2015, Volume 18, Research Articles

“It made me argue more confidently and I can stand by my words”: Beginning teachers’ perspectives about mentoring, goal setting, and leadership during teacher registration

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Full reference
Murphy, Caterina, & Butcher, Jenny (2015). “It made me argue more confidently and I can stand by my words”: Beginning teachers’ perspectives about mentoring, goal setting, and leadership during teacher registration. NZ Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 18, 1 - 19.


Original Research

“It made me argue more confidently and I can stand by my words”: Beginning teachers’ perspectives about mentoring, goal setting, and leadership during teacher registration

Caterina Murphy and Jenny Butcher
Te Tari Puna Ora o Aotearoa / NZ Childcare Association



Mentoring and leadership are complex issues for early childhood education concerning growing as a teacher-leader professional. The period of provisional teacher registration is an important time for ongoing professional learning. This qualitative report focuses on the perspectives of five beginning teachers concerning their mentoring relationships and experiences during their journey of gaining full teacher registration. It reports on phase three of a larger multiyear study interested in teaching practice experiences (2008-2013). The research themes for phase three of the research were the effectiveness of mentoring relationships and goal-setting and teacher awareness of the Registered Teacher Criteria (RTC) (New Zealand Teachers Council, 2010) in everyday practice. One focus group interview was conducted. The results illuminate how beginning teachers use the RTC to support the attainment of registration and develop as teacher-leaders. Key themes of how their mentoring experiences as student teachers still affect their confidence as beginning teacher-leaders, their leadership aspirations and their ongoing journey of goal setting as professionals, were evident.

Key words: Beginning teachers; mentoring; registered teacher criteria; goal setting; leadership; appraisal.  



Beginning early childhood teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand are required to complete a minimum of two years provisional registration, guided by fully registered mentoring teachers during their programme of induction and mentoring (New Zealand Teachers Council (NZTC), 2010; 2011). This paper, (phase three of a multiyear qualitative study (Butcher & Murphy, 2012; Murphy & Butcher, 2009, 2011, 2013), reports on beginning teacher experiences.  Research questions focused on the effectiveness of mentoring relationships, goal setting practices, and the use of the Registered Teacher Criteria (RTC) (NZTC, 2010) to support their teaching practice and professional learning.


Literature review

Successful mentoring relationships are acknowledged as a key contributor to learning in the workplace (Bell, 2004: Darling-Hammond, 2005, 2010; Howie and Hagan, 2010; McConnell, 2011; Murphy & Butcher, 2009, 2011; 2013; Pridham, Deed & Cox, 2013). There are many researchers and leading professionals who have contributed to the theoretical discussion on effective mentoring such as Lind, reported in Stover, (2008) and in Podmore and Wells (2011); and Haigh and Ward (2004) who emphasised leadership elements, such as modelling professional practice based on theory, the sharing of knowledge, and reflection.

Nimmo and Park (2009) suggested that teachers who view their role as ‘technical’ rather than as active researchers, limit their opportunities to reflect on teaching and learning and consequently their ability to model reflective practice, which can impact on the quality of their mentoring.  These limitations may also have an impact on their own professional growth.  Lutton (2012, cited in Chu, 2012, p. 20) emphasised that “mentoring is intended to increase an individual’s personal or professional capacity, resulting in greater professional effectiveness”. Further, Chu (2012, p. 20) suggested that quality mentoring is relationship-based and more than “providing inspiration and sharing knowledge”, highlighting that trust and collaboration are important. It is widely recognised that it takes time for students and beginning teachers to learn “how to be a teacher”, as opposed to “learning to do the work of a teacher” (Goodfellow & Sumsion, 2000, p. 247). 

Goodfellow and Sumsion (2000, p. 247) also described the work of mentoring teachers and the nature of their involvement as showing “wisdom, passion and authenticity”. Those researchers emphasised how mentoring teachers’ knowledge and understanding of the contextual issues within their centres and local communities influenced their judgements about their teaching. The importance of contextual learning was further emphasised by Nolan, Morrissey and Dumenden (2013) who wrote about the situated nature of learning, beginning teacher agency and the value of reflecting in practice. 

Goal setting is a requirement of the teacher registration process and a valuable tool when reflecting on practice.  Goal setting contributes to the self-regulating of individuals’ learning processes (Butcher & Murphy, 2012). Ridley, Shultz, Glanz and Weinstein (1992) suggested that the harder the goal, the better the performance, providing that the individual has committed to achieve the goal, and received quality feedback about progress.  Robinson, Hohepa and Lloyd (2009) reinforced the links between setting clear educational goals and effective leadership, where teachers were encouraged to have a vision of future possibilities and Posner (2010) emphasised the importance of setting both general and specific goals to benefit from field experience. 

Leadership programmes in Aotearoa New Zealand were initially considered in the early childhood education strategic plan Pathways to the Future (Ministry of Education, 2002).  An important development was the work of Thornton (2006) who reported on the changing views and roles of leadership within early childhood education that became evident within the Centres of Innovation (COI) research projects. At that time the traditional focus of administration and management changed to one of distributed leadership across teams with variations in different contexts. Thornton, Wansbrough, Clarkin-Phillips, Aitken and Tamati, (2009) highlighted that leadership had a low profile, that confusions remained about terminology and that lack of leadership understandings were evident in the educational profession. Pedagogical leadership has been identified as a powerful model (Robinson et al, 2009). Edwards and Nuttall (2009) emphasised the importance of on-going learning as part of leadership. They drove a change in thinking and terminology from ‘professional development’ to ‘professional learning’ which has relevance for the purpose of this study. Clarkin-Phillips (2011) considered how distributed leadership could build strong communities of practice within early childhood settings incorporating teachers, children and their families. Context matters within leadership discourse (Starkey & Thornton, 2013) as does the importance of relationships in professional learning (Campbell, 2013). 

The researchers of this study identified that discourse concerning early childhood teaching, mentoring, and leadership was still developing and that their current study might contribute further to the knowledge of teachers’ professional learning journeys within early childhood education in Aotearoa, New Zealand.



Teachers’ perceptions of mentoring and goal setting were the focus of this research. There were no “pre-conceived questions, focus questions or guidelines” (Berg, 2001, p. 115). The researchers conducted one focus group interview with five beginning early childhood teachers, who were reminded of the topic of the research at the beginning of the interview and encouraged to socially construct meanings (Berg, 2001).  Focus group interviewing was an appropriate mechanism as the teachers were at a similar stage of their teaching careers (Mukherji & Albon, 2010). In addition, their commonality was that they had all experienced and graduated from the same initial teacher education (ITE) programme as student teachers and they had all participated in phases one and two of this multi-year study. In the past two decades, focus group interviews have been a widely used tool in qualitative research (Basch, 1987; Stewart & Shamdasani, 1990) and the researchers wished to continue with this method as it was familiar to the participants in the research. 

The focus group discussion captured the teachers’ views and provided opportunities to observe the interactions amongst them during the group session, such as non-verbal gestures (head nodding). “Give and take interactions characteristic of focus group interviews that lead to spontaneous responses” occurred (Berg, 2001, p. 115). There was an appreciation shown before and after the interview, of how participating in a multi-year study provided them with continuity and a sustained relationship as a research cohort. In short, the research process offered them ‘outside of work’ research experience.

The focus group was audiotaped and transcribed verbatim, then given to the teachers to read, amend, and release as emphasised by Fielding and Thomas (2008).  Qualitative analysis was undertaken to identify common themes and summarise the data (Berg, 2001).



The following limitations should be noted in interpreting and applying the findings from this study.

  • There were only five teachers participating, all of whom were female, early childhood qualified and working in the early childhood sector
  • The focus group had its own synergy, due mainly to an almost three year absence of the researchers in the field. Their conversations were influenced by that absence, as they were keen to share their very different beginner teacher experiences. Had the teachers been grouped differently, for example across two focus groups, or had the group been larger, other findings may have emerged.
  • Perspectives have been generated from beginning teachers as participants within induction and mentoring programmes, rather than from mentor teachers.


Results and discussion

The results and discussion arise from the teachers’ perspectives, and concern their mentoring experiences and goal setting through the teacher registration process. Leadership development opportunities were also explored. Beginning teacher and interviewer voice is indented.

Effectiveness of mentoring relationships

Positive mentoring relationships were reported (2/5). The analysed data affirmed the aspirations within the induction and mentoring guidelines (NZTC, 2011) concerning quality learning conversations. Some teachers highlighted the advantage of having the continuity of support and guidance from the same person who was their support person whilst a student teacher. This feedback aligns with Chu’s (2012) comments about effective mentoring being relationship based, which involves making time to build trust, to listen, and to be prepared to collaborate to engage the teacher. It also aligns with the principles of Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996) which highlights the importance of respect, responsiveness, and reciprocity in relation to relationship-based pedagogy and discourse. Availability of the mentoring teacher was important. For some teachers personal familiarity with the mentor was problematic as the relationship was at a personal level and too familiar. Some of the teachers alluded to a lack of personal agency when choosing their mentor teacher; at times the person was chosen by the centre; or was someone who inspired them but she/he was not fully registered and unable to commit to the role.

P1:  Mine was great!   She was always there.

Interviewer: So availability was important?

P1: Yeah.  She knew that if I needed help I would go to her. 

P5: I’ll just start with my relationship with my mentor. She was awesome, I had the same support. teacher throughout my training –I was given a choice, whether to pick anyone else or someone outside the centre, but I pick her. She understand me, because she knows there is a learning difficulties in there, especially language –With her, she go extra mile to find answer for me

Interviewer: What was the reason that you chose her again?              

P4: The relationship was fine but she wasn’t the greatest mentor. She wasn’t my original choice that I wanted but the one that I wanted that helped me through my studies, wasn’t fully registered so I wasn’t able to use her.  We had our own registration book that was given to us and set out by our own company and it was really, really good, very, very good.

P3: She was basically nominated by the centre. We’d ask her for meeting notes and stuff and by the next meeting she still hadn’t done them, that sort of thing, so it just made you not push yourself. I would set the goals and we would try and meet them ourselves.

P2: Because I know her, it doesn’t work so well. She’s got to sign all these things off and it’s too – she’s a procrastinator –She’s too familiar, the relationship’s too close. 

The importance of a positive relationship between mentor and mentee cannot be underestimated (Peterson, Valk, Baker, Brugger & Hightower, 2013).  The teacher having the power to choose their mentor as the most suitably aligned match to their needs and aspirations was identified as the most professionally empowering.

Effectiveness of goal setting

The teachers valued the requirement of goal setting as part of the teacher registration process (NZTC, 2010). Accountability of the mentor teacher concerning goal setting was raised. Teachers reported that high quality mentoring and a sustained mentoring relationship impacted on the setting and monitoring of professional goals and achievement of those goals. Robinson et al (2009) and Posner (2010) all emphasised the importance of having strategies in place to monitor the progress of goal setting, yet two of the teachers reported ineffective mentoring and this had an impact on their setting and achievement of professional teaching goals.  

Interviewer: Did anyone check back about how your progress was with the goals, did you have any of that quality dialogue?

P1: I did, she was amazing.  I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her, she was really, really good.

P5:  I tell her what I want for – in the future, like setting up a centre, Tongan centre, and I’m very bad with my time management, she bought me an alarm clock! She teach me, encourage me to be a better leader. Now I open the Tongan playgroup.

P3: We did set our own goals.  But I mean, nobody was there to tell if it was either right or wrong.

Interviewer: Did your mentor teacher have any quality dialogue with you about the goals, or do you think it was still just a paper exercise?

P3: Pretty much. The paper exercise did have its advantages though. You did actually follow through on certain things

P4: Yeah. Because we set our own goals and we just discussed everything, just the two of us (two beginning teachers together) and then when we did have our big meetings we would just tell her the goals that we had set ourselves. Or you’d ask her a question and then she’d pretty much answer you with the same question.

A spontaneous discussion evolved about goal setting in relation to leadership development. It appeared that leadership aspirations were evident but varied within the group. A lack of leadership confidence, and dependency on others was alluded to by some teachers. One teacher perceived younger, more recent graduates as having more leadership capacity, possibly due to perceived responsibilities associated with leadership and a lack of understanding of distributed or pedagogical leadership, focusing instead on administration and management (Robinson et al, 2009: Thornton, 2006). Goal setting was perceived as extra work for this teacher.  For another, there was appreciation of the value of pedagogical leadership and the importance of modelling quality teaching (Nimmo & Park, 2009), recognising that beginning teachers are learners too (Clarkin-Phillips, 2011).

Interviewer: Did goal setting strengthen your leadership?

P4: It improved leadership, it definitely did improve our practice, ‘cause it made you look at things from different angles

P5: And made me argue more confidently, I actually know what I’m doing and I can stand by my words because it’s the right thing to do.

Interviewer: Did any of you set specific leadership goals? 

P1: I worked my butt off to get to where I am now, When I first started studying I was in the baby room and then things changed in there so I started a two year programme in the under twos room, and ran that for a year, and proved myself again, and finally, got myself to go upstairs and run the two year old programme.

Interviewer: For those of you who are fully registered (3/5), is goal setting something that you would continue to do?

P1: Well, we do have to though. We have staff appraisals every six months and you have to set goals in those

P3: You can take the centre goals… self-reviews and stuff, and just extend on those and set yourself your goals alongside those, so they’re actually running parallel with each other, so you’re not doubling up on extra work as well. That was my initial goal right from the very onset (leadership). Now I’m quite happy to be donkey at the back – It’s not too much responsibility. I think I’ve just gotten to a stage in my life where I’m quite happy to be ... at the back… let the younger girls – more modern ideas, I think, come in

P4: I don’t really have any intentions of being our centre director at any time soon.  I like being in charge and things like that but I’m not confident enough to do something like that yet, even being a support teacher I’m not confident enough to be one of them – yet.

Interviewer: What do you think’s holding you back from something like being a support teacher?

P4: I relied on another student and my support teacher quite a bit for my study and I feel if I had a student I wouldn’t be able to help them, and it’s not fair on them … in one of my practicums I didn’t get the full help behind me sort of thing and I didn’t like the experience. 

P5: I want to be a manager.  What I really want is to be the programme supervisor, where I can oversee how the programme ran at the centre and how the teachers are implementing it.  Yeah, that’s where I really want to see myself.

A knock back of confidence impacted on the achievement of professional goals for one beginning teacher; while another who described a more positive experience was keen to become a leader. Pendergast, Garvis and Keogh (2011) reported that successful experiences as a beginning teacher lead to increased self-efficacy beliefs, while a failure creates a decrease in self efficacy. These differences were clearly evident for two of the teachers. The negative experience also contributed to a reluctance to accept more responsibility.

Interviewer: So what’s your next goal you’re working on? 

P1: I would never want to be a manager; I like being on the floor .I think I’m just going to work on my Te Reo so I can be one of the teachers that other people come to.  I want to be a bit more fluent.

Interviewer: I heard you saying before that being an Associate Teacher was fun.

P1: It is fun, … responsibility, ‘cause you’re helping them, you’re teaching them things as well, and that’s pretty exciting, to know that you might know things that other people don’t know and that they will leave your centre, maybe a bit [more] wiser than they were.

Interviewer: When you look back on your own practica, has it had influence on how you –

P1: Absolutely, yeah. I didn’t like them and they weren’t very nice, and they weren’t very helpful, so when I got my first one (student on practicum) I was probably a little overly – helpful and friendly, and lovely.

P2: I would like to be head teacher. I was in the position where I could have been, but wasn’t asked, and that knocked my confidence. 

Interviewer: What sort of goals are you working on now as part of your registration?

P2: It is a lot to do with the bicultural aspect of the centre.

The value of teamwork in relation to the contributions different team members might bring to a teaching context was evident. Developing te reo Māori for example was seen as a valued and significant leadership role where learning is the central focus (Thornton et al, 2009) and working collaboratively towards a shared vision is emphasized (Thornton, 2006).


Awareness of the Registered Teacher Criteria (RTC)

Two of the five teachers drew regularly on the RTC throughout their teacher registration period because it was a requirement, not because they saw it as a valuable learning tool. It seems that despite the support available, some lacked confidence to take risks and challenge their own practice. For others the RTC act as a professional compass in everyday practice. The process of teacher registration acted as a stimulant for further thinking and professional learning (Edwards & Nuttall, 2009). However, it appears to be taking time for the teachers to develop conscious awareness that the RTC are integrated as part of their on-going professional teaching life.  In short, it appears that the RTC have contributed to the teachers’ critical and reflective professional learning, despite ‘taking one’s foot of the pedal’ conversations. They identified that they are still learning - as part of collaborative leadership (Clarkin-Phillips, 2011).

Interviewer: What impact did the RTC have on your teaching practice or leadership development?

P1: I think at the time that was what we had to do, so you make it – very important to you. I was always going back to them, because I’d be like, oh gosh, she’s coming in next week

P5: It made me see where I’m at and where I have to go.... so it’s like a guideline for me, I like to read it, it proves that I am confident, and makes me aware of things that I haven’t. It makes me aware of what I have to say, and think.

P3: I used to look at them and I’d think to myself, oh, I’m never going to pass all of them, I’m never going to be able to fulfil all of these and then when I looked at them and dissected them, I thought, we’re doing that everyday anyway, what am I getting so paranoid about?

P4: I read half that stuff and I’m just like, what the heck is it trying to say.

P3: I knew that when I read through the whole thing, that we were covering it anyway, they (RTC) were very, very helpful. Much – much more aware of things... far more aware. I would have liked to just have a quick squiz at them every once a month. They are in my room but they’re just collecting dust because I .... there’s no need for me to actually look at them because we’ve signed off now, and that’s the problem, you take your foot off the pedal.   

P2: I think sometimes you start to question your own practice by looking at them (RTC).  Cause I’m still doing my teacher’s registration, so I’m looking at them all the time, and I’m thinking, wow, how does that work? It’s still sort of, still learning.

A range of appraisal processes and experiences were illuminated. Two of the five teachers were guided by the RTC in current centre appraisal practices. Although appraisal was not a focus of this research, it is inextricably linked with the RTC which exist to support the on-going registration and professional learning process (Edwards & Nuttall, 2009).

Interviewer: Have any of you been appraised against the registered teacher criteria in your service?

P4: Our new ones are related to those registered criteria ‘cause we went back looking at our books to help us understand what it was that they were asking for. 

P3: I think it’s been in part of our life for so long that some of it will stick there, some of it.

P1: Do you not have to keep it going though? 

P3: No

P1: We do, we’re still going with ours but it’s not as intense as the last few years   We’ve got to have so much evidence gathered by the end of the year, or two years or something, but it’s not – it’s probably one eight, tenth of what we had to gather for our teacher registration ...

P5: With us it’s a reminder to us every year, we have to have an appraisal. And our appraisal is drawn.... takes some questions from the registered teacher book, Te Whāriki …

P2: You’d be mortified at our appraisals.   Write something about your work colleague, a positive and a negative. We never get any feedback on them or anything

P1: That’s lovely (sarcastic voice).

P4: Ours (appraisal system) is about five pages long, 60 questions in it, ridiculous questions -

P1: But they will be followed up though?

P4: By the manager

P2: Yeah, you’re meant to sit down, have a discussion, so you can set your goal.  I’ve never had that discussion so I said to my centre manager, so what’s the goal that you’ve set me, so I can work on it?

The appraisal experiences reported were very diverse and created some in depth discussion. Some teachers were critical of their appraisal experiences, lacked responsibility for goal setting, and did not value the process, whereas others found the process beneficial.

Some teachers (3/5) noted feeling greater responsibility as ‘persons responsible’ and professional leaders. They identified practice-related work as being a key catalyst for professional motivation. A range of leadership structures (Thornton, 2006) were evident in the teachers’ conversations which reflected the different contexts, understandings and ways that leadership is implemented in their services (Nolan, Morrissey & Dumenden 2013).

P1: There’s a lot more work for me, but that’s only ‘cause I’m like head teacher now, so there’s a lot more – responsibility, a lot of paperwork

P5: Busy but I like busyness.  I take on more – I’m given more… they (RTC) make me aware that I am a responsible person, qualified ... and more children to look after I am also the project person at the centre        

Some of the teachers made clear statements about what it was like to now be qualified, registered, and in a mentoring role themselves. It appears that the experiences they had as student teachers (particularly during practica) have impacted on how they now mentor, guide and support others.  A sense of responsibility not just as mentors but as teachers in practice, role modelling quality practice was evident.  This is clear evidence of their professional learning and the evolvement of their pedagogical leadership role (Graham, Lester & Dickerson, 2012: Robinson et al, 2009), although it was not always recognised as such.

P2: I enjoyed being on the other side of the fence, that was awesome, I made them welcome, I made them feel like it was their centre.

Interviewer: Do you think you made real efforts to make sure the experience was the opposite of some of the experiences you had?

P2: I didn’t go hard-out to make it – I think I made the other girls aware that – don’t make this horrible

P1: I’ve only had one ... I only got registered this year, so - and I got one straight…But I thought it encouraged me to put into practice what I’ve learnt through my study and my teacher reg.

P3: I think being a mentoring teacher... it’s probably one of the best ways to buck your practice up too.

For the teacher who aspires to own her own Tongan centre, qualifications heightened her confidence. As she felt understood by her mentor teacher, that on-going rapport and sustained relationship developed during her studies support her now as a mentor to others. Interestingly, she still returns regularly to her original support teacher (who is her current mentor teacher) for guidance showing that the sustained relationship has an impact on mentoring effectiveness and the building of her leadership capacity.  The social and emotional aspects of quality mentoring emphasised by Peterson et al (2013) are clearly valued by this teacher within her own cultural context  and align with the notions of the situated nature of learning that Nolan, Morrissey and Dumenden (2013) wrote of.

P5: Yes, I make her feel at home, I give her a sense of belonging, and I tell her exactly my expectation of her. I want you to understand, leave at the end of every day, learning something, not confused and I do give her lots of time –Being qualified made me confident. I kept going back to my support teacher because that was the first time for me to do it, and when I feel confident… after one and a half weeks I felt confident and I said to my support teacher I’m ok now.

Interviewer: What about the rest of you?  Do you feel inspirational?  Do you think others would say you’re inspirational?

P5: I would like to say that I’m probably half there... inspiration.

P1: I try to be inspirational because I don’t want somebody to leave my centre after being my student, saying the kind of things I said, you know, through my experience. I don’t want to be that person, that’s horrible, to think that ... for them to think of you like that.

P2: Yeah, I’d go a long way ...I’d strive to be an inspiration.

P4: I would definitely take my experiences on and make them better for a student.  ....

P5: One of the research papers I did on my degree,  we are looking up leadership roles, leadership teachers, because some of us, we’re learning through experience, like if I didn’t mentor someone, how would I know how to lead someone, but there is no one, no programme there, where you can go and be taught what to expect, this is what you look for, this is what you do when you mentor someone, or when you teach your teachers, share the role of leadership. There’s a lack of leadership courses.

These teachers reported the desire to lead in inspirational ways. They are aware that mentoring others is a crucial element of leadership in early childhood education. They expect guidance, role modelling and support in order to develop their own leadership capability. 


Further comments

It must be reiterated that at the time of the interview, the teachers had experienced the teacher registration process and were established as beginning teachers. They reported on a range of mentoring experiences particularly in relation to the setting and achievement of their professional teaching goals, but also concerning their relational connectedness to the RTC (NZTC, 2010). Leadership discussions evolved during the focus group and the contexts they drew on were highly relevant to their development as leaders in early childhood education (Nolan, Morrissey & Dumenden, 2013; Starkey & Thornton, 2013).

These beginning teachers drew on a range of mentoring experiences which have impacted on the type of mentor they are becoming and whether or not their professional goals are ultimately achieved. This is because sound pedagogical dialogue in trusting, respectful, relationships (Ministry of Education, 1996) is a crucial component of the ‘context matters’ factor. These early childhood teachers continue to have a clear view on what effective and non-effective mentoring is. Confidence is a crucial element. Some have developed confidence as emerging leaders and want to be a more effective mentor for others. For others, there are still leadership dilemmas and issues, concerning leadership development (Campbell, 2013) and the knock backs in confidence they felt as student teachers on practicum are stopping them from taking steps to develop their own leadership capacity. This is despite having had other mentor teacher experiences and achieving teacher registration. These beginning teachers valued teamwork and the contributions they could make in mentoring relationships across a variety of roles, not necessarily roles which are viewed as ‘positional’ in an early childhood service. In many ways, the teachers’ perceptions of active leadership in their workplace landscapes, shows inconsistencies in their understanding, particularly how leadership impacts on children’s learning. There is more research to be done on exploring leadership development in early childhood education (Robinson et al, 2009; Thornton et al, 2009).

Although courses with leadership elements within early childhood education are on the increase, course writers might consider a focus on the importance of sustained relationships between the mentor and mentee so that leading and mentoring takes place in a meaningful and trusting context. It is from this base of authentic relational connectedness that the drive of pedagogy might perhaps be maximised.

It was of interest to the researchers that none of the five beginning teachers mentioned the NZTC requirement to renew registration every three years. Those who have ‘taken a back seat’ or ‘their foot off the pedal’ since registration, are perhaps not aware of the on-going commitments required of fully registered teachers to be critical pedagogical leaders in education. In this study the teachers gave evidence that the current appraisal processes and systems in centres are not always guided by the Registered Teacher Criteria (NZTC, 2010). Perhaps then, processes need to be centralised through coherent government policy (strategic planning, funding, teacher education, professional development and accountability), in order to provide a supportive context for effective mentoring and leadership. This would make explicit the views of Starkey and Thornton (2013, p. 1) who fore-fronted that “the social, economical, political and natural context in which education leaders operate influences their leadership”.


Conclusion and recommendations

This study has focused on beginning teachers perceptions of mentoring and goal setting, and discusses some of the key elements that arise, such as the support systems and mechanisms needed in order for them to pursue their leadership aspirations. It is clear that the most effective mentors may be those who have formed and sustained relationships at a professional rather than personal level.  This is an important consideration for those who develop and deliver early childhood leadership qualifications, with a particular emphasis on pedagogical leadership and mentoring.

It appears that goal setting experiences are varied and that access to and guidance from experienced mentor leaders is critical to their implementation and achievement. The inconsistencies discussed by the beginning teachers in this study show that there may be an impact on the achievement of their professional goal setting in relation to the RTC. Ultimately, this may affect beginning teachers’ confidence with their leadership development capacity and subsequent quality of learning for children (Robinson et al, 2009).

The pursuit of longer term more formalised studies, which focus on teachers becoming consumers of research  and actively encourage teacher-researcher capability, would assist teachers to understand how distributed leadership concerns professional learning within communities of practice (Clarkin-Phillips, 2011). The authors recommend that teachers be encouraged to further their professional leadership learning with more than ‘one off’ opportunities such as one day seminars and workshops (Thornton et al, 2009).

Further research that considers mentoring teachers perspectives of induction and mentoring programmes would contribute to the body of research knowledge on a topic of growing importance within the early childhood education sector.



Thank you to the early childhood teachers who participated and the ethics committee of the researchers’ employer.



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About the authors

Dr Caterina Murphy has been active in early childhood education for 27 years. She has worked in tertiary education since 1999 across a range of academic leadership roles; mostly, for Te Tari Puna Ora o Aotearoa/NZ Childcare Association. She is currently working as an Academic Consultant at AcademicExpressNZ.  She owned her own early childhood centre for 11.5 years, has a Master of Education (Hons) from Massey University and a PhD (Indigenous Studies) from Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.  Her professional interests include (but are not limited to) early childhood education, teaching practice and mentoring.

Jenny Butcher has been a tertiary lecturer in early childhood education for 24 years.  She is currently a senior lecturer and Leader Education Delivery for Te Tari Puna Ora o Aotearoa / NZ Childcare Association.  She has a Master of Science (Hons) and a Dip Ed (ECE) from Massey University.  Her professional interests include mentoring student teachers-as-researchers, environmental education, and sustainability.


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