Mentoring the Mentors: Hybridizing Professional Development to Support Cooperating Teachers’ Mentoring Practice in Science

Teaching science demands a posh repertoire of practice requiring preservice teachers over the course of their preparation to develop “specific and skilled” assessment practices, pedagogies, and other supports for students’ learning (Windschitl, Thompson, Braaten, & Stroupe, 2012, p.879). Recently, researchers have articulated the necessity for high-quality clinical practice opportunities with specific mentoring support to afford preservice teachers scaffolded opportunities to enact their growing understandings of ambitious science teaching ( American Association of schools for Teacher Education, 2018; Darling-Hammond, 2014; Field & Scoy, 2014; Goodwin, Roegman, & Reagan, 2016; Guha, Hyler, & Darling-Hammond, 2016; McDonald et al., 2014).

As teacher preparation programs strive to supply access to high-quality clinical practice, specific sorts of expertise that cooperating classroom teachers offers in supporting preservice teachers during their initial classroom-based, clinical experiences should be explored: Cooperating teachers understand the training expectations for his or her grade level, they need longitudinal understandings of their students and therefore the contextual factors that influence their learning, they know and may apply developmentally appropriate pedagogies, and that they have tried-and-true approaches to classroom management that support that learning.

Although cooperating teachers offer these important perspectives and may provide crucial support to preservice teachers, many aren’t sufficiently prepared to show science (Banilower et al., 2013; Windschitl et al., 2012) and should not have mentoring expertise to guide the preservice teachers’ learning in primary science education (Hudson, 2007). Thus, there’s a robust got to “mentor the mentors” and supply efficient, effective, and high-quality professional development (PD) for cooperating teachers to support preservice teachers’ growth.

Our research team previously addressed this need through a 5-year, National Science Foundation grant-supported longitudinal study. One component of this research was to develop and study a mentor preparation program grounded in research-based elements of effective science instruction (ESI; Banilower, Cohen, Pasley, & Weiss, 2010) and methods to structure and facilitate learner-focused mentoring conversations (Wellman & Lipton, 2017). attention for the project was PD for cooperating teachers that included several days of face-to-face PD to introduce the components of ESI to put the participants within the role of learners using science content immersions, and to supply strategies for learning-focused mentoring conversations, with a stress on coaching as a default stance when mentoring preservice teachers (Lipton & Wellman, 2007).

The structure of the mentoring PD was grounded in research that cites the efficacy of including opportunities to practice mentoring novice teachers within the midst of guided practice over time (Bradbury & Koballa Jr, 2008; Meyer, 2002). This earlier study revealed that cooperating teachers who participated within the PD sequence showed statistically significant increases in their beliefs about ESI and their ability to facilitate effective mentoring conversations about science lessons taught by the preservice teachers (Miller, Hanley, & Brobst, in press). Furthermore, the preservice mentees showed statistically greater gains in their beliefs about ESI than did their nonmentored peers.

Although our research found significant changes in mentor teachers’ mentoring practices and understanding of ESI, we faced several challenges when the grant and its support ended. so as to sustain and even improve cooperating teachers’ access to PD for mentoring, we would have liked an answer that might (a) allow us to scale the professional development to an outsized number of cooperating teachers, (b) be cost effective and preferably free, (c) provide flexible access that permits cooperating teachers to interact within the PD as their schedules allow, (d) enable access across a broader geographical area than is feasible with in-person PD, and (e) capable of being completed during a relatively short amount of your time , given teachers’ multiple commitments. These sustainability challenges aren’t unique to our project, but are common among grant-supported projects that seek to sustain innovative pedagogical practices (Owston & Sinclair, 2006).

In order to sustain our PD, we investigated how online learning modules would help us to satisfy sustainability criteria. Online professional development models are effective in supporting teachers’ ability to elucidate and communicate solutions to problems of practice (Wall, Selmer, & Bingham Brown, 2016) and mediate challenges with time and travel distance (Elliott, 2017). However, researchers have also found that online professional development, unless carefully constructed, can present challenges like producing gaps in participants’ understandings of key ideas and limiting participants’ engagement and motivation (Lebec & Luft, 2007).

As an initial proof-of-concept step during this process, we created a hybrid in-person and online PD model to gather evidence that placing a number of the PD content online was both feasible and will still positively impact teacher learning (Borko, Whitcomb, & Liston, 2009). We were interested by whether moving the mentoring PD to online learning modules could offer an answer to the challenges, yet still maintain the standard and results of more intensive face-to-face PD on the cooperating teachers’ ability to facilitate and successfully engage in effective mentoring conversations.

To this end, we developed a series of three online mentoring modules to broadly disseminate our mentoring PD in an enticing format that utilizes animations, case studies, and user interactivity. The modules were designed to be completed in but 1 hour. We coupled these online modules focused on effective mentoring strategies with a half-day, face-to-face professional development on the weather of ESI.

The following research question guided our study: How does a hybrid of online and face-to-face PD in ESI and mentoring impact the standard of mentors’ work to support preservice teachers? This paper shares the results of this proof-of-concept study of hybrid PD. The paper begins with a review of the literature on ESI and effective mentoring, briefly describes the study’s theoretical framework, and describes investigation of the efficacy of this hybrid approach to mentor development.

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