Bullough and Draper Making Sense of a Failed Triad

Bullough, R. V., Jr., & Draper, R. J. (2004). Making sense of a failed triad: Mentors, university supervisors, and positioning theory. Journal of Teacher Education, 55(5), 407-420.


Summary: This qualitative case study examined the interpersonal relationships through position theory of a triad relationship between an intern in a secondary placement, a mentor teacher, and a university supervisor who was a professor of mathematics. The study found that the self positioning of the university supervisor as mathematics expert was not shared nor appreciated by the mentor teacher who self positioned herself as practitioner expert due to her experience as a successful teacher of mathematics and her principal’s recommendation of her as an expert teacher in order to mentor interns. The intern felt torn between her mentor and her supervisor. Ultimately, the intern resorted to following the advice of her mentor teacher because the mentor was charged with giving her the final grade and a future letter of recommendation. There was no mention of the university supervisor's knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to supervision. He was just simply identified as having extensive knowledge in mathematics and reform-oriented mathematics instruction.

Data Sources: recorded meetings, mentor constructed case record/log of intern, taped mentor to mentor conversations, mentor interviews, weekly intern emails, taped intern to intern conversations, intern interviews, supervisor interview, principal interview

Key Quotes:

  • “Allyson (pseudonym) positioned herself as a confused and frustrated intern stuck between the contradictory demands of her mentor and her university supervisor” (p. 417).
  • “Allyson successfully positioned Dr. Z as an expert but also as irrelevant, as one whose ideas were impractical for her particular teaching situation, a situation she accepted as given. She also positioner her mentor not as a more informed other who might help her to develop as a teacher but as someone who must be pleased to find future success as a teacher – success being defined as being employable based on positive mentor evaluations” (p. 417).
  • “Dr. Z positioned himself as an expert based on his research and reading as a mathematics educator” (p. 417). “His message was clear (even though ultimately rejected): The job of the mentor was simply to allow Allyson to put into place the practices she had learned at the university with as little interference as possible” (p. 417).
  • “Dr. Z removed himself from the triad and chalked his failure up to the impenetrable fortress of school culture and the weightiness of tradition” (p. 417).
  • “Ultimately, Mrs. K’s role as mentor was to validate Allyson as a teacher, a validation dependent on Allyson’s conformity. Conversely, Mrs. K. position Allyson as inadequate when she attempted to teach along the lines proposed by Dr. Z” (p. 418).
  • The politics of mentoring: “But a closer look at the politics of mentoring, particularly within the triadic relationship that is common to teacher education, reveals a much more complicated story than is typically told: a tale of power negotiation and of positioning and being positioned to influence learning, preserve one’s sense of self, and achieve or maintain a measure of control over one’s situation” (p. 418).