Teachers’ and students’ experiences and perceptions of a school-wide mentoring programme in New Zealand
Schools in New Zealand play an important role in young people’s academic and social development. Traditionally, schools have prioritised a focus on students’ academic success, with pastoral care often seen as important but not deserving a focus in itself. In the past decade, concerns about students’ wellbeing and mental health have increased and schools are tasked to find ways to deal with these concerns and demands effectively. As a strategy, many secondary schools in New Zealand have recently introduced stand-alone school-wide mentoring programmes to support their students’ academic and social development and to improve students’ wellbeing.
The focus of this study is on one example of a school-wide mentoring programme which applied a whole school approach using teachers as mentors. This programme was in contrast to most formal mentoring programmes which target ‘at-risk’ students using external-to-school adult mentors. This study explores the nature of the programme, its contextual factors and teacher-mentors’ and students’ experiences and perceptions of the programme.
This mixed-methods study collected teacher-mentors’ and students’ data in three distinct phases: adapted surveys from existing youth mentoring research tools (Match Characteristics Questionnaire (MCQ) and the Youth Mentoring Survey (YMS)), student World Café discussions and one-on-one interviews with teacher-mentors and students.
The thematic analysis of teacher-mentors’ data identified the importance of how the intended mentoring programme was implemented, teachers’ experiences and perceptions of their relationships with students and their adaptation to the teacher-mentor role. The thematic analysis of students’ experiences and perceptions of the mentoring programme highlighted their varied experiences and perceptions which were shaped by the nature of the mentoring activities, the quality of their mentoring relationships and their perceived growth from mentoring. The study examined contextual factors which influenced the relationships between teacher-mentors and students by conducting an analysis informed by the principles of third generation CHAT.
The study showed that teacher-mentors’ skills and their ability to form strong interpersonal relationships directly influenced students’ experiences and perceptions of mentoring. Close personal mentoring relationships led to students’ increased sense of wellbeing and personal growth. The key implications of these findings point towards the need for personal investment from teacher-mentors and students for mentoring relationships to be positive and successful. However, teachers’ skills in mentoring were strongly shaped by previous professional experiences such as previous experiences in pastoral care or experience of relational pedagogy in subject teaching, thus making the role more difficult for less experienced teachers. Teacher-mentor participants all noted difficulties in navigating the, at times, contradictory demands of the subject teacher and teacher-mentor roles. Ongoing professional learning about these challenges was largely absent. Students highlighted the significance of relational qualities of their mentoring relationships on their personal development, noting that these were undermined when the school changed their teacher-mentor or when a teacher-mentor left.
The study highlights the value of school-wide mentoring programmes to students. It raises significant issues to resourcing and ongoing professional learning schools experience when fulfilling an extensive pastoral role in addition to their expected academic functions. The study contributes to the growing body of research about group and hybrid mentoring, and in particular, some of the challenges associated with implementing such forms of mentoring in school-wide settings.