Mentorship is one of those “easier said than done” concepts; we know it is important to do, receive, and cultivate, but it is often difficult to know “getting it right”, or to make time for it at all! In an aptly titled keynote, Dr. Brad Johnson of the United States Naval Academy spoke at TLISI 2017 on the art of mentorship, urging attendees to focus less on the title of mentor and more on the actions that are the foundation of a mentoring relationship.
At last year’s TLISI, Brandon Busteed from Gallup delivered a keynote address on the well-being of students, noting the key findings that led to their flourishing and well-being after college. The largest impact was seen in students who strongly agreed they were “emotionally supported” during college—the odds of these students being engaged in their work and thriving in their overall well-being doubled. Busteed identified three specific measures that were factors in the emotional support:
- At least one professor who made me excited about learning
- Professors cared about me as a person
- A mentor who encouraged my goals and dreams
It is no surprise that mentorship appears as one of these key contributors. Here at CNDLS, these important concepts of mentorship, student growth and development, and the connection between life and learning are part of our mission, as well as the mission of the larger landscape of postsecondary education. A college degree is more than information gained; it is personal development and growth with the ultimate aim of lifelong flourishing. And we know that successful mentor relationships can contribute to this.
In his keynote, Johnson shared many of the benefits of a mentoring relationship for both the mentee and the mentor. Mentees have been shown to do better academically, be more committed to their field of study, and are more confident productive. There is also an aspect of “social heredity” and “paying it forward”—that those mentored tend to mentor more themselves in the future. Johnson notes that there are both intrinsic and extrinsic research-supported benefits for mentors as well: from increased career satisfaction to accelerated research productivity, more publications and presentations, and a stronger network.
Despite all the benefits of mentor/mentee relationships, Johnson cautioned attendees against being too quick to “title” the relationship. A common question is “what role am I playing?” (e.g. advisor, role-model, mentor, research advisor, etc.)—and interestingly there is often a disconnect between students and faculty; faculty think they are mentoring a student, but the student does not see the relationship that way. Johnson advises us to step back and encourages us to think of the role of a mentor as “more of a quality of relationship than a distinct category.” It is not about the title but the quality of the interactions. His advice? Let your actions speak for themselves, and let the mentee name the relationship. What matters are the interactions that lead to benefits for both parties, not the mentor title.
Johnson also shared some mentoring best practices from his years of research; below are just a few recommendations:
- Take time with mentees
- Be accessible
- Provide affirmation and encouragement
- Incorporate explicit “teaching moments”
- Help with “unwritten rules” in a culture
- Challenge your mentees
- Self-disclose (when appropriate, e.g. sharing a coping moment)
- Allow mutuality and collegiality (over time)
- Protect mentree when necessary
- Narrate growth and development for mentee (help them see trajectory of growth)
- Practice “humility”—don’t be “too perfect”
Addressing mentor myths head-on, Johnson was also sure to answer the common question “but do cross-race, cross-ethnicity, cross-gender, cross-sexual orientation relationships work?” with a research-supported “YES!” While these might be a bit slower to establish, the outcomes are identical, if not slightly better, in these cross-cultural mentoring relationships. The biggest advice Johnson provided was to practice cultural humility instead of presuming cultural competence to help create authentic relationships. Given the reality of demographics in higher education, these sort of cross-cultural mentoring relationships (across gender, ethnicity, etc.) need to take place in order to make opportunities in academia more accessible to all.
And finally: mentorship models can differ! One of the most frequently cited obstacles to good mentoring (as voiced by the mentor) is time. This is true, and time is limited. So, Johnson suggest that we think carefully and strategically about the relationships we choose to invest in, and make sure you are invested. This can take many forms—it could be a traditional mentorship model, peer mentorship, or a multi-leveled group such as a research team with mentoring within each tier. There are many methods to explore, and it is worth considering: what would work best for you?
For more of his thoughts and research on this subject, we invite you to explore some of Johnson’s books:
- Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women (2016)
- On Being a Mentor: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty (2nd ed., 2015)
- The Elements of Mentoring (Revised ed., 2008)
If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find a links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!