Practices of Freedom: Seeking the social justice aims of peer mentoring within a professional development context for Teaching Assistants

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The social and economic opportunities offered by education and the role that mentoring can play in this have been documented for a range of professions, including teaching (Furrer, Skinner, & Pitzer, 2014; Gardiner, 2011; Kaunisto, Estola, & Leiman, 2013). Much of the work around the role of peer mentoring within education has centred on how it supports teachers’ professional development (Buzbee Little, 2005; Cordingley, 2005; Furrer et al., 2014; Gardiner, 2011; Rhodes & Beneicke, 2002). What has been less well documented is the extent to which peer mentoring within higher education programmes of study can be utilized for other professionals working within schools (Nicholson, Rodriguez-Cuadrado, & Woolhouse, 2019). Often those overlooked within the research in this field are those who would potentially benefit the most, and this would seem particularly applicable to school teaching assistants, who may belong to a different economic group, have less formal education, and be lower paid than the teachers they work alongside (Chambers, 2015; Dunne, Goddard, & Woolhouse, 2008b; Kerry, 2005; Mansaray, 2006; Sorsby, 2004). To expand understanding in this area, in this chapter we study the reported experiences of over 300 teaching assistants who were studying at a university in North West England, training to use a mathematics intervention that they would deliver to underachieving primary aged pupils within mainstream schools. We construct a dialogue using the work of Lave and Wenger (1991) and Freire’s philosophy to explore peer mentoring as a “practice of freedom” (2000, p. 41). We study the experiences of the teaching assistants to consider the benefits and challenges of peer mentoring within a higher education context when utilized in their professional development. We locate a political approach to education within three key themes: shaping experiences, safe spaces for developing pedagogy, and increasing confidence. Thus, we reflect upon the social justice aims of developing a supportive community of practice for a group of educational professionals who are often undervalued and overlooked (Blatchford, Russell, Bassett, Brown, & Martin, 2007; Chambers, 2015; Dunne et al., 2008b).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMentoring in Higher Education
Subtitle of host publicationCase Studies of Peer Learning and Pedagogical Development
EditorsClare Woolhouse, Laura Nicholson
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-46890-3
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-46889-7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • mentoring, higher education, teaching assistants, Friere


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