views updated May 18 2018



Mentors produce mentees, or protégés, who ultimately become mentors and perpetuate a cycle that has long-term and lasting effects on generations to come. Flaws and imperfections as well as strengths in the mentor are often passed along to future generations by the products of mentoring, protégés. As such, and as with many other skills-based human behaviors, it is important to understand the history and process of mentoring to make it more efficient and produce better and more consistent human outcomes.

The term mentor describes a person who consciously and with purpose fosters a relationship between the target of such efforts, the protégé, and the mentor. Mentors typically are older or more seasoned and having a level of experience that allows them to provide guidance, support, and a frame of comparison for protégés to guide their behaviors, choices, thoughts, attitudes, and emotions.

It was not until the mid-1980s that social and cultural researchers began formally to study mentoring using scientific methodology. Research on mentoring has historically focused on the products of mentoring, or the protégé. The term protégé refers to the individual receiving advice and guidance from the more senior participant.

Characteristics such as openness in the protégé are associated with better outcomes. Much of the research on mentoring suggests that it has a positive impact on career development, including salary level, promotion rate, and job satisfaction. Although the consequences of mentoring in formal and informal settings are beginning to be understood, much remains to be learned about the process of mentoring.

It is known, for example, that in the mentor-protégé relationship the mentor has two primary functions: (1) goal attainment (academic, career, relationships, and so forth) and (2) psychosocial support. In the goal-attainment function, the mentor provides advice and models of success and management to help the protégé facilitate achievement of professional and personal goals. This function is designed to produce achievements and help the protégé focus his or her professional aspirations and attain targeted outcomes. Notably in this area we know the most about the outcomes and process of mentoring.

Less well understood is the psychosocial and supportrelated function. This function is more personally oriented and is based on such complex factors as friendship, power, mutual respect, authority, and admiration. Mentors often provide informal counseling and manage a wide range of emotional and cognitive sequelae (frustration, doubt, and the like) in the protégé associated with both success and failure.

Mentoring is best understood in two forms: informal and formal. Informal mentoring usually develops spontaneously and depends on individuals having some common interests. The protégé may need short-term guidance and support for academic, career, and other decisions, to include personal situations.

Formal mentoring is based on the organizational structure that dictates the relationship. Formal mentoring programs were established to compensate and provide resources to groups that historically have been excluded from informal mentoring relationships because of their gender, ethnicity, social status, or sexual orientation. For example, in corporate situations individuals with powerful positions are often less than willing or excited to mentor those who are perceived to be different.

There are six primary characteristics of formal mentoring: (1) formal program objectives, (2) formal selection of participants, (3) matching of mentors and protégés, (4) training, (5) guidelines for meeting frequency, and (6) formal goal setting and goal monitoring. Regardless of the mentoring type, the key component of a successful mentoring relationship is that it must meet the developmental needs, skills, and aspirations of both the mentor and protégé.

It is often the case that mentors may not be able to meet all the developmental needs of the protégé, thus requiring more than one mentor or the establishment of a mentoring network. This network of mentors can provide a variety of skills and knowledge and competently provide for the developmental needs of one or more protégés. In 2006 Tammy D. Allen, Lillian T. Eby, and Elizabeth Lentz developed a theoretical framework that incorporates a multimodal conceptualization of successful mentoring based on two key dimensions.

The first relates to the diversity of the social system. Individual mentors and networks are most effective when their characteristics can be matched to that of the protégé. The more diverse the social system in which mentoring occurs, the better the chance of getting the correct match. The second factor relates to the strength of mentoring relationships. Particularly in a mentoring network, when a protégé is having multiple contacts with a range of mentors, the strength of the relationships can vary greatly. This conceptualization of mentoring has received significant recent attention and may become critical as multidiscipli-nary mentoring becomes more common in business and academic settings.

Integrating and extending previous knowledge, the American Psychological Association Centering on Mentoring Presidential Task Force (2006) identified five critical stages associated with the mentoring process. The initiation stage is characterized by the initiation and emergence of the mentorprotégé relationship. During this stage protégés identify experienced and successful people to whom they can prove their worth. Ultimately both parties explore and evaluate the appropriateness of the mentor-protégé match. Next is the cultivation stage, where learning and development take place. During this stage the mentor provides advice and guidance to the protégé. Both the personal and professional relationship is developed and intensified during this time, and attainment and psychosocial goals are achieved. This is usually a positive stage for both participants and often results in the maturation of a strong friendship. The separation stage generally refers to the end of the mentoring relationship. This often signals that protégés want to establish their independence. At this stage problems may sometimes arise when only one party wants to terminate the mentoring relationship. A protégé may sometimes feel unprepared to venture out independently, or the mentor may feel betrayed when the protégé no longer seeks guidance and counsel. When both parties successfully matriculate separation, a redefinition stage can occur toward the development of a new and more parsimonious relationship. It is during this stage that protégés have established themselves as worthy colleagues and the focus of the relationship is no longer the protégés development.

A few studies have examined factors that influence the nature and magnitude of the mentoring relationship (Ragins and Cotton 1999; Ragins 1997). For example, it is now known that gender may influence the interactionsand consequently mentoring outcomesof mentors and protégés. Some have suggested that there may be more perceived similarity, greater identification, and intensified effects of role modeling in same-gender mentoring relationships. In partial contrast and certainly less well understood, both male and female protégés with a history of male mentors reported greater compensation in the workplace than those with female mentors (Ragins and Cotton 1999). Even with this finding, many advocate for female-female mentor-protégé relationships and suggest that the modeling of success and coping that they provide exceeds the benefit of increased salary.

Ethnicity is also an important consideration in mentoring outcomes. The benefits of formal mentoring, particularly for women and ethnic minorities, are significant and are often based on the premise of providing an equal opportunity to advance through perceived and real glass ceilings. However, some sociocultural variables within the formal mentoring paradigm may ultimately put women and ethnic minorities at a significant disadvantage.

Lastly, a position of power appears to be an important variable for mentoring outcomes. The protégé may be more likely to respect and respond to a person who has perceived power and who gained that power through a process that led from where the protégé is currently positioned to where the mentor is currently positioned.

In conclusion, sufficient evidence supports the notion that mentoring is a powerful tool for the development of the protégé. Successful mentoring can often influence indicators such as compensation, promotion, exposure, and visibility. However, these outcomes are influenced by the strength and effectiveness of the mentoring relationship and psychosocial and sociocultural variables. The relationship is dynamic and changes to provide benefit to the mentor and protégé over time.


Allen, Tammy D., Lillian T. Eby, and Elizabeth Lentz. 2006. Mentorship Behaviors and Mentorship Quality Associated with Formal Mentoring Programs: Closing the Gap between Research and Practice. Journal of Applied Psychology 91: 367578.

Allen, Tammy D., Lillian T. Eby, Mark L. Poteet, Elizabeth Lentz, et al. 2004. Career Benefits Associated with Mentoring Protégés: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology 89: 127136.

American Psychological Association. 2006. Introduction to Mentoring: A Guide for Mentors and Mentees. Centering on Mentoring Presidential Taskforce, Washington, DC.

Ragins, Belle Rose. 1997. Diversified Mentoring Relationships in Organizations: A Power Perspective. Academy of Management Review 22 (2): 482521.

Ragins, Belle Rose, and J. L. Cotton. 1999. Mentor Functions and Outcomes: A Comparison of Men and Women in Formal and Informal Mentoring Relationships. Journal of Applied Psychology 84 (4): 529550.

Stephanie R. Johnson

Christopher L. Edwards


views updated May 11 2018


Mentors are individuals with advanced experience and knowledge who take a personal interest in helping the careers and advancement of their protégés. Mentors may or may not be in their protégés' chain of command, be employed in the same organization as their protégés, or even be in the same field as their protégés. Mentoring relationships may range from focusing exclusively on the protégé's job functions to being a close friendship that

becomes one of the most important relationships in the protégé's life.

Most mentoring relationships are informal, and develop on the basis of mutual identification and the fulfillment of career needs. The mentor may see the protégé as a diamond in the rough or a younger version of himself or herself, while the protégé may view the mentor as a competent role model with valued knowledge, skills, and abilities. Members of mentoring relationships often report a mutual attraction or chemistry that sparks the development of the relationship.

According to Kathy Kram, mentors provide two primary types of behaviors or roles. First, they provide career development roles, which involve coaching, sponsoring advancement, providing challenging assignments, protecting protégés from adverse forces, and fostering positive visibility. Second, mentors provide psychosocial roles, which involve personal support, friendship, counseling, acceptance, and role modeling. A given mentor may engage in some or all of these roles and these roles may not only vary from relationship to relationship, but may also vary over time in a given relationship.

Kram observes that mentoring relationships pass through four phases: initiation, cultivation, separation, and redefinition. The relationship develops during the initiation and cultivation stages. In initiation, the mentor and protégé meet and first begin to know a little about each other. The real learning occurs in the cultivation stage, where the mentor helps the protégé to grow and develop. The separation stage is typically reached after two to five years, and the relationship may terminate because of physical separation or because the members no longer need one another. Research indicates that the majority of mentoring relationships end because of physical separation. After separation, the members of the relationship may redefine their relationship as a peer relationship, or may terminate their relationship entirely.


Mentoring relationships are related to a variety of positive organizational and career outcomes. A number of different research studies indicate that mentored individuals have higher levels of mobility on the job, recognition, promotion, and compensation. Also, employees with mentors report higher levels of learning on the job than those without mentors. Additionally, research indicates that employees with positive mentoring experiences typically feel higher levels of pay satisfaction, career satisfaction, and organizational commitment. Finally, research indicates that the lower levels of turnover that occur with mentored individuals are due, in part, to their higher levels of organizational commitment that may be brought about by the mentoring relationship.

A meta-analysis (a statistical technique that combines results from numerous studies to give an average finding) conducted by Allen, Eby, Poteet, Lentz, and Lima in 2004 supports these findings. In their analysis of forty-three individual studies, they found that individuals who had been mentored had better career outcomes from both career-related and psychosocial mentoring; they were more satisfied with their careers, believed strongly that they would advance in their careers, and were committed to their careers. The meta-analysis indicated that mentored individuals also had better compensation and more promotions that those employees without mentors.

Mentoring relationships may also be beneficial for the mentor. Mentors have reported more benefits than costs to being a mentor. Research indicates that key benefits to mentors included a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, recognition from others, career and job renewal, and support from their protégés. The business historian Pamela Laird has even suggested that mentors have gained status through their placing of protégés, since it could serve as a marker for the ability to judge talent and character in a visible and competitive arena.

Finally, mentoring relationships may be beneficial for the organization. Mentoring relationships are a powerful tool for socializing new employees, for increasing organizational commitment, and for reducing unwanted turnover. Mentoring relationships can foster innovation and revitalize mentors who have reached career plateaus. Because members of the relationship may share different insights and perspectives regarding organizational and societal cultures, mentoring relationships may also be useful in mergers and in international organizations.


Generally speaking, mentoring relationships are a type of social capital. According to Wayne Baker, social capital refers to one's access to various networks, both in one's

personal and professional life. Pamela Laird has also shown that an individual moves through a series of networks in his or her career.

In her book, Pull, Laird notes that social capital is distributed unevenly and can have enormous impact in terms of pull discrimination, where certain members are granted access and others are not. Perception of potential is critical, but Laird points out that the criteria for potential often reflects the values and background of the gatekeeper. Because of this, certain inequalities in the workplace can be perpetuated. The mentor/protégé is one example where pull can operate in this manner, often to the detriment of women and minorities throughout much of the twentieth century.

Baker notes that social capital is crucial to career success, specifically arguing against the American value of the self-made man. He even suggests that businesses must learn to build social capital into their structures by such measures as rotating members through an organization.


Although mentoring relationships are important for all organizational members, they are essential for women and employees of color. Mentors can help these individuals overcome barriers to advancement in organizations and break through the glass ceiling, the invisible barrier to advancement based on gender biases. Research indicates that a full 91 percent of the female executives surveyed in a Catalyst study reported having a mentor, and the majority of respondents identified mentoring as a key strategy used to break through the glass ceiling.

A mentor can buffer women and people of color from both overt and covert forms of discrimination, and help them navigate the obstacle course to the executive suite. By conferring legitimacy on their female and minority protégés, mentors can alter stereotypic perceptions and send the message that the protégé has the mentor's powerful support and backing. Research indicates that mentors provide reflected power to their protégés, and use their influence to build their protégé's power in the organization. Mentors can train their female and minority protégésintheinsand outs of corporate politics and provide valuable information on job openings and changes in the organizationinformation that is typically provided in the old boys' network.

Although most research indicates that women and people of color are as likely as their majority counterparts to have mentors, women reported greater barriers to getting a mentor than men. Research showed that women were more likely than men to report that mentors were unwilling to mentor them, that supervisors and coworkers would disapprove of the relationship, that they had less access to mentors, and that they were hesitant to initiate the relationship for fear that their efforts would be misconstrued as being sexual by either the mentor or others in the organization. In spite of these reported barriers, women were as likely as men actually to have a mentor, suggesting that women overcame these barriers in order to develop these important relationships. Laird notes that by the 1970s, mentoring had become a prominent concern for business-women. Similarly, other mentoring research indicates that African American protégésweremorelikelythanCaucasian protégés to go outside their departments and formal lines of authority to develop mentoring relationships with higher ranking mentors of the same race. These studies indicate that women and minorities recognize the importance of mentors and are willing to overcome barriers to gaining this critical developmental relationship. Laird points out that African Americans and other ethnic minority groups have formed associations that serve in part of facilitate mentoring relationships for their members.

Another obstacle faced by female and minority protégés is that they are more likely than their majority counterparts to be in a diversified mentoring relationship. Diversified mentoring relationships are composed of mentors and protégés who differ on one or more group memberships associated with power. Because of the scarcity of female and minority mentors at higher organizational ranks, female and minority protégés are more likely than their majority counterparts to be in cross-gender or cross-race relationships. These relationships provide limited role modeling functions, functions that are particularly important for women and employees of color. In addition, individuals in cross-gender relationships are less likely to engage in close friendship and social roles that involve after-work networking activities because of the threat or appearance of romantic involvement.

Female and minority protégés face a certain catch 22: even if they find a female or minority mentor who can provide role modeling functions, these mentors may be restricted in helping them advance since women and people of color have less power in organizations than their majority counterparts. In sum, majority protégés obtain mentors who can provide more functions than minority or female protégés, and these functions in turn lead to increased power and more promotions, thus perpetuating the cycle.

One area of diversity that has received research attention is the role of age in mentoring relationships. Age has become a more important workplace issue as the large group of American baby boomers ages. Experts suggest that mentors be eight to fifteen years (a half generation) older than their protégés, so that the age difference is not as large as that of parent and child, and not so small that the mentor and protégé act more as peers. However, not all mentoring relationships have this age span. Research indicates that the mentoring experience differs

for protégés based on their age, with younger protégés receiving more career-related mentoring than older protégés.


In recognition of the benefits of mentoring relationships, many organizations attempt to replicate informal mentoring relationships by creating formal mentoring programs. One key difference between formal and informal mentoring relationships is that informal relationships develop spontaneously, whereas formal mentoring relationships develop with organizational assistance or interventionusually in the form of voluntary assignment or matching of mentors and protégés. A second distinction is that formal relationships are usually of much shorter duration than informal relationships; formal relationships are usually contracted to last less than a year.

Although many organizations assume that formal relationships are as effective as informal relationships, existing research indicates that this is not the case. Georgia Chao and her associates found that protégéswith formal mentoring relationships received less compensation than protégés with informal relationships. Other studies suggest that formal protégés not only received less compensation than informal protégés, but they also reported less psychosocial and career development functions and less satisfaction with their mentors than informal protégés. In fact, individuals with formal mentors did not receive more compensation or promotions than individuals who were not mentored. These researchers also found that women received fewer benefits from formal mentors than men did, indicating that female protégés may have the least to gain from entering a formal mentoring relationship. This research indicates that formal mentors are not a substitute for informal mentoring relationships.

In conclusion, organizations can create an environment that fosters mentoring relationships by structuring diverse work teams that span departmental and hierarchical lines and by increasing informal opportunities for networking and interaction. Organizations can increase the pool of diverse mentors by structurally integrating women and minorities into powerful positions across ranks and departments, and by rewarding these relationships in performance appraisals and salary decisions.


Although there are numerous potential benefits for both the mentor and protégé from the mentoring relationship, it is not always a positive experience. Researchers have identified dysfunctional mentoring relationships in which the needs of either the mentor or protégé are not being met, or the relationship is causing some distress to either of the parties. Negative experiences that have been identified include the following:

  • The mentor delegates too much work to the protégé.
  • The mentor abuses his/her power over the protégé.
  • Mentor inappropriately takes credit for the protégé's work.
  • The mentor attempts to sabotage the protégé.
  • The mentor intentionally deceives the protégé.
  • The mentor intentionally is unavailable to or excludes the protégé.
  • The mentor neglects the protégé's career, or does not provide support.
  • The mentor is too preoccupied with his/her own career progress.
  • The mentor lacks technical competence and cannot guide the protégé.
  • The mentor lacks interpersonal competence and cannot interact with the protégé.
  • There's a poor fit in personality between the mentor and protégé.
  • There's a poor fit in work styles between the mentor and protégé.
  • The mentor has a bad attitude about the organization or job.
  • The mentor cannot mentor effectively due to problems in his/her personal life.
  • The mentor sexually harasses protégé.


Though mentoring is now a widespread business practice, its results can vary. At its worst, mentoring can place incompetent or unscrupulous people in positions of power. Enron represents perhaps the most glaring example. Some have interpreted Jeff Skilling's relationship with Andy Fastow as a mentor/protégé relationship. Some press coverage of Enron indicated that Fastow would not have been named the company's chief financial officer without this relationship. Once in this position of power, Fastow was able to do enormous damage to the company and investors. Andy Fastow also cultivated his own protégé,Michael Kopper, who then became a partner in Fastow's more blatant fraudulent and criminal activity.

Enron's internal Performance Review Committee, a process that was introduced by Jeff Skilling, was intended to make employee evaluation at the company more objective. However, managers often promoted their

own favorite employees. Some argue that this subverted the original goal of creating a meritocracy. This is one example where a mentoring relationship may have been harmful to an organization.

Despite these examples, many giants of the business world were once protégés. Warren Buffett, who is sometimes known as the Sage of Omaha, was mentored by the investor Benjamin Graham. Some have noted that Buffett's own successful investment strategies are derived from his time as Graham's protégé.

SEE ALSO Diversity; Knowledge Management; Training Delivery Methods; Women and Minorities in Management


Allen, Tammy D., et al. Career Benefits Associated with Mentoring for Protégés: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology 89, no. 1 (2004): 127136.

Baker, Wayne. Achieving Success Through Social Capital: Tapping the Hidden Resources in Your Personal and Business Networks. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.

Barrionuevo, Alexei. The Courtroom Showdown, Played asGreek Tragedy. New York Times 12 March 2006, Section 4, Pg. 1.

Chao, Georgia, Pat Walz, and Philip Gardner. Formal and Informal Mentorships: A Comparison on Mentoring Functions and Contrast with No Mentored Counterparts. Personnel Psychology 45 (1992): 619636.

Dreher, George, and Ronald Ash. A Comparative Study of Mentoring Among Men and Women in Managerial, Professional, and Technical Positions. Journal of Applied Psychology 75 (1990): 539546.

Eby, Lillian, et al. Protégés' Negative Mentoring Experiences:Construct Development and Nomological Validation. Personnel Psychology 57 (2004): 411447.

Eichenwald, Kurt. Conspiracy of Fools. New York: BroadwayBooks, 2005.

France, Mike, et al. Who Will Fastow Implicate?Business Week 26 January 2004, 41.

Hosenbal, Mark. Enron: Expensing His Taxes.Newsweek 2September 2002, 6.

Kram, Kathy. Mentoring at Work. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman& Co., 1985.

Laird, Pamela. Pull. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,2006.

McLean, Bethany, and Peter Elkind. The Smartest Guys in the Room. New York: Penguin, 2004.

. Mentor Functions and Outcomes: A Comparison of Men and Women in Formal and Informal Mentoring Relationships. Journal of Applied Psychology 1999.

Ragins, Belle Rose. Diversified Mentoring Relationships in Organizations: A Power Perspective. Academy of Management Review 22 (1997): 482521.

Reese, John. Bruised Retailers Ben Graham Would Buy. 20 February 2008. Available from:

Scandura, Terri. Mentorship and Career Mobility: An Empirical Investigation. Journal of Organizational Behavior 13 (1992): 169174.

Thomas, David. The Impact of Race on Managers' Experiences of Developmental Relationships (Mentoring and Sponsorship): An Intra-Organizational Study. Journal of Organizational Behavior 11 (1990): 479492.


views updated May 18 2018


Mentoring denotes a relationship between a more experienced personthe mentorand a less experienced personthe protégé. The mentor's role is to guide, instruct, encourage, and correct the protégé. The protégé should be willing to listen to instruction and constructive criticism, and should also feel as though the mentor is concerned with his/her welfare. Mentor/protégé relationships are less structured and more personal than traditional teacher/student situations.


In many large corporations, formal systems of mentoring have been established in recent years. They are designed to quickly involve new employees in the work at hand, and to strengthen the work force in much the same way that other teambuilding strategies are designed to do. These systems pair experienced workers exhibiting strong leadership skills with new employees not yet acquainted with the nuances of the corporation, the work at hand, or their potential within the framework of the company.

But while mentoring is perhaps most closely associated with large corporate settings, the practice can be effectively utilized by small businesses as well. In fact, in many small businesses, an informal mentor/protégé relationship develops naturally as manager and business owners work closely with a small staff.

Small business owners themselves can become involved in mentoring relationships, on either the mentor or the protégé side. Entrepreneurs may seek out business owners or executives with more experience in certain areas, and approach them about establishing a mentoring relationship. Because this kind of approach acknowledges success, experience, and market savvy, a potential mentor will likely be flattered and appreciate the drive and initiative of the potential protégé. In other instances, more experienced small business owners may wish to initiate mentor/protégé relationships from the mentor angle, spurred by philanthropic instincts or a wish to strengthen the skills and knowledge of other people within his or her organization. These mentoring systems can be loosely or formally structured, either determined by the owner or simply encouraged by the owner and initiated by employees. A mentoring program may even prove to be a useful part of a succession plan.

Protégés and mentors should feel relatively comfortable together, as the relationship ideally is one of trust and mutual growth. Mentors should not be expected to become drill sergeants. The mentor relationship is not intended to be one of management exerting its will over young or inexperienced employees. Rather, the relationship should reduce anxiety by clearly defining goals and boundaries, and should increase productivity as a result.

Small business owners seeking mentors have several structured alternatives to choose from. For example, the Small Business Administration can put potential protégés into contact with some groups. In addition, the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) includes mentoring among its various offerings.


Mentoring relationships can be beneficial to all parties. Any mentoring situation requires an investment of time, experience, and trust. But these investments will be rewarded in a strong tie between colleagues and the deepened experience of not just the protégé, but also the mentor.

Benefits for the Mentor

Mentors may receive great satisfaction from their experience with proteges. They feel respected and appreciated for their knowledge and skill. And mentors can become more invested in their work as a result: they have personal relationships to foster in the business setting, and they feel that the owner trusts and respects their judgment and talents. In their position of role models, mentors may even more closely evaluate their own performances and become more productive in their own business dealings and duties.

Benefits for the Protégé

The protégé, whether a new employee of a business or a new entrepreneur, will benefit from the transfer of knowledge and know-how that can be passed on by a mentor of greater experience. Perhaps the greatest benefit is being able to learn from other people's mistakes. A mentor can warn of pitfalls as yet unforeseen by the protégé, saving the time and the pain of having to make those mistakes.

An employee who is a protege also benefits by having a mentor trained in the management of a business, who can pass along the true meanings behind policy decisions, and the unwritten rules of the workplace. The mentoring relationship can make the transition into productive, comfortable employee a much smoother one. Protégés will quickly learn what is expected of them, their place within the framework of the business, and the responsibilities of other departments and personnel within the workplace. Career opportunities and areas of improvement can both be sensitively illustrated by a mentor, and transitions within the company and changes of business practice can be made less stressful with suitable guidance.

Benefits For the Business Owner

The business owner benefits from the mentor/protégé relationship within his or her business in some very real ways. New employees can be thoroughly trained in technical aspects of the work by a mentor, resulting in employees who move quickly through the learning curve and into productive work. Mentoring relationships have also been shown to promote employee satisfaction, leading to decreased turnover in the workforce and higher production rates.

see also Apprenticeship Programs; Cross-Functional Teams; Cross-Training


Benabou, Charles, and Raphael Banabou. "Establishing a Formal Mentoring Program for Organizational Success." National Productivity Review. Autumn 2000.

Dortch, Thomas W., Jr. The Miracles of Mentoring: The Joy of Investing in Our Future. Cahners Publishing, 2000.

Eddy, Sandra E. "Computer Ease: Virtual Mentors." Entrepreneur Online. November 1997.

Graham, Anne. "A Mentoring Mindset." Folio. September 2000.

Kennedy, Danielle. "Guiding Light." Entrepreneur. July 1997.

Kremer, Dennis B. "Learn from ExperienceFind a Mentor." Westchester County Business Journal. 22 August 2005.

Martin, Anya. "Mentoring Within." Atlanta Business Chronicle. 4 August 2000.

Roberts, Lee. "Mentoring May Develop Both Loyalty and Retention." Minneapolis-St. Paul Business. 4 August 2000.

                              Hillstrom, Northern Lights

                                updated by Magee, ECDI


views updated May 18 2018


Schools that provide mentoring programs assign a veteran teacher to act as adviser, teacher, and coach to beginning teachers within their schools. Some have defined mentoring as "a formalized relationship between a beginning teacher and a master teacher (mentor) that provides support and assesses teaching skills" (Education Commission of the States website). Others use the terms buddy, coach, and master teacher to describe the person who helps the beginning teacher develop into a seasoned veteran.

Often mentoring programs are just one strategy of full induction programs designed to ease the transition of the new teacher into the profession of teaching. Within an induction program, schools develop structured activities to help orient new teachers to the system and assume the roles and responsibilities of practicing teachers. Induction programs are typically comprehensive programs that guide new teachers through their beginning years in the school. Induction programs are often seen as a process lasting from one to three years. Within the induction program, the mentorship puts the focus on the relationship between the new teacher and mentor; the mentor is charged with assisting and supporting the new teacher as he or she transitions from student teacher to teacher of students. Many believe mentoring to be an essential component of the induction program.

The roles and responsibilities undertaken by the mentor vary from program to program. In all cases, however, it is the mentor who plays an essential role in achieving the goals of the induction program. Using strategies such as consultation, demonstration, and observation, the mentor can act as the primary source of assistance for the new teachers.

A mentor is defined as simply a veteran teacher assigned to a new teacher. Veteran means that the teacher is not in his or her first year of teaching; however, the number of years of experience is not necessarily specified. Typically, mentors have at least three years of experience in their school district or division that allows the mentor to develop an expertise and understanding about the school system and to become skilled and comfortable within the classroom. Mentors may or may not have classroom teaching responsibilities at the same time that they act as mentors. In some cases, mentors may have been relieved of teaching assignments and act solely as mentors. Occasionally schools entice retired teachers back into the schools to act as mentors.

Mentors assist their new teachers in a variety of ways. It is the school district's duty to define the roles and responsibilities of mentors. One way is to assist neophyte teachers to become acquainted with their new environment. Mentors might provide a tour of the facilities, introduce the new teacher to staff and faculty, describe procedures and policies of the division, explain grading philosophies, and offer suggestions for lessons and classroom management. In the work of Sharon Feiman-Nemser and Michelle Parker, mentors who assume these duties are called local guides.

Others envision the responsibilities of the mentor as going beyond those acclimation duties. In such cases, the mentor fulfills the necessary orientation responsibilities and then moves the conversations to the next level. These mentors talk with their new teachers about instructional issues and their effect on student learning. They help the new teachers reflect on their performances and decisions so that improved student learning is the outcome. A label applied to mentors fulfilling these roles is educational companion.

Finally, Feiman-Nemser and Parker have identified another role that mentors can adopt: that of change agent. Mentors as change agents seek to establish a new culture within a schoolone of collaboration and commitment to continual professional development. This role transcends the typical role of assisting new teachers. In this case mentors attempt to break the traditional "closed-door" culture within schools and affect change throughout a system. Regardless of the role, how mentors assist new teachers is the prerogative of the school district.

Rationale for Mentoring

School districts are faced with a myriad of problems. Not the least of those problems is ensuring that all children are taught by competent and qualified teachers. This is a growing concern in the early twenty-first century. It is anticipated that over two million new teachers will be required to fill the classrooms of America by 2012 because of mushrooming enrollments, teacher attrition, and massive retirements among the aging population of current teachers. The job of a teacher is not an easy one. Districts and divisions are looking for ways to acknowledge the demands of the job and offer support to those who accept the challenge. Mentor programs, a promise of support, are one benefit that school districts can offer.

Filling the demand is not the sole issue, however. Even if school districts could find the sheer numbers of teachers needed, retention of these new hires becomes a problem. It is estimated that 30 percent of new teachers do not return to the classroom after their first year. Over the first five years, 40 percent leave the profession. In many cases, those leaving are the most academically talented teachers. Furthermore, new teachers are more apt to leave schools with the greatest need, leaving children to experience a succession of new teachers. Such high-need schools include those in urban settings and the rural countryside.

Many new teachers cite the feelings of isolation and lack of support as critical determinants in their decision to leave. Teaching is one of the few professions whereby a new graduate is expected to perform as fully as a seasoned professional does. Other professions such as medicine offer supervised internships and residencies that allow the new graduate an opportunity to practice with guidance from a veteran. Education, to date, rarely provides such experiences. The educational tradition of "sink or swim" that often leaves the new teachers on their own to discover what works and what doesn't is no longer a viable option for schools.

Extensiveness of Mentoring Programs

Information about the role of mentoring programs that support new teachers during their first years is not well documented. In 1996 the National Center for Educational Statistics published data regarding the participation of new teachers in induction programs. Although specific information about mentoring programs is absent, some encouraging trends are seen. For the 1993 to 1994 school year more than half (56.4%) of all public schools teachers with three or fewer years of experience were involved in induction programs. This is an increase of 39 percent from new teachers involved in induction programs of the 1980s. The National Center for Educational statistics for 1999 to 2001 data are expected to indicate that more new teachers were involved in induction programs.

In fact, induction programs are blossoming all over the country as one strategy to support teachers in their transition from student teacher to professional teacher. Data released in 2001 indicates that thirty-three states have written beginning teacher induction statutes; twenty-two of the states mandate and fund the programs. In addition, assigning mentors to assist the new teachers is often a component of induction programs. Twenty-nine states include mentorships as part of the induction process according to data published by the American Federation of Teachers in 2001.

Issues and Controversies

As mentoring programs develop to help new teachers transition from student teacher to classroom teacher, questions, issues, and debates begin to surface as well. One such issue centers on the question of purpose; a second issue focuses on effectiveness.

For many years mentoring programs were defined as vehicles to support and assist new teachers as they began their teaching careers. This assistance and support was based on the trusting relationship that developed between the mentor and new teacher. Much of the trust came from the defined role that mentors were there only to assist and support, not assess. New teachers felt comfortable exposing their concerns and problems to the mentor because the mentor was there to help. The argument was that if mentors evaluated the new teachers, then the new teachers would not come to the mentors with problems and concerns. Trust would be violated and the purpose of the mentoring programs defeated.

In the early twenty-first century some are questioning the separation of assistance and assessment. Given the intimate role mentors play in the lives of new teachers, mentors may possess critical information about the quality of the new teachers' skills and knowledge. Such information should not be absent from a comprehensive evaluation of the new teachers. The ultimate purpose of mentoring programs is to ensure quality teachers for every child; therefore, the argument is that mentors should provide evaluative data that are used in the decision of continued employment.

The general feeling, however, is that most mentoring programs embrace the concepts of assistance and support, leaving evaluation to those outside the mentor role. A small number of programs are combining assistance and assessment, however, so the verdict is still out as to which approach works best.

A second issue being explored is the effectiveness of mentoring programs. How should mentoring programs be evaluated to determine their effectiveness? During the last wave of mentoring programs in the early 1990s, the effectiveness of mentoring programs was usually framed around the perceived benefits to the participants. New teachers felt the mentors were helpful; mentors perceived their roles as effective. What is needed and being pursued are more empirical data that indicate mentoring programs are responsible for the goals they strive to achieve. Typically mentoring programs identify one or more of five common goals: (1) to improve the skills of new teachers, (2) to acclimate the new teacher to the culture of the school and community, (3) to provide emotional support, (4) to retain quality teachers, and (5) to meet state mandates and requirements for licensure. Data need to be collected that identify the ways in which mentoring programs' features and practices achieve these goals. Specific correlations between what mentoring programs do and what goals are achieved would allow schools to incorporate practices and features designed to succeed. These are the avenues for future research.

See also: Teacher; Teaching, subentry on Learning to Teach.


Feiman-Nemser, Sharon, and Parker, Michelle B. 1992. Los Angeles Mentors: Local Guides or Educational Companions? East Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teacher Learning.

Fideler, Elizabeth F., and Haselkorn, David. 1999. Learning the Ropes: Urban Teacher Induction Programs and Practices in the United States. Belmont, MA: Recruiting New Teachers.

National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. 1996. What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future. New York: National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

Odell, Sandra, and Ferraro, Douglas. 1992. "Teacher Mentoring and Teacher Retention." Journal of Teacher Education 43 (3):200204.

Serpell, Zewelanji. 2000. Beginning Teacher Induction: A Review of the Literature. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

Serpell, Zewelanji, and Bozeman, Leslie. 1999. Beginning Teacher Education: A Report on Beginning Teacher Effectiveness and Retention. Washington, DC: National Partnership for Excellence and Accountability in Teaching.

internet resources

American Federation of Teachers. 2001. "Beginning Teacher Induction: The Essential Bridge." <>.

Education Commission of the States. 1999. "Beginning Teacher Mentoring Programs." <>.

National Center for Educational Statistics. 2002. "Schools and Staffing Survey." <>.

National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. 2001. "NCRTL Explores Learning from Mentors: A Study Update." <>.

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. 2002. "Mentoring Beginning Teachers: Lessons from the Experiences in Texas." <>.

Michelle Hughes