Desimone et al 2014 Formal and Informal Mentoring

Desimone, L. M., Hochberg, E. D., Porter, A. C., Polikoff, M. S., Schwart, R., & Johnson, L. J. (2014). Formal and informal mentoring: Complementary, compensatory, or consistent? Journal of Teacher Education, 65(2), 88-110.


Summary: The mixed methods study examined the differences between informal and formal mentors for novice teachers. They found that while both kinds of mentors showed similarities, they also offered support that was compensatory and complementary.

Research Questions:

  • How do the characteristics of informal mentors and formal mentors differ?
  • How do the nature and quality of informal and formal mentoring interactions differ?
  • To what extent do particular organizational, structural, and personal characteristics explain differences in the nature and quality of formal and informal mentoring?



  • 66 beginning middle school mathematics teachers
  • surveys (3x throughout the year)
  • principals, mentors, and district leaders who worked with the middle school teachers
  • participants were from 11 districts in four states
  • structured interviews



  • “The number of formal mentors was not systematically related to the number of informal mentors. Neither did formal and informal mentors differ on whether they were in the novice teacher’s school (about 70% of each type were). The main difference we found was that formal mentors were significantly more likely to have math teaching experience” (p. 96).
  • “Novice teachers interacted more with informal mentors than with formal mentors, but the interactions themselves were very similar. Teachers did not spend more time on math instruction with their informal mentors, but they did spend more time with their informal mentors on non-math-related instruction, classroom management, expectations, parent involvement, and emotional support. The proportion of time they spent on different topics was generally the same, and novice teacher ratings of their informal mentors were only slightly higher than of their formal mentors. Both were generally high. Formal mentors outperformed informal mentors in that formal mentors were much more likely to observe novice teachers and provide them with feedback. Novice teachers greatly valued this activity. Furthermore, formal mentors were more likely to help novice teachers improve their responsiveness to performance standards and to initiate interactions” (p. 100).
  • “…being in the same school, with time during the day to meet, is associated with spending more time with a mentor, both formal and informal. Furthermore, novice teachers spent more time with their formal mentors if the novice had more challenging classrooms, or if their formal mentors had mathematics teaching experience. These differences did not explain time spent with informal mentors” (p. 102).


Important Quotes:

  • They define informal mentors as “…people whom new teachers themselves choose to go to for help” (p. 88).