What is mentoring?


This chapter by Sue Callan from Mentoring in the Early Years (Robins (ed), 2006), published by Sage, outlines the role of the mentor in the specific context of early years settings. The chapter aims to identify a framework for mentoring in the context of current early years practice and policy, and to enable mentors in this context to reflect on the nature of their role.


The chapter begins by defining terms as relevant to the early years workplace. Not all those who are being mentored will be student teachers, and the term ‘practitioner' is used as an alternative. There is a brief discussion of the development of mentoring practice in business and ITE, which identifies how mentoring practices adjust to context. This is followed by a summary of the policy context for early years practice, showing how the role of the mentor has increased in importance with the development of work-based training.


The author adopts the view, based on Wilkin (1992), that mentoring operates within a given framework, such as the requirements for training or qualification. It could be argued that this view might restrict some aspects of the mentor's role in promoting reflection, but in the context of the early years setting, it is suggested that this framework will be "the 'curriculum'  for the child and the vision of the professional practitioner within it" (p.9). The most important aspect of mentoring is identified as encouraging the practitioner to engage in reflection on "informed early years practice" (p.10). The model of mentoring practice suggested involves collaboration, openness and a commitment to reflection on all aspects of practice, including ethical issues such as children's rights diversity, inclusion and social justice: "This places mentoring at the heart of the reflective cycle" (p.10).


The remainder of the chapter outlines the ways in which mentors may need to operate within early years settings. Mentoring may operate at different experiential and managerial levels in these contexts, and the author is careful to acknowledge that mentors working with early years practitioners will be supporting learners with a range of existing experience. Thus a range of mentoring roles and possible approaches to developing a mentoring relationship are identified, and a useful table of mentoring activities is given on page 14. To avoid confusion between the role of the mentor and that of other colleagues who may also work with the practitioner, it is emphasised that it is important to establish a clear understanding of the forms the mentoring relationship will take at the beginning of the process.


This chapter would be of interest to mentors and ITE tutors working with student teachers in early years settings. It emphasises the distinctive context of the setting, and the need for the mentoring relationship to be sensitive to this context. It could be used to support discussion with ITE students about the nature of the early years workforce and the philosophy and practices of early years settings compared with some Key Stage 1 classrooms.


The chapter ends with a list of key points to remember, one of which is: "The nature of mentoring is determined by the ‘culture' - traditions and philosophy - of the organisation concerned" (p. 16). Mentors and ITE tutors might wish to consider, and to discuss with ITE students, the need for reflective practitioners to examine and to question prevailing cultures in order to test their value for learners, as well as learning to work effectively within them.



Willkin, M. (1992) Mentoring in Schools. London, Kogan Page.



Reviewed by:

Viv Wilson