Seven key issues in professionalizing mentoring programs

Stoeger, H., Balestrini, D.P., & Ziegler, A. (2021). Key issues in professionalizing mentoring practices. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1483, 5–18.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Although mentoring has become increasingly common over the years, the popularity of it is starting to decrease. 
  • This paper describes 7 issues concerning the professionalization of mentoring practices and provides some recommendations to address them. 
  1. The importance of applying findings from empirical research into practices
  2. Investing time to identify effective practices
  3. Becoming more aware of how results from meta-analyses and best-practice guidelines only provide general predictions on how mentoring programs can become successful.
  4. Consider how relationship dynamics evolve as mentoring relationships develop, as well as how programs are affecting mentees development 
  5. Include contributions from other people when designing new programs
  6. Account for the availability of resources 
  7. Conduct ongoing evaluations to ensure continuous improvements in mentoring programs 
  • It’s not only important to understand and promote professional mentoring practices but to also highlight the limitations of those that are in need of improvement.  

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Mentoring has experienced a tremendous upswing over the past decades, which has only recently slowed down somewhat. One possible factor explaining mentoring’s popularity are numerous case studies suggesting that it is one of the most effective ways of helping individuals to develop. Meta‐analyses indicating effect sizes for mentoring that are below what would theoretically be possible appear to contradict the success stories, however. This circumstance raises questions about the professionalization of mentoring practices. We focus on seven key issues for future efforts at professionalizing mentoring. Key issues 1 and 2 address observation of the state of the art within formal mentoring when programs are planned and implemented: the consideration of recent research and of best practices. While both areas can overlap, they provide complementary sources of pertinent information for the professionalization of mentoring. Key issues 3–6 address the need to align mentoring activities to the specific context and goals of individual mentoring programs by observing idiographic program characteristics, mentoring dynamics, the orchestration of mentoring goals, and the provision of mentoring resources. Finally, key issue 7 highlights ongoing evaluation as the basis of the effective, continuous improvement of mentoring programs.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Mentoring can positively influence individual development in any domain and with regard to manifold outcomes over the life span. More than a thousand years of cultural intuition—as illustrated by the on‐the‐shoulders metaphor discussed above—and a strong theoretical rationale bespeak its intrinsic promise. Moreover, the last 25 years have witnessed a dramatic increase in the institutional and popular attention paid to mentoring as a formal educational measure (Fig. 1). At the same time, the mentoring paradox draws our attention to the fact that mentoring programs have frequently failed to live up to this promise. The signs that general and professional interest in mentoring and mentoring programs may have waned somewhat in recent years (Fig. 1) may be indicative of disenchantment on the part of various stakeholders in light of the less‐than‐expected return on investments in formal mentoring and warrant further investigation.

In response to these circumstances, we endorsed the notion of a mentoring paradox—an only seemingly contradictory set of circumstances—because our review of the available evidence suggests that the unexpectedly low efficacy of many mentoring activities reflects practical shortcomings of how mentoring is currently being implemented. These shortcomings can be addressed and ameliorated. To this end, we proposed that a professionalization problem—defined as a gap between the innate capacity of mentoring to effect positive change for mentees and the level of skill with which mentors and mentoring programs implement mentoring—is a current major impediment to more effective mentoring.

We then identified seven key issues in professionalizing mentoring practices. For each key issue, we offered a brief characterization of the issue and suggestions about how the reality of the given issue can be improved in mentoring research and practice. Key issues 1 and 2 focused on how the state of the art from mentoring research and best practice can be better utilized when mentoring programs are being conceptualized, designed, and implemented. Key issues 3–6 highlighted ways in which more effective practices of mentoring programs need, furthermore, to come to terms with the situated nature of mentoring activities. On a case‐by‐case basis, program planning and implementation must adapt existing guidelines to fit the idiographic program characteristics, the mentoring dynamics, the complex orchestration of mentoring goals, and the necessarily dynamic provision of mentoring resources. Finally, key issue 7 drew attention to the necessity of scientifically rigorous ongoing evaluations—of outcomes and processes—for ensuring that mentoring programs are efficacious and for understanding how to continuously improve existing offerings.

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