An examination of email-based novice teacher mentoring: proposing a practitioner-oriented model of online reflection



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This qualitative study examined how mentoring and reflection were enacted in the discourse between novice teacher protégés and their experienced teacher mentors in an online new teacher support program Participants were members of six mentoring teams in WINGS (Welcoming Interns and Novices with Guidance and Support) Online sponsored by the University of Texas at Austin, a program designed. to offer graduates of the university's teacher preparation programs protégé-driven just-in-time support. Novices who chose to participate were offered the opportunity to select an experienced teacher mentor with whom they could communicate via a facilitated private email list. The teams participating in this study had each communicated for at least one semester. Data consisted of the email exchanges between mentors and protégés and the applications submitted at the beginning of the match. Qualitative analysis of the data proceeded inductively. Methods of constant comparative analysis and microanalysis of discourse revealed the content, structure and patterns of the teachers' talk. Findings indicated that the teachers, who discussed many of the same issues previously identified with face-to-face mentoring pairs, focused much of their talk on storytelling. Although text-based, their stories did not assume the formal structure traditionally associated with written discourse. Instead, the teachers utilized an electronic equivalent of spoken conversational narratives. Narratives were fluid and reflective of the purposes they served, including: relating, illustrating, venting and reflecting. Reflective exchanges, a focus of the study, were initiated almost exclusively by the protégés and grounded in the problems they faced in their teaching. Analysis generated a practitioner-oriented model of reflection categorized according to which aspect of the problem the teacher foregrounded. This model suggested a typical sequence in which new teachers told a story and examined one or more aspects of the problem posed. When these reflective bids received a response, the mentors' messages extended the reflection in a fluid process, shifting back and forth between different aspects of issues. Implications include recommendations for online teacher mentoring programs and a theoretical understanding of how teachers reflect on issues they consider important.