Administrative Mentoring and the Emergent Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

Indeed, the heightened emphasis on standardized testing and other practices related to No Child Left Behind has created a condition wherein the principal is found to be largely at the center of an array of very inflexible demands. The result is that the principal's performance evaluation is directly connected to the capacity of the school and its students to comport with the standards created by such legislation. Therefore, principals are increasingly finding it necessary to take a hands-on approach to providing leadership in public schools. The degree to which the experience and insight of the mentor can be instrumental in facilitating this capacity is significant.

As Lave & Wenger (2005) contend, there is a distinctly beneficial impact to the developing educational leader in exposure to a well-suited mentor. This is true at every level of education, where the challenges that can be disruptive are approached with strategies that have been proven by those with significant and positive experience already. Indeed, "as new educators acquire the ways of being a teacher, they are learning the ways to enter a distinctive community of practitioners. As newcomers learn and come to see themselves as teachers, their 'changing knowledge, skill, and discourse are part of a developing identity. Without this changing identity, teachers may lack a firm sense of themselves as members of a distinct community of practice." (Lave & Wenger, 152) This identifies another important part of the appeal to mentoring as a way to improve professional development. Each school contains its own cultural tendencies, normative practices, political identity and set of distinct challenges and opportunities. In spite of training and education, a new principal or administrator is unlikely to be familiar with or accustomed to these distinct cultural conditions. Therefore, contact with a mentor can be central in helping one develop this familiarity and comfort. The importance of the principal as a member of a functional community, as opposed to some aloof political leaders, can best be realized through this measured process of personal induction through mentoring.

Not just in the concrete lessons and knowledge which are together imparted by the mentor, but also in the very experience of working with a mentor, it is probable that the mentee will begin to develop a sense of collaboration and community that is necessary to the position. In achieving comfort and consonance with one's mentor, the developing principal is essentially placing his or herself in a representative relationship with the broader institution. The mentor will help to facilitate a greater sense of belonging and of comfort with the processes and procedures which are inherent to the school or district's operation. As the Ontario Principals Council (OPC) (2007) indicates, "mentoring is a reciprocal learning relationship in which mentors and mentees agree to a partnership where they will work collaboratively toward the achievement of mutually defined goals that will develop a mentee's skills, abilities, knowledge and/or thinking." (OPC, 2) in this set of goals toward which the mentor and mentee will be directed, assumption of the values and priorities of the school and its attendant culture will be paramount.

Here, we can see that researchers are generally agreed on the crucial importance of using one's leadership to invoke leadership initiative and the command of responsibilities amongst those who are theoretically subordinate. Such is to say that the mentor will be essential in helping the developing principal find balance between authority and a sense of community. The mentor's experience and resultant guidance will be central in finding such a balance. This means developing, maintaining and feeding a set of healthy relationships betwixt the principal and teachers and faculty. The principal must cultivate an atmosphere where trust and a sense of value allow teachers to effectively carry out the message, mission and pressures of the principalship. At the core of a literature review process such as this is the finding that the principal cannot act alone. Though accountability will typically be closely associated with the job of the principalship, the support which the principal enjoys from a mentor and channels into his or her responsibilities will be tantamount to the willingness of a staff to support him or her. In turn, this support will translate into an effective staff which maintains the principal's vision and standards of efficacy. This is an approach to the value of mentoring which gains support through research such as that contacted by Mullen & Lick (2004), which argues that "by taking the time to construct a mutually beneficial learning community of mentors, all participants felt that Mullen had created a synergistic culture of comentoring through action research where the participants in the project felt safe enough to risk sharing their reflections and innermost thoughts." (Mullen & Lick, 279)

This sense of safety denotes the evolving potential for personal comfort and confidence in a role that characteristically challenges these sensibilities. The ability to appeal either to the lessons and insights offered by a properly suited mentor, as well as the capacity to appeal to that individual in particular, can help to reinforce the importance sense on the part of the principal that he or she is not alone in approaching the challenges presented by the district. For one who is entering into a district which is unfamiliar, into a school with a set of already established cultural conditions or into a staff which is both intimately constructed and socially exclusive, this point of support can be an extremely powerful resource.

In addition to lengthening one's tenure by preparing one for the inherent rigors of a specific school as well as those pertaining to the political and social parameters of the field, access to a mentor is seen as instrumental to one's growth as a professional. Quite to the point, this is the typical emphasis which drives mentoring relationships, with the mentee working to achieve a status, experience and capability which may ultimately be on par with those achieved by the mentor. As Mertz (2004) denotes on this point, "definitions of mentoring come in all sizes, foci, and levels of inclusiveness. Among the most popular definitions are those that focus on the career advancement or professional development of a protege by someone in a position of authority with the professional context." (Mertz, 541)

The imparting of knowledge, experience and insight from one who has already faced many of the challenges which are anticipated on the road ahead for the evolving principal or administrator transcends even the individual priorities discussed here throughout. For the district, school, educators and students, this reflects a continuity in which the knowledge and perspective of an outgoing leader can be manifested and even refined in the hands of a new or emergent leader. All indications from our research suggest that the use of mentoring programs is one of most reliable and effective ways to prevent an unwanted break from those norms and patterns that have yielded consistency and success for the school.

This is something which begins early in the professional development of the principal or administrator, whom research suggests should be exposed to the lessons, insights and actions of those in whose footsteps they would eventually follow. Wilmore & Bratlien (2005) find that "he mentoring and tutoring that occurs within the administrative internship is universally regarded as critical to the experience, growth, and development of future administrators." (Wilmore & Bratlien, 23-24) the universality of this perspective is one of the primary motivations for the study which has been here undertaken, with the presumption of its value elevating mentoring from a perceived luxury and opportunity for those evolving to fulfill administrative roles to a central avenue to helping establish many of the traits which should be seen as essential to effectiveness in the role. These include a refined leadership capacity, the ability to absorb responsibility whether good or bad and the dexterity to balance the often conflicting priorities and interests of many interacting parties. Additionally, we can see that mentoring is absolutely necessary in providing emergent school leaders with the expectations of political pressure, personal exhaustion, expenditure of emotional energy and staff, administrative or parental ignominy that are all inherent to the role. As the principal or administrator works toward the development or retention of a sense of community, the lessons and experience produced by the mentoring process will be essential.

Mentoring with Respect to Gender and Ethnicity:

This is even more important where individuals of distinct demographic backgrounds may struggle to achieve a foothold in a context where few of their peers have succeeded. This is to say that there are stark limitations on the opportunities and access experienced by those who are not of the normative race or gender in which administrative or principal leadership is typically vested. For women, African-Americans and others who can be characterized as minorities in the educational leadership context, it is especially important to achieve access to effective mentoring. This is true beyond the reasons of personal development, professional development and community orientation cited above. These are, of course, equally…

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