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Teacher professional learning in mentoring relationships: lessons from a Cooperative-Reflective model in Ghana

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:17 authored by Edward Kwame Asante
In Ghana, two government commissioned committee reports and a major research study raised concerns about the quality of the country’s teacher education programme. The quality deficiency was attributed to a disjuncture between the theory and practice of teaching. To bridge this theory-practice gap, the University of Education, Winneba, adopted a one-year school-based student internship as an innovative component of its 4-year teacher education programme for upgrading in-service teachers to replace the traditional 4-6 weeks teaching practice, with classroom teachers serving as mentors for student teachers. Since the heart of mentoring is the mentor-mentee relationship, this study explored in depth the mentor-mentee relationships of a Cooperative-Reflective model of mentoring adopted by the University of Education, Winneba, (UEW), Ghana, for its student teachers in an attempt to understand the nature of these professional relationships and how they facilitate teacher professional learning, growth and development. A qualitative ethnographic case study approach was used to study five cases of mentor-mentee relationships from the lived experiences of mentors and mentees involved in the University’s student internship programme. The data were collected from interviews, observations, and document analysis. Trustworthiness of the research was ensured through the multiple sources of data, peer review, member checks, as well as the description of themes in the participants’ own words. The study revealed that although the involvement of classroom teachers in the professional training of student teachers is a novelty in teacher education in Ghana, and a great departure from the old teaching practice, the programme has some conceptual and implementation challenges. First, the old conception of a hierarchical relationship between student teachers and their supervisors still persists contrary to the collegial, collaborative, reciprocal and critical reflective conceptions that underpin the UEW mentoring model. This is attributable to the lack of sensitivity to the socio-cultural and professional contexts in which the model is being implemented. The Ghanaian society is hierarchical; age is, therefore, equated with experience, respect, authority, and reverence. Fostering collegial relationships among mentors and mentees in this cultural context becomes problematic. Again, even in the Ghanaian teaching profession, inherent in the professional ethics is the respect for rank and social distance. It is, therefore, difficult for teachers of lower ranks to forge collegial relationships with those of higher ranks. Second, there is a dearth of direction and guidance on the selection of mentors and the matching of mentors and mentees. This results in the mentors and mentees going through the mechanics of the relationship without there being any substantive professional learning from their interactions. The current practice where the responsibility for the selection of mentors and the matching of mentors and mentees is vested in the heads of partnership schools/colleges results in instances of mismatch in terms of age, gender, experience, and personal chemistry. Third, the programme targeted the wrong type of student teachers; hence the superficial nature of the professional learning that occurred in the relationships. Since they were not novice teachers, but had teaching experiences ranging from five to twenty-seven years, they did not find the professional learning experience challenging enough. Finally, the programme did not envision that the collegial, collaborative and participatory learning strategies that are supposed to characterise the mentoring relationship are to have their parallels in the teaching and learning contexts of the mentoring dyad in schools and colleges in terms of a shift in pedagogy. The findings suggest that theoretical positions alone cannot provide sufficient basis or framework for the development of a mentoring programme. It must be based on the socio-cultural as well as the professional factors within the context of implementation since it is the interaction between particular mentors and particular mentees in their particular contexts that determines the type of relationship to be established and the type of professional learning that will result.


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