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The relevance and promise of relational mentoring for school leadership: a conversation

Kathleen M. Cowin (Department of Educational Leadership, Sport Studies, and Educational/Counseling Psychology, Washington State University Tri-Cities, Richland, Washington, USA)
Gordon S. Gates (Department of Educational Leadership, Sports Studies, and Educational/Counseling Psychology, Washington State University, Spokane, Washington, USA)
Kathleen Luckett (Smart's Mill Middle School, Loudoun County Public Schools, Leesburg, Virginia, USA)

International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education

ISSN: 2046-6854

Article publication date: 5 September 2016




Studies uniformly portray the assistant principal (AP) position as challenging given a number of systemic issues that negatively impact job satisfaction and performance. Mentoring has been proposed as a way to redress these problems. The purpose of this paper is to illuminate an alternative to traditional mentoring and make recommendations for how to utilize this approach in supporting APs and principal interns.


The authors employ a retrospective and conversational approach, sharing incidents and interactions from their professional experience and making connections to existing research literature. The authors explain the relevance of three concepts developed in relational cultural theory (RCT) including: interdependent self-in-relation, growth-fostering interactions, and an exploration of systemic power.


The narrative exposes the ambiguity of school leadership and its toll, as well as how relational mentoring facilitates integration and making sense of challenging experiences for improved coping. Barriers in communication are described and the ways relational mentoring addresses these weaknesses by building trust, recognizing the expertise of mentor and protégé, and encouraging protégé empowerment and judgment.

Research limitations/implications

Potential research limitations such as inaccuracies in recall, reliance on a single method, and hindsight bias are recognized and addressed to reduce their threat.

Practical implications

RCT may provide ways to develop and structure more effective mentoring programs and educate both aspiring leaders and their mentors in their work together to provide for leadership development.

Social implications

Improved mentoring practices have the potential to help APs socialize into the role more quickly and become more effective school leaders.


The authors describe the use of RCT in a new context. The paper provides insights and guidance for APs, principals, principal interns, and leadership preparation faculty to offer a pathway on which to prepare the next generation of school leaders equipped with the desired competences and experiences to transform schools.



Cowin, K.M., Gates, G.S. and Luckett, K. (2016), "The relevance and promise of relational mentoring for school leadership: a conversation", International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 187-202.



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