Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Being Open to the Mentoring Process

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, New Member Program Chair

This Friday, from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in the Eaton's Neck Room of the Ammerman Campus, the FA and the Office of Faculty and Professional Development will host the second event in our FA New Member Discussion Series, titled "The Long View: Anticipating and Planning Your Career at SCCC."

This event -- featuring Dr. William Burns, Teri Morales, and yours truly -- will focus on presenting personal and anecdotal approaches to professional development. We hope to share practical and moderate approaches to work/life balance while at the college, along with advice on creating what I think of as "work/work balance" -- an equal (and desirable) distribution of time and energy among ALL facets of your career: the duties and responsibilities that come with your job title (as teaching/non-teaching faculty), service, and presentation/publication.
Isn't November supposed to be gray and damp?

Hopefully, you'll leave this event with very concrete ideas about how to navigate your first promotion and the years beyond, gaining the kind of advice, warnings, and inspiration that most of us mid-career types wish we'd been privy to when we began teaching at Suffolk.

One of the things I wish I'd known when I first began working at SCCC -- and was assigned my very own mentor through the New Member Program -- is the following: 
Mentoring is a reciprocal relationship. 
Most of us regard being mentored as a passive role, but it's much more dynamic than that if it's conducted appropriately and correctly. So I thought that this week, before we present our second installation of the discussion series in our mentoring program, I'd share something I learned a few years back at the “ELT (NYSUT’s Education & Learning Trust) Seminar on Mentors” co-sponsored by The Office of the Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs and the Faculty Association.

The first three points come from a handout the ELT constructed, in which they quote Hal Portner, author of the book “Being Mentored: A Guide for Protégés” (Corwin Press). Portner asserts that in order to get the most out of mentoring, you should “be” the following:

Be ready – “Wholeheartedly accept the opportunity to be mentored”

Be willing – You need to “believe that you have an ongoing need to learn . . . When you are doing something you believe in – when what you are doing sits well with your set of values and is relevant to your life – you will do it better; you will do it with passion.” Additionally, you need to “have confidence that being mentored . . . can make a difference between success and failure.” And lastly, you must  believe that “being mentored can help you remain in the profession and have a satisfying and gratifying career.”

Be able – “Whether you have a mentor who offers little help or support, or a mentor who throws so much information and help your way that you are constantly overwhelmed, or a mentor who is . . . experienced [and] who understands how to work effectively with a protégé, you will still get more out of being mentored if you are ‘able’. Being able means having the knowledge, skills and understanding necessary to be proactive in the mentoring process. Being proactive means not only being ready and willing to access the resources available to you, but also being empowered to do so.”

I think these three points can be very eye-opening and valuable, if you attempt to put them into practice. Mentoring involves not just humility -- admitting that you don't know everything and could benefit from guidance -- but a willingness to make the relationship work by helping your mentor shape the process. Ask specific questions. Let him or her know what you need. Offer feedback about the help and advice you receive -- let your mentor know what works for you, what doesn't, and what could use tweaking or adjustment.

Finally, the ELT handout offered these “Principles for Success”:
  • Take the initiative when it comes to having your needs met as a protégé.
  • Avoid making assumptions about your mentor’s plans and expectations.
  • Solicit feedback from your mentor as a way to improve.
  • Receive feedback objectively.
  • Attempt to construct ways to learn from seemingly untenable situations.
  • Take responsibility for your personal well-being.
  • Contribute to the learning of other educators.
 I look forward to seeing you at Friday's event!