Introduction to Mentoring

Introduction to Mentoring

We wanted to share with you a major initiative of the institute related to mentoring. This is an initiative that we are very excited about. We feel that it will have a very important impact on the quality of the programs that are involved. Periodic updates will be provided as we move forward with this initiative.

Infant Mentoring Project


Caregiver training has been demonstrated in the research literature to be one of the most cost effective means for impacting quality of care. The question before us is to determine what training modalities have the greatest impact on caregiver behaviors in childcare settings. The majority of training offered in Pennsylvania and nationally is of the workshop variety. It has been demonstrated that this form of training can be effective if provided in a very targeted fashion. Unfortunately, workshop training is not provided in this fashion and is usually provided as one size fits all. As such, most training opportunities are not focused towards the unique needs of caregivers serving infants and toddlers. Because of the individual nature of infant and caregiver interactions, we propose that a one-on-one mentoring 
approach would be a more effective means for providing ongoing training rather than the usual workshop training.

The mentoring project focuses on demonstrating the relationship between innovative, personalized caregiver training, program quality and hopefully later achievements in children’s development. This project focuses on a relatively new form of targeted training that has been beginning to appear in many parts of the country called mentoring. The rationale for utilizing a mentoring intervention is the nature of the infant caregiver interaction, which is a very intensive one on one interplay between the infant and the caregiver. Because of this it was determined from the research in the field to have an intervention that mirrored the interaction that goes on in the classroom. The mentoring will be an intensive one on one problem solving approach to technical assistance between a mentor and mentee site. The mentee site will involve the head teacher, the director and parents in a selected infant/toddler classroom. The goals of the mentoring/technical assistance program are to improve the quality of care that infants and toddlers receive by providing their caregivers with on-site training and technical assistance through a mentoring relationship with an early childhood professional; to collect initial and ongoing data to provide analysis of the success of this type of training intervention; and to utilize the data collected as quantitative evidence that onsite, intensive training is an effective method to improve caregiving behavior in infant and toddler classrooms.

A mentoring curriculum will be used to train the mentors who work one on one with the various programs. This mentoring curriculum will not be a canned program but rather a problem solving type of program that will meet the individual needs of the programs involved. This will be done through a needs assessment that will occur in the early stages of the intervention. The needs assessment will be accomplished through on site observations and interviews of the director, staff, and parents. Based upon these pre-test data collection, a specific program improvement plan will be drawn up between the mentor and the site working with the director and head teacher in the particular infant or toddler room. Sites will be randomly selected from a pool of programs providing infant toddler services in a three county area of south central Pennsylvania. These programs will be selected to represent the overall population of infant and toddler programs. Some of the key variables that will be addressed are the size of the program, sponsorship—public versus private, educational level of staff, experience of staff, accredited program or not, urban versus rural, etc.

The mentors will go through an intensive training program beginning the summer of 2000. This training will involve 7 days of training that will cover an introduction to mentoring infant/toddler caregivers, building a foundation for mentoring: key areas of knowledge, building mentor-caregiver and mentor-director relationships, infant/toddler development, and skills for effective mentoring. This will include on site observations by our national consultants. On-going training and updates will occur monthly that will focus on reflective supervision. A seminar series will be established for directors and caregivers as well. Mentors will also work with the enrolled children’s parents by holding parent group meetings to discuss developmental issues. We want the mentors to be problem solvers for caregivers, directors, as well as for parents. Parents will not be observers to this process but rather active participants in the mentoring. There will be regular opportunities for parents and caregivers to interact with their respective mentors.

Mentoring will occur over two four month intervals working with two separate groups of programs. One group will receive the mentoring intervention earlier than the second group. This second group will act as a control group initially and then will receive the mentoring intervention later in the year.

A planned evaluation will involve 40 childcare programs in the South-central region of Pennsylvania. Twenty of these programs will receive the mentoring program initially (Fall/Winter, 2000) with the other 20 programs taking the usual array of workshops and other training opportunities offered locally (these programs will act as a control/comparison group). This second group of 20 programs will receive the mentoring approach (Spring/Summer 2001) but only after the initial evaluative data are collected comparing the first mentoring group (Fall 2000) to the second workshop group (control/comparison group). Mentoring will occur over a four-month period in which an intensive (60-70 hour) one-on-one interaction will occur between the mentor and a targeted staff person. This mentoring model will include initial visits to observe, mentoring during the ongoing childcare day, as well as reflective sessions with the mentor and mentee. All observations will be video recorded to be edited and played back as a later time on a notebook computer in which the mentor can review the observations with the mentee. Evaluation data would be gathered pre and post on the behavior/interactions and attitudes of the staff. In addition, the project would gather data from parents on their needs related to the level of communication between teaching staff and themselves. It is believed that this is a critical component to making the mentoring approach a success, especially with infants and toddlers.

The evaluation data from this project will be utilized to inform state policymakers on the effectiveness of this relatively new mentoring approach. Many programs for childcare training are starting up across the country, but few, if any, have conducted randomized trials to determine the effectiveness of innovations in childcare training. The proposed study would do just that by comparing data from the 40 programs as described above. Based upon the results, recommendations would be made to state policymakers regarding the need to explore a statewide program related to mentoring for infant and toddler caregivers. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is very interested in exploring other options to the workshop delivery system because policymakers are just not convinced that this delivery model is very effective. There is ample evidence to back up this contention. In state evaluations conducted by university researchers in 1997-1998, it became clear that the training system needed substantial changes in order to make it effective. One area highlighted was the infant and toddler area. The workshop delivery system was not producing positive results and the quality of care was at a very low level. The proposed study will help to inform state policy regarding their statewide training delivery system. It will also go a long way in strengthening the professional development system for infant and toddler caregivers.

A side issue, but one of significant importance, is to look at the impact that the mentoring program has on staff retention. It will be interesting to explore if the mentoring program will help to retain staff because teaching staff will have significant support from the mentors in their ongoing interactions with children. Although this project will not address staff compensation directly, it will build an extension to the career ladder for those highly trained and seasoned professionals who can take on mentoring roles in early childhood. This would mean additional compensation and prestige in the field and hopefully will keep our best and brightest in the early childhood field. This is a significant problem in Pennsylvania where our core group of the most qualified staff is leaving early childhood to take public school positions where the pay and prestige is greater.

About the Institute

In the fall of 1999, The Capital Area Early Childhood Training Institute (CAECTI) was initiated. CAECTI is a unit of the Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development at Penn State University and it is the result of a unique partnership of private (local and community foundations) and public funding (county and state governments) in South-central Pennsylvania. The CAECTI was created following a two year planning process to fill a tremendous need in the state of Pennsylvania and hopefully nationally as well. This need is to raise the quality of care in infant and toddler childcare programs. A statewide evaluation was completed in 1997-1998 that clearly demonstrated the need to improve the quality of infant childcare. A central goal of CAECTI is to develop, implement, and evaluate innovative training models to improve the quality of infant and toddler care.

The CAECTI, Penn State University is uniquely qualified to take on this particular study. Although the institute is a relatively new organization, the staff are seasoned professionals and are drawing upon the significant resources of the Penn State University system to conduct this study. The director, Dr. Richard Fiene, is a nationally recognized researcher in childcare licensing and training. The institute is already being viewed locally as the focal point for training in South-central Pennsylvania. CAECTI is a subunit of the Prevention Research Center, directed by Dr. Mark Greenberg and it has the ready resources of other faculty who are well known in the area of evaluation research in early childhood development (Dr. Lynne Vernon-Feagans, Dr. Betsy Manlove, Dr. James Van Horn). In addition, CAECTI has contracted on an ongoing basis with Dr. Abbey Griffin (formerly senior staff at Zero-To-Three) to consult on the ongoing implementation of the mentoring program.