Various developmental relationships between individuals have been labeled as mentoring relationships when, in actuality, they lack the systemic characteristics of such an experience. Expressions of interest in what one is doing, displays of friendship and peer coaching have all been called mentoring at one time or another. While these interactions are among the characteristics of a mentoring relationship, they constitute only a small part of a successful mentoring experience.
Four categories can be identified in the continuum of human developmental relationships. These categories are:
These developmental relationships have wide applicability, including the field of education.
At the most fundamental level lies the training relationship. It is a fact that some situations demand quick, non-reflective action for efficiency or even survival. The Marine Corps has recently made the distinction between those behaviors that require training and those that require reflective thought and value judgements.
Research with animals has shown that they can be trained to perform relatively complicated tasks as well or better than humans in some cases. Training defines the lower end of the human developmental relationship spectrum.
Next in the continuum of developmental relationships is tutoring. When comparing tutoring to training, several important aspects emerge. The beginnings of respect for and trust in the tutor become evident. The tutor has some knowledge that the individual being tutored desires. The tutor has an interest (perhaps motivated by money) in passing this information along to the one being tutored. There exists some concern on the part of both individuals about the degree to which the information has been assimilated. While higher up on the developmental scale, tutoring in all its forms ranks just next to training when it is remembered that students can tutor one another in various subject matter areas.
Further along the spectrum of developmental relationships lies coaching. Included in the characteristics of coaching are the sharing of information and the concern for understanding. In addition, the levels of trust and respect that exist between the coach and the individual being coached far outstrip those in the tutoring relationship. The coach exhibits an interest in the one being coached that extends beyond the behavior that training is capable of producing and the information sharing that the tutoring relationship provides. The coach becomes concerned with ancillary aspects in the life of the one being coached. The level of trust and respect between the individual being coached and the coach overlaps into these areas. Coaching in other situations is not unlike the successful athletic coaching relationship. A case can be made which supports the fundamental role of a teacher as that of an academic coach.
At the end of the spectrum opposite the training relationship lies mentoring. In terms of scope the level of trust and respect between a mentor and a protege greatly exceed that present in a coaching relationship. Mentors feel, in the core of their being, a need to meet the needs of the protege.
The characteristics of a successful mentoring experience can be defined
in terms of three dimensions or functions. The functions are:
These three functions have been shown to be positively correlated to the degree to which the protege has been matched to the mentoring experience.
A study of mentoring relationships will reveal the fact that these relationships are dynamic in nature, passing through a series of stages. The framework for such stages is comprised of the categories of human developmental relationships that have been reviewed. Teachers as professionals pass through a series of stages in their teaching careers, not unlike the categories outlined in the human developmental relationship continuum.
A successful mentoring experience will have included all the categories of the relationships that have been described. Academic coach may be the most fundamental level considered appropriate for the competent teacher, and mentor may be the level which defines the master teacher.