Facilitating learning in practice
Facilitating learning in practice

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Facilitating learning in practice

1 What is mentorship?

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Figure 1 Mentorship

The NMC standards state that assessment and evaluation of learning are core outcomes for a practitioner to determine if working in the role of mentor. This is often not the case for mentorship in other settings, where it centres on supporting and guiding learning rather than making judgements.

Eric Parsloe, of The Oxford School of Coaching and Mentoring, provides a useful definition of mentorship in which mentoring is seen to:

support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.

(Eric Parsloe, The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring)

This quote appears in a short but informed paper by MentorSET [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] that presents mentoring as a powerful tool for personal development and empowerment, and as an effective way of helping people to progress in their careers. The authors suggest that mentorship is a partnership between two people (the mentor and the learner) who normally work in or share similar experiences, so the mentor can help the learner to problem solve in an empathetic manner – understanding the context of the challenge. The mentor relationship is also seen as one based on mutual trust and respect. These are going to be themes that you will visit throughout this course, but particularly in Week 4, where you will examine differing aspects of the mentoring relationship in some depth. If mentoring works well, the MentorSET paper speculates that effective mentoring enables the learner to develop confidence to explore new ideas or experiences.

Activity 1 The mentoring role

Allow 30 minutes

The following video was developed by Jane Stubberfield (University of Plymouth) in 2010 as part of the ‘Learning from WOeRK’ project that designed open educational resources to support professional development in the workplace. The video is titled ‘What is mentoring?’ and provides a lot of information concerning the broad nature of the mentor role – specifically how the role relates to coaching, training and advising.

Download this video clip.Video player: mentoring_skills_what_is_mentoring.mp4
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Welcome to this, the first session in the module on mentoring skills. So, what is mentoring? How does it fit in with other ways of developing people in organisations. That's what we're going to explore in this session on, ‘What is mentoring?’. The objectives of this session are that by the end of this session you will be able to assess the difference between mentoring and other forms of help, explain the relationship between styles of helping, and evaluate different definitions of mentoring. We're going to start of with thinking about mentoring and other styles of helping.

So, for this exercise, start writing down what you think at the differences between mentoring and coaching. I wonder what answers you came up with. Mentoring and coaching are often used at the same time in conversations and in some organisations, synonymously. For the sake of this learning module, identifying the difference is quite important. Coaching is a method of improving performance by asking powerful questions. It is usually focused on particular issues that the person may have or on particular goals they may want to achieve. Mentoring is broader than that because it may include many other ways of supporting a person such as opening doors for a them and introducing them to influential people the mentor may know.

For this exercise, write down what you think is the difference between mentoring and training. Training is commonly defined as the acquisition of skills, knowledge and attitude and is normally led by a trainer. It's the trainer who will set the objectives for the learning and can be much more of a one-way process than mentoring as it is about the trainer imparting knowledge. That’s not to say that a mentor will not impart knowledge. sometimes they will where that is the best way to help their client, and certainly mentoring i is about learning and its about learning for all involved. The main difference between mentoring and training is that with mentoring sometimes other ways of support will be used and the support agenda is directed by the client.

For this exercise, write down what you think is the difference between mentoring and advising. If you consult an advisor, they will ask questions to find out what it is that you want help with and then give you recommendations and advice based on their own knowledge, learning and experience. A mentor may well do that occasionally and may also ask questions to help structure the clients thinking so that they can find their own answers to things. So, once again, mentoring has a broader remit.

So, having considered all of that, for this exercise, write down your own definition of mentoring. Here is one definition from how to books. It says mentoring about one person helping another to achieve something; more specifically, something that is important to them. It is about giving help and support in a non-threatening way in a manner that the recipient will appreciate and value and that will empower them to move forward with confidence towards what they want to achieve. Mentoring is also concerned with creating an informal environment in which one person can feel encouraged to discuss their needs and circumstances, openly, and in confidence with another person who is in a position to be of positive help, to them.

Another definition is that mentoring is a developmental partnership through which one person shares knowledge, skills, information and perspective to foster the personal and professional growth of someone else. We all have a need for insight that is outside of our normal life and educational experience. The power of mentoring is that it creates a one-of-a-kind opportunity for collaboration, goal achievement and problem-solving. Here are two more:

‘A mentor is a professional person who is a wise, experienced, knowledgeable individual who “either demands or gently coaxes” the most out of the mentee’, and that mentoring is ‘Offline help from one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work or thinking’. Offline meaning that in this case, the mentor is not the client's line manager.

Clutterbuck suggests that there are two dimensions to helping. The first one is about who takes control or as he puts it, who is in charge. Is it the mentor or the client who takes responsibility for what's covered, the time and the place, and what objectives are to be achieved. If its a mentor than it's a directive relationship and if its the client, it's a non-directive relationship. The latter is where the mentor helps the client set their own agenda and find their own solutions and ways forward. Research is finding that the non-directive approach appears to be more successful when the outcome is a personal development for the client, and that the directive approach is more used when the mentor has solely a sponsorship role.

For this exercise write down how these definitions compare with your own, and please adjust your own definition if you want to, to make sure its meaningful to you. Write down which definition seems most appropriate for the reason for you learning about mentoring and why it seems most appropriate?

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Watch the video and make notes on what it says about the mentor role in a notebook. Once you have had the opportunity to listen to this video carefully, construct your own definition of what you see as the defining roles of a mentor. Think about your own experience of being mentored. How does your definition compare to your experience of being mentored?


Hopefully you will see a relatively good match between what is being proposed in the video against your own experiences of being mentored. As stated above, the video does not make the role of assessor explicit – but across other functions, there was probably a good synergy.

The distinctions that were drawn between mentoring, coaching, training and advising were also interesting. Did you notice, for example, that Stubberfield viewed the concept of mentoring more broadly than these other concepts and suggested that mentoring bought together many differing ways of supporting others and helping them learn?

Next you will hear from Ann Marie McKeegans, an alumnus of the OU pre-registration nursing programme who has recently taken steps to becoming an NMC-recognised mentor herself.


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