Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

I came away with an increased desire to mentor

A Review of Supporting the Professional Development of English Language Teachers: Facilitative Mentoring by Melissa K. Smith and Marilyn Lewis

facilitative mentoringby Shelly Page

(We’re reposting because…Until the end of 2019, you can receive a discount on this book. Either go to the Routledge website and use this discount code: ASIA230, or take a look at this flyer.)

This is a must-read book for mentors and trainers of mentors. In less than 200 pages, Melissa K. Smith and Marilyn Lewis, familiar names to readers of this blog, present an innovative, theory-based way to mentor language teachers, and engage readers in meaningful mentor-mentee tasks.

Melissa is an Associate Professor in the School of Foreign Languages and Cultures at Ningxia University, China, and Marilyn is an Honorary Research Fellow and former Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. They have collaborated for more than a decade on a training course for mentors of English language teachers, and the outcome is this book, Supporting the Professional Development of English Language Teachers: Facilitative Mentoring.[1] It is an exploration of the landscape of mentoring through mentors’ challenging situations, the complex factors involved, and their possible solutions. Readers are invited to engage with the topics through reflective questions and purposeful tasks. The authors hope that readers, language teaching mentors and those who train them, will come away from the book with a philosophy of mentoring and an awareness of their own mentoring style.

As they worked with their 23 mentors-in-training, Smith and Lewis noticed that the mentors used facilitative language teaching principles to support the teachers they mentored. These principles, which include the zone of proximal development, i + 1, the affective filter, needs analysis and Bloom’s taxonomy, can be seen in the definitions of mentoring and facilitative mentoring presented in the Preface.

Mentoring [is] the process whereby an experienced practitioner engages teachers in activities and conversations that support their professional development…Facilitative mentoring begins where teachers are and guides them toward where they need to be…self-evaluative and autonomous…[able to] enact decisions that have a positive impact on student learning.”[2]

The main body of the book is divided into four sections; each discusses a principle of facilitative mentoring as proposed by the authors.

Section I establishes the identities of mentor and mentee, the needs of mentees, and goal setting for the mentoring experience. Right from the beginning, the authors stress working with mentees in a manner that builds their independence, even in establishing goals for their mentoring.

Section II examines the classroom and cultural context in which the mentee is situated, and the complexity of mentoring in that fluid space. One question the authors ask about pedagogy is a good example of this complexity: “As an outsider, should I [as mentor] be helping teachers look for ways to change the system or teach within it?” [3]

Section III illuminates the interactions between mentors and mentees, first looking at the overall challenges to effective mentoring conversations, and then getting specific about moving the language of feedback from directive to facilitative. The section closes with several ways to develop questioning skills that can “stimulate mentees to notice, reflect, respond, and then take responsibility for conclusions”[4].

Section IV presents three mentoring tasks (classroom observation, group mentoring and action research) and offers feasible ways to conduct the tasks, in particular, action research. Several adaptable templates, forms and discussion suggestions are provided throughout the book.

I highly recommend this book. It’s practical, resourceful and well-organized. The scenarios from various mentors situated in diverse cultural and communication contexts, adds a unique perspective to this book compared to others that aim to develop language teacher mentors. As a language teacher mentor in a cross-cultural context, I found the vignettes, questions, and tasks especially relevant, yet also applicable to a mono-cultural situation. Mentors from anywhere, situated in their passport countries or another’s, will be helped by this book. Furthermore, the chapters about feedback and questioning skills in Section III set this book apart from others I have read. I appreciate the space dedicated to exploring not only types of questions and techniques for asking, but also analyzing questions to determine the intentions behind them. This skill becomes valuable during feedback, but also beyond that. I can use questioning skills in my classroom with students and in my personal relationships. (Who doesn’t like to be asked good questions that make way for new ideas, solutions and even self-awareness?)

And here’s how I recommend you read it. Start with the Preface, even if you simply skim it. Then, read quickly through the entire book to get an overview of the content and its organization. You are now ready to take it one chapter at a time, reflecting on the questions and doing the proposed tasks. The ideal would be to work with another mentor, but if that is not possible, the authors recommend keeping a mentor journal where the tasks can be done with possible mentees in mind.

If you are not a mentor, I think the book is still worthwhile for any teacher seeking professional development. You could set up a peer mentoring relationship with another interested teacher and use the book as a guide to explore your teaching and context, your feedback and questioning skills, and even to engage in some collaborative action research. Who knows? You might come away interested in mentoring language teachers, too.


[1]   Melissa K. Smith and Marilyn Lewis, Supporting the Professional Development of English Language Teachers: Facilitative Mentoring, (New York: Routledge, 2018).
[2]   Ibid, xiv-xv.
[3]   Ibid, 78.
[4]   Ibid, 112.

Further exploration

  • Order a discounted copy of this book here with this code: ASIA230.
  • Read a publisher flyer about this book.

Post Author

Shelly Page started her B.A. in marketing research and graduated a teacher of high school English and Spanish. After starting her M.Ed. in English, she ended up back in China teaching and mentoring young language teachers. As one year turned into three, she could see the hand of the Master Teacher shifting her focus to TESOL. She has spent more than 15 years in China as a language teacher, Academic Director, recruiter, Professional Development Coordinator, Member Care Specialist, and teacher mentor. When not in China, she calls west Michigan home.

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This entry was posted on February 27, 2019 by in book reviews, learning teaching, professional development, resources, Shelly Page.

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