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Increasing self-efficacy through mentoring.

Abstract

Retaining excellent teachers who are devoted to teaching students in urban schools is more crucial than ever. Mentoring has been a common strategy to support and retain new teachers, and mentors have been reported to benefit considerably from the mentoring experience. This study focuses on the benefits for eight teacher mentors in an urban school district. Results indicate that the mentors' self-efficacy grew stronger as they interacted with new teachers.

Introduction

There is an urgent need to retain excellent teachers who are devoted to teaching students in urban schools. Nearly half of all new teachers in urban schools quit within five years (Hayock, 1998). This suggests that there is a serious, immediate need to improve support systems for new teachers. Mentoring programs and induction programs, therefore, have become essential, based on the belief that a mentor would become the connection between the teacher-in-training and the teacher-in-charge.

Much has been written about the value of mentoring programs for novice teachers during the critical first year(s) of teaching (Feiman-Nemser & Parker, 1993; Odell, 1990; Ganser, 2000; Odell & Huling-Austin, 2000). It is evident from the research that mentoring programs might provide the kind of on-site support new teachers need to develop their professional skills in an effective and efficient manner. Danielson (1999) found that mentoring helps novice teachers face their new challenges; through reflective activities and professional conversations, they improve their teaching practices as they assume full responsibility for a class. Other studies have documented the positive effects of mentoring on the mentors themselves (Ganser, 1997; Gordon & Maxey, 2000; Holloway, 2001), in that it positively affects teacher efficacy for both.

Bandura (1977) defines efficacy as an intellectual activity by which one forges one's beliefs about his or her ability to achieve a certain level of accomplishment. A teacher with high self-efficacy tends to exhibit greater levels of enthusiasm, be more open to new ideas, more willing to try a variety of methods to better meet the needs of their students, and more devoted to teaching. And they tend to be less judgmental of students and work longer with a student who is struggling (Coladarchi, 1992; Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2001). According to Bandura (1977), people's beliefs about their efficacy can be developed by four main sources of influence. The most influential source of these beliefs is the mastery experience. When a person believes they have what it takes to succeed, they develop a resilient sense of efficacy. If faced with difficulties or setbacks, they know that they can be successful through perseverance. The perception that one's teaching has been successful increases efficacy beliefs raising expectations that future performances will be successful. In contrast failure, especially if it occurs early in the learning experience, undermines one's sense of efficacy.

The second influential source of these beliefs is the vicarious experience. It is one's direct or vicarious experience with success or failure that will most strongly influence one's self-efficacy. Learning does not need to occur through direct experience. When a person sees another person accomplish a task, the vicarious experience of observing a model can also have a strong influence on self-efficacy. By observing others succeed, our own self-efficacy can be raised. Mentor teachers frequently characterize working closely with beginning teachers as a source of new ideas about curriculum and teaching (Ganser, 1997). Functioning as experts, mentors provide authentic, experiential learning opportunities through modeling. Through their actions and articulated ways of thinking, mentors teach new teachers effective skills and strategies. Peer modeling, can be a powerful influence on developing self-perceptions of competence (Schunk, 1987).

Social persuasion is a third way of strengthening people's beliefs that they have what it takes to succeed. It does not contribute as much as an individual's own experiences or vicarious experiences and it is more difficult to instill high beliefs of personal efficacy by social persuasion. People who are persuaded verbally that they have the capabilities to master given tasks are likely to put in more effort and continue it over time than if they believe self-doubts and dwell on personal deficiencies when they are faced with difficult situations. Social or verbal persuasion may entail a "pep talk" or specific performance feedback from another person. For example, a mentor might encourage a new teacher to do group work by saying, "You were very successful when you had your class work in small groups to prepare their persuasive speeches. You should try having them work in groups again." People also rely partly on their mood in evaluating their personal efficacy. Feelings such as anxiety, stress, arousal, and fatigue can provide information about efficacy beliefs. A positive mood increases perceived self-efficacy and a depressed mood weakens it. Emotional states are the weakest influence of the four presented here. Often, a person can determine their confidence by the emotional state they experience as they prepare for a particular situation. The experience of mentoring makes veteran teachers feel good about themselves and gives them a greater sense of significance in their world (Carger, 1996). Mentors frequently describe their mentoring contribution as a way of giving back to the teaching profession (Boreen, Johnson, Niday and Potts, 2000). Mentoring is a professional development approach that enhances teacher self-efficacy. This study demonstrates how veteran teachers benefited from the mentoring experience and how it increased their self-efficacy.

Method

Eight urban teacher mentors were purposefully selected from the mentoring program in one urban school district in a Midwestern state. The mentor teachers were asked if they would participate in a study to explore mentor teachers' professional development while working with new urban teachers. They all agreed. To gain insights into the lived experiences of the mentors, various data was used including interviews, document collection, and observation. The primary narratives consisted of three in depth, semi structured interviews (Denzin and Lincoln, 1994) which occurred in August, December and May. In addition to the three interviews, the mentors agreed to submit a copy of their weekly mentor log which focused on mentoring activities, meeting notes, and challenges and successes for them. This year-long mentoring log provided a long-term data source.

Findings

Being a mentor in the program led to veteran teachers becoming more aware of their own teaching beliefs and practices, and becoming more confident in their own teaching abilities. When applied to the study of mentor teacher professional development, Bandura's theory can be used to describe the direct effect of mentoring on teacher self-efficacy.

Mastery Experience The old adage, "Nothing breeds success like success" certainly is true when it comes to developing self-efficacy. Through the mentoring process mentors were allowed to reflect on their practice, examine it, and then reevaluate the ideals, guiding principles, theories, and objectives attached to their personal philosophy of teaching and learning. As mentors assist their mentees in improving their teaching, they also improve their own professional competency. One mentor explained, "Since I had to answer so many questions asked by my mentees, I had to reexamine my teaching practices. I had never thought about why I present material as I do, such as incorporating the daily newspaper into many subjects and developing learning centers to keep students excited about the subject." Through the mentoring experience, mentors began to value how much they had learned over the years. As one mentor stated:</p> <pre> I have developed quite a big 'bag of tricks' over the years. I guess I really never thought about it, but when I walk into a teacher's room, and I see the problems he or she is having, I am reminded of why I came up with some of my routines and strategies. For example, at the start of each class, I always have a brain teaser or riddle on the board. As my students walk into the room, they know that they have about five minutes to solve the day's challenge. This strategy motivates students to come to class on time and focus on the challenge. The daily challenge cuts down on a lot of behavior problems. When I share strategies like these, I realize how far I have come. </pre> <p>Reflection benefited both mentors and new teachers. Articulating classroom practices helped mentors develop as educators and helped the new teachers learn how to evaluate their own work. One mentor stated, "In the beginning, my mentees all wanted me to tell them what they were doing wrong, but now most of them are able to identify their own strengths and weakness."

Vicarious Experience Modeling is a powerful influence. One mentor explained, "Having to model what is expected of great teachers has changed me." Another said, "Working with my group of teachers has shown me new ways of developing lessons and engaging students in the learning process. I am much more conscious of my teaching." Others said, "Looking at classroom learning through the eyes of another made me more aware of the impact of teacher practice on student learning." The mentors came to value their role as educators again. Prior to mentoring, some of the mentors were contemplating leaving the field of education. By seeing teaching through fresh eyes, mentors were able to remember why they went into teaching in the first place. "I have learned as much, if not more, from my mentees as they have learned from me. I know I will be a much better teacher because of our interactions," commented one of the mentors. One mentor commented that she hadn't felt respected or appreciated as a teacher after 7 years of teaching in the system, but becoming a mentor changed that. She wrote in her mentoring log, "When my new teachers make comments to me like, 'I love having you as a mentor,' 'You are so supportive,' and 'All new teachers need a mentor like you,' it boosts my confidence to excel as a teacher of teachers."

Many of the mentors said that mentoring was an experience that any teacher who is interested in growing and renewing needs to go through. "It changed the way that I viewed myself as a teacher." One mentor said that mentoring renewed her enthusiasm for the teaching profession. She said, "Helping new teachers make sense of what it means to be a teacher reminds me why I went into the field in the first place." Another mentor made a similar comment, "Working with beginners reminds me of why I wanted to become a teacher." Several of the mentors talked about how good they felt about playing a significant role in a new teacher's development. One mentor wrote:</p> <pre> When I feel discouraged about teaching and think about leaving the profession, I think about all of the new teachers that I have helped this past year, how enthusiastic they are about teaching, and how I watched them grow in their professional lives. Thoughts of them get me past the feeling. </pre> <p>Conclusion

This study investigated the benefits of mentoring for veteran teachers. Results show that at the end of the mentor year participants were revitalized, empowered and well aware of their competencies. The development of an educator's sense of teaching efficacy is important, especially in urban schools where teachers are leaving at an alarming rate. First, being successful as a mentor creates a mastery experience. As veteran teachers, guide, support and coach new teachers, they contribute to the learning of both teachers and students. Second, looking at classroom learning through the eyes of another affords a rich vicarious experience. Third, social persuasion adds to perceptions of competence. And finally, the emotional feelings involved in watching a new teacher grow in their professional lives and sharing in their frustrations and accomplishments fulfills professional desires. We must look at mentoring as a professional development approach that builds on teachers' professionalism and enhances their self-efficacy. Teachers' self-efficacy beliefs strongly influence their teaching. The stronger the sense of efficacy that a teacher has, the greater the effort, persistence, and resilience he will demonstrate in his teaching.

A sense of efficacy is a valuable outcome of the mentoring experience. Those who design mentoring programs should carefully consider how veteran teachers can receive mentoring's full benefits. Then, perhaps, more veteran teachers will experience a renewed commitment to the profession.

References

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-Efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavior change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.

Boreen, J., Johnson, M. K., Niday, D., & Potts, J. (2000). Mentoring beginning teachers: Guiding, reflecting, coaching. York, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Carger, C.L. (1996). The two Bills: Reflecting on the gift of mentorship. Peabody Journal of Education, 71(1), 22-29.

Coladarci, T. (1992). Teachers' sense of efficacy and commitment to teaching. Journal of Experimental Education, 60,323-337.

Danielson, C. (1999). Mentoring beginning teachers: The case for mentoring. Teaching and Change, 6(3), 251-257.

Denzin, N.K. & Lincoln, Y.S. (1994). Handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Feiman-Nemser, S., & Parker, M. B. (1993). Mentoring in context: A comparison of two U.S. programs for beginning teachers. International Journal of Educational Research, 19(8), 699-718.

Ganser, T. (1997, April). Promises and pitfalls for mentors of beginning teachers. Paper presented at the Conference on Diversity in Mentoring, Tempe, AZ. ED 407 379.

Ganser, T. (2000). Teams of two. Journal of Staff Development 21(1): 60-63.

Gordon, S. & Maxey, S. (2000). How to help beginning teachers succeed. 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Hayock, K. (1998). No more settling for less. Thinking K-16, 4(1), 3-12.

Holloway, J. (2001). The benefits of mentoring. Ed leadership, 58(8), 85-86.

Odell, S. J. (1990). Support for new teachers in mentoring. In T.M. Bey & C.T. Holmes (Eds.), Mentoring: Developing successful new teachers (pp. 3-23). Reston, VA: Association of Teacher Educators.

Odell, S.J. & Huling, L. (2000). Quality mentoring for novice teachers. Joint publication: Washington, D.C.: Association of Teacher Educators and Indianapolis, Indiana: Kappa Delta Pi.

Schunk, D. H. (1987). Peer models and children's behavioral change. Review of Educational Research, 57, 149-174.

Tschannen-Moran, M., & Woolfolk Hoy, A. (2001). Teacher efficacy: Capturing an elusive construct. Teaching and Teacher Education, 17, 783-805.

Felicia Saffold, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

Felicia Saffold, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, School of Education, at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.
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Author:Saffold, Felicia
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2005
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