Creating an Effective Mentoring Program, Part 7: Developing a Culture of Mentoring Excellence
The old adage “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day—teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime” helps only one person. In the context of faculty development, we suggest adding a third couplet: “Teach someone to teach others how to fish—feed a village for generations!” This addition describes a continually developing culture in which mentoring and training are fostered and intentionally infused into the experiences of junior faculty members.
There are several practical things administrators can do to help instill such a spirit of continual growth and mentoring within their faculty. Begin by focusing mentoring efforts on what type of scholars and educators faculty members are becoming. This becomes easier when you make an effort to consider more than just what faculty members already know or what they can already do.
Most institutions of higher education emphasize three areas when training and evaluating faculty members: scholarship, teaching, and citizenship. Traditionally, the first two dominate hiring and advancement decisions. In many settings, the reduced emphasis on citizenship may lead some faculty members to minimize or overlook mentoring duties and expectations. Insufficient mentoring today can contribute to faculty with inadequate teaching or research skills tomorrow.
Administrators who appropriately emphasize and incentivize citizenship endeavors are more likely to have faculties who spend appropriate time and effort fostering a culture of mentoring excellence. Such a culture requires clear and open communication between administrators, mentors, and mentees.
Don’t leave program outcomes to chance or random influences. Success in your mentoring program should be based on the purposeful efforts of everyone involved. Focus people’s attention and energy on solvable problems. Help them set goals that are specific, measurable, rigorous, and attainable.
Mentoring excellence also requires the establishment of reasonable expectations together with objective benchmarks so faculty members don’t feel as though they are aiming at a moving target. Mentoring objectives are best established and improved through collaboration and formative feedback from faculty members at all levels of your mentoring program. Clearly communicate expectations and subsequent modifications to everyone to minimize frustration, increase focus, and make success more likely.
Encourage mentees to pay close attention to all aspects of their mentoring experience. They will usually focus most of their attention on what they are being taught, but greater growth can come if mentees also pay attention to how they are being mentored—keeping track of what they like as well as what they did not like, what worked and what efforts were less effective. When they anticipate their future roles as trainers and mentors, they will be more likely to internalize the process, not just the products of the mentoring they are experiencing. Generally, the most engaged learners become the most effective teachers and trainers.
Finally, be patient. Recognize that organizational cultures generally change slowly. When growing farm crops (and junior faculty members), flash floods are not nearly as effective at promoting lasting growth as trickle irrigation. Rather than chasing quick fixes and flashy results, take the long view. Seek to build a culture of mentoring excellence. Doing so can lead to increased trust within your campus community, especially between faculty and the administration. As future hires develop within your mentoring culture, they can build on the successes and lessons of the mentors who preceded them.
Effective mentoring programs are difficult to create and to maintain. They require many resources and great effort expended over long periods of time. The costs may seem daunting, but the alternative to not investing in such programs will be costlier and more time-intensive problems in the future. New faculty members are not a burden or a problem; they are the embodiment of your future solutions and success.
Get personally involved with mentoring. Invest appropriate time and effort to create a culture of mentoring excellence. If you train and encourage your mentors and junior faculty to build meaningful relationships with each other, many students and other faculty members will benefit as well.
This is the final article in a seven-part series about creating and maintaining an effective mentoring program. The other six articles appeared in previous issues.
Kenneth L. Alford, PhD, is a professor at Brigham Young University. Tyler J. Griffin, PhD, is an associate teaching professor at Brigham Young University. Reach them at Ken_Alford@byu.edu and Tyler_Griffin@byu.edu.