Data Collection & Analysis
The primary source of data collection during the study was interviews. During the seminars, other data sources were noted such as observations, video, journals, photos, reflection notes, small group discussions, email exchange, and written responses. Videotaping was used to document the seminar content and delivery method. Facilitator observations were reviewed following each seminar.
Manual data coding was applied to the open-ended individual and group interviews. The first cycle coding was In Vivo and a second cycle of coding utilized pattern coding (Saldana, 2009). Additional analytical data was collected from observations, journal entries, teacher interactions, and related documents. This data was cross-referenced with the interview results. During the first cycle coding, two categories emerged from the teacher interviews: instructional and teacher leadership. In both of these categories, there were classroom (interior) and school-wide (exterior) indicators. Confidence emerged as the most prominent theme and self-efficacy was secondary as noted in Table 1.1. Second cycle coding yielded similar patterns during data comparison and supported initial reviews.
Table 1.1: Self-mentoring Constructs
(Decision-making, risk taking, leadership)
(Volunteerism, chairing meetings, problem-solving, PLC organizer,
(Classroom activities, awareness, instructional practices)
(Public speaking during groups and in formal settings)
The results suggested the teachers participating in this study gained confidence as instructional leaders in the classroom and teacher leaders in the school-wide environment.
The teachers reported feeling more confident in classroom management. They were more inclined to assist other teachers and share ideas. “I was more comfortable in my subject area – always comfortable but now more comfortable,” shared a teacher. Another teacher, in reply to a question about how instructional practice was improved, explained, “During a Math lesson, I realized sooner that manipulates needed to be supplied.”
The teachers all shared that they were empowered to make decisions and determine methods to meet their expectation. As teachers began working through strategies, an elementary teacher who struggled with assuming a school-wide leadership role as chair of a professional learning community (PLC) team meeting excitedly typed, in an email exchange, between seminars:
I made a decision about our PLC at [school]. Three of the four ED teachers can meet together. Number 4 cannot because of students, lunch, or homebound responsibilities. So, I decided to meet with the majority. The last meeting was in Number 4’s room because she could not leave her students. So, we met in there. (Personal interview, 2013)
District officials, who were not a part of the study but asked to be present during all the seminars, reported observable increased confidence in participants during the program. A memo sent by an observing school official to the district superintendent read, “The self-mentoring session … was exceptionally powerful. [I] am pleased with how productive this session was. The participants stated this was one of the best Professional Development sessions that they have ever been apart of.” The teachers reported the control over their own achievements from personal endeavor was empowering. They believed this sense of accomplishment was motivational and would be sustainable. With the knowledge of how to self-mentor and meet expectations, each teacher perceived sustainability would become a norm of operation.
Self and peer reflections were acknowledged as the most effective tool in self-mentoring by the majority of teachers in all studies. “Reflection makes you more aware of what you are doing so you can correct it,” explained one teacher. “Reflection provided confidence to be able to support other colleagues,” shared another teacher, “ And I believe I will continue to gain confidence as a leader.”
An interesting revelation resulted in the final review of the system evaluation pre and post questionnaire data. The teachers were more critical of the leadership of their organization and ranked it lower after completing self-mentoring seminars than prior to the training. Assumptions were drawn that, as the teachers became more confident in leadership roles, they became more critical of the organization.
While the first study revealed interesting revelations, each additional study began to build on the same foundational basis. Self-mentoring served to increase the confidence in the participating individuals as well as heighten self-efficacy as leaders.
Elementary Classroom StudyAnother study involving of a teacher during the second year of implementation in another school district located in North Carolina highlights a two-week self-mentoring student engagement strategy implemented. Frustrated with student performance, the teacher implemented engagement activities to determine if student writing performances would improve. She identified new strategies to include in her instruction, implementing each engagement activity for two weeks to collect student writing samples in comparison. Students were able to write more detailed description when assigned a classroom writing assignment. There was a significant difference in the student’s writing sample. Results can be startling when you actually collect data and take time to analyze it. As the teachers began to understand the power they had to make a difference through simple changes in their own behavior or habits, their confidence increased.As their confidence was boosted, their self-efficacy also increased.
The studies suggest and as evidenced in the personal testimony that self-mentors feel a sense of accomplishment, empowerment, and increased confidence in their ability to make change when needed. If we think of professional effectiveness as encompassing the development of confidence, clarity, and competence (Fullan, 2001); we could assume then that self-mentors become professionally effective. This type of effectiveness relates the individual performance. Improved performance can be linked to career advancement. Career advancement then becomes a measurable performance benefit of self-mentoring.