“Not the least shyness, now
You came across the open sea for this
to find out where the great earth
hides your father
and what the doom was that
he came upon...
Reason and heart will give you
and a spirit will counsel others. I
the gods were never indifferent to
[From Odyssey in Smith (2005)]
Odell (1990) traces the origin of mentoring to Odyssey, Homer’s epic poem. Before Odysseus, the hero of the story, left for the war, he gave his friend Mentor the duty to keep an eye on his household and, most importantly, on his son Telemachus. Odysseus must have thought that his son needed guidance in order to develop into the citizen he was expected to become. In the above quote, Mentor tries to comfort Telemachus. Goddess Athena sometimes disguises herself as mortal Mentor.
This ancient Greek setup sets the stage perfectly for mentoring in general and our subject of faculty mentoring in particular. First, the quality of faculty as well as their level of satisfaction contribute significantly to student success and therefore to the success of the institution. Faculty mentoring at an institution of higher education aims to develop successful, dedicated, and fulfilled faculty members to achieve the goals of the institution. As there were expectations from Telemachus, there are institutional expectations from faculty.
Second and related to the first point, faculty mentoring has to be intentional in that there needs to be a plan or a program that is allowed to evolve through monitoring of mentors, mentees, changing institutional circumstances, etc. Odysseus did not leave it to chance that his son would eventually learn what is expected from him; he was proactive (Smith, 2005).
Third, mentoring should entail a positive, respectful, collaborative, non-judgmental, and non-punitive relationship. Even the early mentoring literature, such as Rogers (1957), emphasizes the necessity of unconditional positive regard by the mentor for the mentee. While mutual respect may not be sufficient to guarantee a successful mentoring relationship, its absence would make the relationship dysfunctional (Beans, 1999). Among the attributes of successful mentors are being available, good listener, encouraging, insightful, sharing, helpful, honest, non-judgmental, and collegial (Gaskin, Lumpkin, and Tennant, 2003). In the above passage from Odyssey, Mentor speaks to Telemachus in a soft, nurturing, and wise fashion so that Telemachus would not despair and put his experiences in perspective. Additionally, while Athena may have had mischievous reasons on her own to become a mortal (it’s just fun to play a mortal for a god!), we would like to think that she preferred giving advice to men as a mortal as opposed to ordering them as a god, which is consistent with the attributes of a good mentor.
At an institution of higher education, junior faculty constitutes the target cliental. Some members of the junior faculty are freshly-minted graduates with no work experience. Others have some experience; however, they do not yet feel totally comfortable with their academic responsibilities. Nobody can blame them for feeling a bit lost, considering the fact that junior faculty has to manage often conflicting requirements of course preparation, research expectations, and appropriate levels of service. While trying to strike a balance between teaching, research, and service, new faculty is also expected to be a good colleague and citizen in his/her department, school, and university. Clearly, to function well in all these areas is a tall order for junior faculty (Boice, 2000).
One can argue that the closest units to the new faculty (first department and then school) have the responsibility of identifying and communicating to the faculty the expected level of performance in teaching, research, and service. However, communicating the expected level of performance may or may not contain how to reach that level and how junior faculty can fulfill their full potential as teachers, scholars, and members of their professions. In addition to identifying and communicating expectations from faculty, departments and schools are in the position to evaluate them as well, which could affect the mentoring relationship. In fact, this dilemma may reflect the difference between a
protégé and a mentee. The term protégé implies that the junior-protégé is “under the wing” of the senior-mentor. While in this context the protégé is protected and nurtured by senior faculty, the term mentee is used for anyone who is a learner, regardless of the age or position of the mentor and mentee (Beans, 1999).
Given the difficulty of balancing teaching, research, and service, junior faculty needs all the help that they can get. Department-, school-, and university-level relationships and the support that is provided by these relationships are not substitutes; they complement each other in securing the success and well-being of junior faculty at an institution of higher education (Bennion, 2004). The existing studies on the effects of mentoring consistently show that mentored individuals are more satisfied and committed to their professions than non-mentored individuals (Wanberg, Welsh, and Hezlett, 2003). For faculty, a higher degree of satisfaction and commitment translates into higher performance evaluations, higher salaries, and faster career progress (Beans, 1999). For the institution, in addition to higher quality of faculty and education, it also means higher retention rates (McCann and Johannessen, 2008; O'Neill, 2005).
Mentors benefit from a successful mentoring relationship as well. For them, it is professionally satisfying to talk to a junior colleague, learning from his/her experience, and becoming aware of the perspectives and challenges of others. This interaction makes mentors feel rejuvenated in their own careers. Additionally, helping to develop the next generation of leaders is an accomplishment that is enjoyed both by mentors and the institution. A successful mentoring program helps developing future mentors, because today’s mentees will likely use their experience and knowledge to nurture mentoring relationships in the future (Gaskin, Lumpkin, and Tennant, 2003).
While the contribution of a faculty mentoring program to an educational institution’s success is clear, how to build and maintain such a program is not. Empirical studies, such as the Learning from Mentors study sponsored by the National Center for Research on Teacher Learning at Michigan State University, conclude that good teachers do not automatically become good mentors. Mentoring practice must be learned. Most effective mentors are those who know the subject matter, make an effort to understand the challenges faced by the mentee, and then apply their expertise to the mentee’s unique situation (Schwille, 2008).
In the following section, we will discuss how the Peer Consulting and Mentoring Program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) addresses the mentioned characteristics of mentoring. For the purpose of this paper, only the teaching-related component of the Program will be discussed. Though the program also provides an opportunity to obtain positive feedback on various scholarly and service activities, teaching-related activities constitute the majority of the mentoring services provided to faculty. It is also the most successful.
The SIUE Peer Consulting and Mentoring Program
The Peer Consulting and Mentoring Program was developed within SIUE by faculty as a grass root effort to promote high quality teaching, scholarly activities, and services through positive, collegial and productive relations between faculty members. The program provides a confidential and voluntary service and is available to faculty who will like to gather information from an independent, non-judgmental source about various aspects of their academic life, such as teaching, research and services.
Since its introduction in 2008, the program has successfully provided mentoring and consulting services to 136 faculty members on mostly teaching-related activities. The program offers three teaching-related mentoring services in the form a Group Instructional Feedback Technique (GIFT), a class observation, and one-on-one consultation session. GIFT implies talking to students in groups or as a whole in the absence of their instructor to solicit feedback and share the feedback about a particular course or instructor. Observation of class by a colleague provides faculty valuable exchanges of ideas and approaches to a variety of teaching and learning situations. In addition to GIFT and class observation, the peer mentors work with faculty on one-on-one basis to address their questions, challenges or concerns in the areas of their academic and professional lives.
Feedback about the program has been very positive. A testament by a faculty member at the College of Engineering captures the reason for the existence of the program and its effectiveness:
“Just want to thank you for your help. After implementing your suggestions and student feedback, I saw a significant improvement in my teaching. My overall student evaluation has improved to all time high (4.5 out of 5.0). I taught this course for 8 times before. My overall evaluation used to be about 3.9 out of 5.0.”
As awareness of the program continues to increase so are requests for its services. For instance, in the fall 2009 and spring 2011 semesters some of the faculty requests for mentoring or consultation could not be honored because the program received more requests than it could schedule. Nonetheless, several unique characteristics of the program are responsible for its effectiveness and utility to faculty development. These are discussed below.
Program Focus and Framework
The SIUE Peer Consulting and Mentoring Program is a faculty-driven, administered and supervised service designed to provide a confidential and voluntary service to all SIUE faculty. The Program was developed within SIUE by teaching faculty as a grass roots effort to promote the realization of the university’s Teacher-Scholar philosophy. This philosophy reflects a serious commitment to teaching, scholarship, and service in the belief that scholarship complements and enriches excellence in teaching and service. As such it values, elevates, and balances the teaching, scholarship, and service functions of the SIUE professoriate.
Therefore, the program aims to help faculty assess the quality of their teaching-, research-, and service-related activities in a positive, supportive, collegial and non-judgmental environment. It is available to those faculty members who would like to gather information and feedback from an independent source about various aspects of their academic activities. Even though new faculty members have department- or school-specific colleagues with whom they can converse about the various aspects of academic responsibilities, the program does provide an additional source of support.
Confidentiality of Service
One of the key attributes of the program that has contributed to its success is the emphasis on confidentiality. Confidentiality is stressed at all levels. Faculty mentors are not permitted to share any information regarding consulting and mentoring requests or feedback with members of the university community. They also cannot reveal the identity of any faculty member who request assistance. Similarly, the administration including deans and department chairs cannot request a copy of the outcome of any mentoring or consulting request either from the peer mentor or the mentee. Faculty who request any of the program’s services has exclusive use of the results or outcome and may decide to share with whomever they desire including department chairs. The confidentiality and exclusive ownership of the intervention outcome alleviate faculty concerns about the possibility of using the outcome in a punitive manner, especially for faculty members having difficulties in teaching or research. It has also promoted a climate of trust and easiness in utilizing the services of the program.
The organizational structure of the program is important to its longevity and sustainability. The SIUE peer mentoring program follows a simple structure (see diagram below) that ensures a delicate balance between administration’s involvement and continued support in and for the program without interference.
The program works closely with the office of the Provost who provides the necessary support and resources to run the program. Specifically, the office of the Provost provides financial support to employ a graduate assistant to help coordinate the program. More importantly, it provides and ensures the legitimacy of the program which allows faculty to be able to include the documented mentoring outcomes or feedback in their dossiers and assessment portfolios.
At the core of the program are the peer consultants or mentors. The program typically comprises of between 15 and 20 mentors. Membership is voluntary and extended to all SIUE tenured or on tenure track faculty. However, first year faculty and/or those who have not had previous experience in this level of mentoring are discouraged from applying to become mentors. A significant component of our program is the reliance on faculty members who have received recognition from the university, their colleges and departments for excellence in teaching or scholarship. These are invited to share their expertise with colleagues by joining the program as peer mentors. Every peer mentor is vetted and final approval sought from their respective academic dean.
The composition of membership of the mentors reflects the make-up of the university. This should not be misconstrued as the legally mandated institutional compliance, but in this case, in order for us to be able to address needs of professional and cultural interest groups, members of such groups should be represented. Thus, close attention is paid to ensure that various disciplines, schools/colleges, ethnicities, race, gender, etc. are duly represented. This is because we believe that the presence of an individual or individuals from every community within the university is pertinent to the success of the mentoring initiative.
Due to the significance of experience, no time restriction is placed on the length of service as a mentor or consultant. However, all members are expected to be active. Inactive members are encouraged to find an alternative avenue for university service so as to give room for more active members of the university community to serve as consultants or mentors.
Another significant component of the program is the executive committee. Three individuals are elected from within the mentor group to serve on the committee. They administer or coordinate the activities of the program. Their primary task is to focus on the big picture as well as manage the day-to day operations of the program.
Finally, there is a graduate assistant whose responsibility is to work with the executive committee members in the day-to-day running of the program. The specific responsibilities of the graduate assistant are determined by the executive committee depending on the set up and needs of the program. Some specific responsibilities include coordinating the time schedules of the mentors, setting up and monitoring faculty request for services, positing requests on program BlackBoard site, alerting peer mentors when requests are received, ensuring that all requests have been responded to, updating the program website, and organizing training sessions for new mentors.
The Role of Mentors and Consultants
It is important that the peer mentors or consultants have a clear understanding of their role and importance to the program and share the program’s philosophy. They are first and foremost academic colleagues, peers who have experience in the mentoring process and have undergone special training. They have an interest in helping colleagues improve the quality of their academic activities and are willing to share information and their expertise or experiences. They respect the confidentiality of the service and act as information conduit for responses from students, a sounding board for faculty concerns and ideas about any aspect of their academic activities, and a source of suggestions for change and improvement. Every peer mentor understands that mentoring as an alliance of two people that creates a space for dialogue. Mentoring activities involve reflection, action, and learning for both parties.
Through the mentoring process the peer mentors help faculty set and achieve goals in areas of their academic life they need assistance by employing reflection and facilitating problem solving. They also help faculty to move toward their own aspirations by listening, questioning, offering another point of view, providing feedback and advice, and serving as a sounding board. The mentors also assist faculty in the development and the manifestation of ideas in the areas of effective teaching, building and maintaining a productive research agenda, and providing meaningful service at the department, school, and university levels. Additionally, mentoring relationships have a larger effect that goes beyond two professionals. These relationships connect the community of professionals by tapping in the existing knowledge and allowing professionals to share their knowledge and experience with each other, which builds a community of scholars.
Effective teaching has a number of dimensions. Our peer mentors provide a variety of services on issues such as designing effective syllabus that reflects the instructor’s ideas about teaching and learning, classroom management, application of instructional techniques and tools, developing and incorporating a variety of classroom activities, and utilizing course assessments and self-evaluation techniques to enhance teaching effectiveness and student learning. In addition, peer mentors assist faculty in preparing teaching portfolios that reflect an instructor’s teaching accomplishments supported by data, along with the instructor’s reflections on his/her approach to teaching.
IT Support and Management of the Program
It is imperative that a successful mentoring program takes advantage of available and appropriate technology tools that enhance the mentoring process. In our case, the program has a website and a Blackboard page. The website provides valuable information about the program to all SIUE faculty members. It includes information about the program, the mentors, the services provided, how to request mentoring or consulting service, and a link for faculty to provide feedback about the program. Faculty seeking mentoring or consulting do so via the website by filling out an online service request form and submitting it electronically. The completed form is sent to the emails of the executive members, who in turn ensure that a mentor responds to the request. More information about the program can be obtained at our website at
By working with the SIUE Instructional Technology office, a Blackboard management site has been setup for use by the program. Most of the management and coordination of the activities of the program occur within the Blackboard site. Every mentor has access to the site. The Blackboard is used mainly for informing mentors of pending requests, for mentors to sign up for request of interest or within their areas of expertise to provide mentorship service.
A simplified procedure for rendering service is set up as follows:
- Faculty member fills out an online request for mentoring or consulting form and submits it electronically. It is sent to the emails of the executive committee and the graduate assistant.
- The graduate assistant posts the request on the Blackboard site to make it available for acceptance by a mentor.
- An email is sent out to all mentors and consultants to notify them of new requests that have been posted on the Blackboard page. The email also prompts all mentors and consultants to check the Blackboard calendar and to accept any of the requests they may be of interest to them or lies in their area of expertise.
- The mentors and consultants sign up to the requests.
- The mentors and consultants then follow up with the faculty member requesting mentoring or consulting to schedule a meeting and to render the service.
- Finally, the mentors and consultants request that the faculty mentee complete an online evaluation form after completion of the service.
Our consultants or mentors are always reminded that faculty chose this service by their free will and on the promise of confidentiality. When consultants or mentors respond to a faculty mentee, he or she does not have to be in the same discipline, because this is not an exercise to evaluate the academic merit of a faculty member. Prior to any mentoring activity, the peer consultant or mentor should talk to the faculty member about his or her interests and needs and try to help him or her address them.
Along with the faculty member’s interests, needs, and concerns, there is also a time dimension to consulting and mentoring. Depending on the nature of the service, it is recommended that faculty request mentoring or consulting no later than three or four weeks to the end of the semester.
It is important that the consultants or mentors inquire from the faculty as to what kind of feedback he or she would like to receive from the process. Because the services of the program are voluntary, the consultant or mentor should be sensitive about the faculty’s wishes. Some faculty may be apprehensive about having a written report following a mentoring or consulting session, especially when they are not familiar with the process or expect certain problems to surface. They may just prefer to discuss the issues with the consultant/mentor in person.
It is important that the faculty and anyone in need of mentoring assistance be made aware that information or services obtained through the program is provided by members of the university community who are volunteers, and are non-professional counselors. Consequently, every faculty who request service is informed that statement made, opinions expressed, actions taken, advice given, support provided - whether written or verbal, expressed, unexpressed, or transmitted in any form – electronic, or otherwise, should not be taken as necessarily representing the views, opinions, or policy of the university. Thus, the university, its affiliates, personnel as well as members of the peer consulting and mentoring program are not liable for any errors stemming from services provided. The content and nature of the disclaimer protect individual mentors and the program from possible litigation especially regarding the use of any of the feedback or outcome to argue for or against institutional decisions on tenure or promotion.
Program Evaluation: Faculty Testimonies
An important component of the program is the solicitation of voluntary feedback from faculty members who have received mentoring from the program. At the completion of the consulting or mentoring process, the faculty mentee provides as assessment of the effectiveness of the process using an online questionnaire posted on the program’s website. This questionnaire is not designed to evaluate the consultant or mentor. Rather, it gives the faculty member the opportunity to comment on the services received. He or she is also expected to share with the program how they plan to use the feedback received.
Several of the faculty mentees served by the program have provided positive testimonials about the effectiveness and usefulness of the program. One faculty member commented,
“It was very helpful for me to get some questions answered about the class and get some specific feedback. Also the follow-up discussions with Dr. X were very helpful, collegial and supportive. It's a great service! It's nice to have such a supportive and user-friendly program. It shows how much SIUE and its faculty value teaching! It improved my understanding of what has been working and what hasn't.”
Another faculty member testified that “Dr. X’s visit affirmed strategies and course assignments I have been using. He provided me with information regarding the positive influence students related to him/her about my service as a professor. I was invigorated and energized by the results of his report. It exceeded my expectations and motivated me to do even more for the students in my graduate classes...all of them, not just the one Dr. X visited. I changed some of the assignment delivery timeline and instructional strategies as a result of his feedback.”
This faculty member provided evidence of how the service helped improved his/her teaching.“It was a non-threatening situation that proved to be extremely beneficial. Dr. X was very helpful in both his written and verbal comments and made this a very successful experience. I adopted many suggestions from the GIFT comments and got excellent teaching evaluations from students at the end of the semester. Thanks!”
The comment below provides an insight into the reflective nature of the process,
“The process of formulating specific questions for the session encourages introspective analysis regarding teaching strategy. The example materials provided by the peer consultant provided an excellent resource for improving course structure. I thank you for the service. How valuable! From this particular service I learned that I can rethink the points associated with class participation. I have plan in my mind for my next class. In addition, I have learned that I should engage students in the discussion of particular assignments, i.e. their purpose, the expected results, why I’m pushing them out of their comfort level with the assignment.”
One of the major goals for the program is to help faculty identify their strengths and weakness and to work towards improvement. Several faculty members have testified to the realization of this goal, as exemplified by this comment
“Dr. X provided for me a comprehensive picture of the teaching dynamic and what it truly means to create a culture of learning in the classroom setting. Through the feedback from the requested observation, I was clearly able to see my areas of strength as well as areas that need improvement. This process validated what I felt was working, yet also highlighted other areas of strength I did not know so clearly. This process also helped me more clearly see and receive feedback from a colleague who provided an additional set of eyes and ears for my teaching practices. Very importantly, this could be used as an additional piece of evidence of teaching effectiveness.”
Despite the many positive outcomes of the program, there are still areas in need of improvement. Faculty members have also provided suggestions for improvement. For example, a faculty member who was mentored on research productivity stated,
“I received some good ideas about where to look for research ideas, how to find collaborators, and time management strategies. I would suggest getting mentors in each school or discipline so that they have a basic understanding of the general field the mentee needs help with. For example, my research as a qualitative educational researcher is very different from the persons who mentored me. She had good general tips, but it was hard to take that and put it into a context that helped one more meaningful level. Maybe you could have a few mentors and the mentee could pick the person with the closest area of expertise? Possibly have a database or list of people in the different methodologies willing to answer questions, provide feedback and help in other ways specific to qualitative or quantitative methodologies? Overall, the mentor I had was very kind and helpful in general ways.”
Another faculty member pointed out the need for more publicity of the program in this statement, “Maybe more advertisement about it. I think this is a great tool, but just recently found out about it. This could definitely be my fault, not yours!”
In conclusion, the SIUE Peer Consulting and Mentoring program continues to evolve. Despite all the successes, there are areas that need improvement and challenges to be addressed. As a voluntary program, the major challenge is getting faculty mentors or consultants to commit their time to the program. It is our hope that we continue to provide this valuable mentoring service to the faculty.
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