At a recent gathering of meeting of our Faculty Leadership Academy, I asked the group to think about a “significant, supportive relationship with a colleague” and what made it valuable. Although I was careful not to use the word “mentor,” people naturally went there. (The session was billed as a discussion of mentoring, after all, and they had suggested it.)
Some of the things they mentioned about how to maintain work-life balance, learn about the institution, how to find funding, etc. Some talked about the particular attributes of the colleague, such as that they were “very supportive.” Others mentioned a particular aspect of the guidance they were given, such as how to put the mission of the college into their teaching.
After that opening discussion, we talked about other aspects of the faculty work at BMCC, particularly about the contractual evaluation of teaching and the tenure and promotion process. Collectively we would like to find ways for these formal and informal procedures to be more supportive and nurturing of the faculty.
Speaking for the administration, I said. “The college wants you to succeed. The college wants you to be happy.” I thought this was fairly innocuous statement, but it took some people by surprise. Even though I believe that it has always been true, it is not a message that has often been sent. Too often, administration and faculty are seen as being in opposition.
At the conclusion of the gathering, the group was agreed that the college should set up some more formal mentoring system, to complement the mentoring that exists in some of our departments. They also agreed that the old model of a sage, older professor mentoring a younger protégée or novice is neither necessary nor sufficient. The very terms of protégé and novice are somewhat suspect. They resonated with a networked mentoring approach.
The idea for networked mentoring came to me from a couple of articles by Mary Deane Sorcinelli and Jung Yun (see below) from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The practice goes by various names, such as mutual mentoring, mentoring constellations, or a multi-mentor network. As described by Sorcinelli, et al (2016), Amherst developed a “flexible, network-based model of support” where “faculty work with multiple mentors who provide support in their respective area(s) of expertise, rather than a single mentor who is less likely to be able to the wide variety of opportunities and challenges faced by diverse scholars in a modern academic career.”
We will start with a pilot project in the Fall of 2017. We are going to add two or three seasoned faculty members to our semester-long new faculty orientation program. Each mentor will facilitate a cohort of new faculty throughout the term, through small group meetings and conversations. In addition, one or two experienced online faculty will work with a cohort of instructors teaching their first online course in the fall. When we sent out a notice asking for faculty to lead one of these groups, we were surprised and impressed to get nearly 25 respondents within a few days.
Clearly, there is a lot of faculty expertise out there to be tapped. It’s gratifying to know that faculty want to share with each other, to help their newer colleagues to be successful and happy.
Yun, Jung H., Brian Baldi, and Mary Deane Sorcinelli. “Mutual Mentoring for Early-Career and Underrepresented Faculty: Model, Research, and Practice.” Innovations in Higher Education (2016), 41:441-451.
Sorcinelli, Mary Deane and Jung Yun. “From Mentor to Mentoring Networks: Mentoring in the New Academy.” Change, Vol. 39, No. 6 (Nov.-Dec., 2007), pp. 58-61.