Facilitating learning in practice
Facilitating learning in practice

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Facilitating learning in practice

1.2 Avoiding unhelpful mentoring

David Clutterbuck (n.d.) provides a light-hearted perspective on what he sees as twelve habits of the toxic mentor:

  1. Start from the point of view that you – from your vast experience and broader perspective – know better than the mentee what's in his or her interest.
  2. Be determined to share your wisdom with them, whether they want it or not – remind them frequently how much they still have to learn.
  3. Decide what you and the mentee will talk about and when; change dates and themes frequently to prevent complacency sneaking in.
  4. Do most of the talking; check frequently that they are paying attention.
  5. Make sure they understand how trivial their concerns are compared to the weighty issues you have to deal with.
  6. Remind the mentee how fortunate s/he is to have your undivided attention.
  7. Neither show nor admit any personal weaknesses; expect to be their role model in all aspects of career development and personal values.
  8. Never ask them what they should expect of you – how would they know anyway?
  9. Demonstrate how important and well connected you are by sharing confidential information they don't need (or want) to know.
  10. Discourage any signs of levity or humour – this is a serious business and should be treated as such.
  11. Take them to task when they don't follow your advice.
  12. Never, never admit that this could be a learning experience for you, too.

Again, it is not difficult to see how these toxic behaviours accurately capture many of the behaviours displayed in the trainee teacher video in Activity 2; nor is it difficult to find resources in literature that consider further this concept of ‘toxic mentoring’. This is not a new concept. Darling (1986) published extensively in the mid-1980s on the subject of mentoring and toxic mentoring. She identified four behaviours that continue to be unhelpful in the mentoring relationship. These are shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Darling’s toxic mentor behaviours

Type Characteristics
Avoiders The elusive mentor who is never available to the learner to set and review their practice and goals or to provide support, challenge and role modelling.
Blockers The mentor who blocks the learner’s development by preventing them from accessing learning by either over-supervising or withholding knowledge or information.
Destroyers The mentor uses challenges and tactics such as humiliation that set out to destroy the learner’s self-confidence.
Dumpers This type of mentor believes in ‘sink or swim’, and will often deliberately leave the learner in situations where they are out of their depth.

You may be thinking or saying to yourself that ‘this will not be me’. Indeed, you are probably undertaking this course because you have a genuine desire to support the development of others. However, health care practice is messy and increasingly, practitioners feel under pressure. In a recent short documentary on the health of the NHS that focused on Accident and Emergency provision, the reporter interviewed a number of staff who spoke about the facility being at breaking point. In addition, it was particularly disconcerting to hear one nurse say that it was not uncommon now to think of simply packing up and going home in the middle of shifts because of pressure in the workplace to meet increasingly difficult targets with limited resources. This registrant spoke of work pressure, a general lack of staffing and unrealistic expectations all affecting practitioners.

You may be working within similar constraints as a mentor. How can you avoid slipping into poor supporting practices such as those in the video or humorously shared by Clutterbuck, and those that have been known for years from the work of Darling in the 1980s? You might wish to think about this and determine your strategies for ensuring that you retain consistent and offer effective and good mentoring practice. After studying Facilitating learning in practice you will have the opportunity to pick up on this thread to examine best practice and develop strategies that help you mentor with confidence in environments that often add complexity to the learning experience.


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