How do we develop trust and confidence in mentoring relationships?

Helen WriglesworthHelen Wriglesworth is course tutor on the SHOOC and a Specialist Leader of Education and School Direct Primary Lead with Delta Teaching School Alliance, part of Delta Academies Trust. The post aims to develop a conversation around the key ideas of trust and developing confidence.

Developing trust and confidence in mentoring relationships

In the case study for workbook 2 of the SHOOC we explore the importance of modelling and developing secure relationships in effective mentoring relationships.It is perhaps rather obvious that mentors who are approachable, make time for mentees and who prioritise meetings and discussions are likely to be viewed as more supportive and constructive by mentees. Somewhat less clear is how to achieve this, especially where time dedicated for mentoring is restricted. What experience has shown is that the first meeting is crucial in developing trust; that trust is needed for the mentee to develop confidence; and that without confidence …

Setting out together

The most important impressions are often the first ones and with any first meeting it is crucial that the one that starts the relationship with your mentee is a positive one. This meeting involves the mentor being positive, open and confident (difficult sometimes during busy professional lives). Body language is key and smiling, making eye contact and projecting appropriate confidence is part of saying ‘I am here to help and guide you’. I have found that it pays to set out the ground rules for you both at the start, including pre-planning weekly meetings together to ensure you both have dedicated time. And to ensure your focus is entirely on your mentee, book a quiet room where you will not be disturbed and where your mentee will be comfortable.

Of course your interest in your mentee is a vested one – in other words in declaring your interest in the mental and professional well-being of your mentee you are entrusting to and  investing in her success. I find that small talk goes a long way and I ensure I have knowledge of my mentee’s hobbies and interests outside the workplace so that I can build a rapport that will be useful when developing a trusting relationship. The trick of course is to build independence, or perhaps more exactly, to scaffold it while it develops, and to know when the support can be taken away.

Managing emotions

In week two of the SHOOC we pay particular attention to the mentor’s empathy for the challenges faced by mentees and how addressing such issues can have a positive impact on mentee progress and development. It is important therefore to have an understanding of the qualities needed to successfully mentor others before mentoring commences. The role requires a complex use of interpersonal skills in order to effectively address issue and support mentee well-being. Every individual you mentor will require a slightly different approach in order for her learning needs to be addressed. The diversity of challenges offered by mentoring a range of different individuals allows you to enhance your mentoring skills, and will add to your experience which will allow you to mentor more effectively. The benefits are often reciprocal.

In knowing ourselves and our mentees we can allow our support to be tailored to their learning needs. It is essential that we have integrity when dealing with the emerging needs of mentees. Honesty and a strong moral purpose is a vital characteristic of any mentor. In many instances the messages that need communicating during mentor meetings are often difficult, and challenge the practice of our mentees. However it is vital that we understand the background of those we mentor and understand why they require support. We are all professionals despite our stage of development, and it is essential that we respect the needs of our mentees in order to adequately support them.  Optimism for the future is part of well-being, and nurturing and encouraging colleagues in transitional practice (from novice to established practioner, or from practioner to middle or senior roles) involves recognisinig and learning from mistakes, through a reflective process (Harrison, Lawson & Wortley, 2005).

Learning from critical incidents

There are a number of models that can be used to support the development of reflection, and it may require several to be explored before finding a strategy that suites your mentee. The Critical Incident Method focuses on a specific event and guides your mentee into describing the incident allowing key points to be identified. This could be useful when discussing the behaviour or progress of a specific learner.


Harrison, J. K., Lawson, T., & Wortley, A. (2005)

Feedback forms an integral part of the mentoring process. In order for emerging need to be identified the practice of mentees must be observed. The most important part however is developing an individual’s ability to reflect on their practice and identify their own areas for development which relates back to Goleman’s model. This is a personal skill that forms an integral part of a successful practitioner’s work but may be natural to some individuals while other may need to be taught the skill explicitly. The Reflective Practice Model by Gibbs identifies the need for a structure to be followed in order for reflection to impact positively on practice, and identifies key feature –  ‘Describing What Happened.’

The hope is that over time mentees will then develop the skills needed to reflect on their own practice on a daily basis and evolve into independent professional as suggested by Pappas (2010) – which of course relies heavily on the confidence of mentees being nurtured and developed. This is the virtuous circle in which mentees are guided to identify positive areas in their practice in order for them to be open to and to benefit from the challenges. Furthermore this allows their confidence and resilience to be established as they begin to develop the tools they need to deal with novel situations arising in the future.

Further Reading
Dudley, P. (2013) Teacher Learning in Lesson Study: what interaction-level discourse analysis revealed about how teachers utilised imagination, tacit knowledge of teaching and freshly gathered evidence of pupils learning, to develop their practice knowledge and so enhance their pupils’ learning, Teacher and Teacher Education, Teaching and Teacher Education 34 (available here)

Harrison, J. K., Lawson, T., & Wortley, A. (2005). Mentoring the beginning teacher: Developing professional autonomy through critical reflection on practice. Reflective Practice, 6(3), 419-441. (download)

Pappas, P. (2010). A taxonomy of reflection: Critical thinking for students, teachers, and principals (Part 1).  Online at: http://www. peterpappas. com/2010/01/taxonomy-reflection-critical-thinking-students-teachers-principals. html.

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