Defining mentoring: How the world of mentoring is expanding

Mullen, C. A., & Klimaitis, C. C. (2021). Defining mentoring: A literature review of issues, types, and applications. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1483(1), 19–35. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.14176

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • With more and more alternative approaches to mentoring appearing in modern times, the definition of mentoring is becoming more complex and varied. 
  • This literature review examines the variety of ways that mentoring is being operationalized, as well as how mentoring relationships differ from other developmental relationships.
    • It also discusses various types of mentoring, how mentoring is applied, as well as current issues in the mentoring world.  
  • The traditional definition of mentoring emphasizes one-way learning, where the mentee is the student and the mentor as a teacher.
  • Nine types of mentoring that highlight different alternative approaches that extend the traditional meaning of mentoring:
  1. Formal Mentoring – relationships established through structured programs
  2. Informal Mentoring – natural-occurring relationships
  3. Diverse Mentoring – relationships across different demographics
  4. Electronic Mentoring –relationships via the internet or other technology
  5. Co-Mentoring/Collaborative Mentoring –  individuals mentor each other
  6. Group Mentoring – relationships that have more than 1 mentee
  7. Peer Mentoring – relationships between peers
  8. Multilevel Mentoring – relationships that are established across organizational levels
  9. Cultural Mentoring – cross-cultural relationships
  • This review argues that coaching and induction are different from mentoring relationships. 
  • The expansion of mentoring not only demonstrates how complex human interactions are but also demonstrates how much mentoring research can continue to improve and grow.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This literature review of contemporary mentoring delineates mentoring definitions and anchors these with explanatory discourse. Select empirical studies spanning 1983–2019 were analyzed, with a focus on education across grade levels. Alternative mentoring issues, types, and applications, also located, are integral to this discussion. While researchers describe what mentoring is, it is also important to clarify what it is not. Traditional definitions of mentoring have been losing traction, with mentoring alternatives forging new possibilities within changing learning and work environments. Contexts of mentoring include a personal–professional relationship to an educational process; an organizational, cultural, and global context; and a systemic reform strategy that builds human capacity. This complex definitional terrain is situated within theoretical mentoring frameworks. Mentoring as deep, equitable learning with social transformative value is illustrated. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and other educational examples serve this purpose. Challenges to the field from alternative mentoring theory are discussed for transparency around meanings of mentoring and contributions that advance socially just relationships, organizations, and cultures. The article provides a timely and needed framework to discriminate and differentiate mentoring from other developmental relationships.

Implications (Reprinted from the Reflections and Implications)

Crow’s theorizing around the roles and functions of mentorship hints at a concern. Mentoring definitions seem to lack clear boundaries around functions and support roles. Further, mentoring theory underscores the capacity-building nature of mentorship as a multidimensional support system. The nine mentoring types are continuing to grow. In real-world situations, dyads and groups could lack a clear purpose and coherence. Might at least some of these relationships feel bewildering to those involved? For mentors who encounter multiplying role expectations held by mentees or organizations in recessionary times of downsizing and consolidation, might these feel demanding and unreasonable? If identified, perhaps threats to the integrity and effectiveness of mentoring practice can be managed. Also worth emphasizing, mentoring is more theory steeped and developmentally oriented than

coaching and induction. Whether traditional or progressive in nature, the mentoring relationship is long term and regulated, with feedback expected. Additionally, mentoring promotes the growth of a whole person through guidance, intensity, reflection, and regulated learning. Alternative mentoring generally targets the transformation of norms, cultures, institutions, and programs. The growth patterns that arise are not limited to one way development—mentees and mentors alike are learner, comentor, and change agent.

Yet, interestingly, alternative mentoring theories do not always depart from established tenets and practices. Some are even predicated upon tradition like the apprenticeship model, with its historic roots in the Middle Ages when apprenticeship training through the trades benefitted males.5 It seems reasonable to avoid perpetuating binaries—traditional mentoring is inherently bad and alternative mentoring is good—when speculative and unsubstantiated

claims can be made. In reality, alternative theorists and practitioners are hybrid borrowers of different frameworks that conflict from a macro perspective.

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