Mentoring New Faculty

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Five thousand college faculty members are new to their jobs this year. Some have been fortunate. They have had the inspiration and guidance of a caring, competent faculty mentor to teach them the ropes. But only recently have the mentoring concepts and principles so common now in K-12 schools been applied at colleges and universities.

When we were given the charge in our school of education to begin a program for mentoring new faculty members, our willingness to do it was based on public school research indicating that new teachers paired with mentors experience higher job satisfaction and teach more effectively. Because we teach in a university serving a diverse community, we also were encouraged by findings that women and minority faculty members who are mentored report more positive job experiences than others.

Much of what we have learned about fostering the professional development of new college faculty parallels work done on mentoring in the schools. We offer the following advice to those planning such programs:

  • Effective mentoring needs an organizational home, structure, and recognition. Just as in schools, mentoring must be built into a college's or academic unit's ongoing faculty-development practice. Our "mentor team," a subcommittee of the professional-development committee, has three organizers and nine mentors for a faculty of 40. While a mentor program operates primarily as a professor-to-professor interaction, it will not be effective if done entirely informally. It needs planning and monitoring from committed faculty, along with support and recognition of its importance from administrators.
  • Concerns of new teachers are predictable and developmental. As it is with K-12 teachers, new college faculty usually follow a common developmental model. Before the fall semester begins, our mentor team meets to determine objectives, match mentors with new faculty, and plan initial activities. The classic work of Frances Fuller with beginning K-12 teachers gives us a developmental framework for understanding how teachers typically adapt to new assignments. Ms. Fuller's "stages of concerns" helped us consider what our teachers might need (and when) as we planned mentoring activities. The stages include: informational--questions about procedures, rules, general requirements; personal--concerns about meeting demands and how others view them, including what the reward structure is; management--issues related to time demands and organizing; consequence--concerns about how teaching affects students; collaboration--interest in sharing ideas with colleagues; refocusing--ideas expressed for more universal benefits.
  • Mentoring activities should span the academic year. When we space out mentoring activities based on these stages of concern, our activities are more eagerly received. We hold a breakfast on opening day for prot‚g‚s to meet their mentors and gain a general orientation to the university and to materials such as catalogues, handbooks, maps, and e-mail accounts. At a second September session, we focus on teaching resources.
Teaching often requires us to be a 'horse for a single harness,' but in periods of transition even practiced teachers need help and support.

Sessions for mentors focus on their charges' stages of concern (November) and helping new teachers develop faculty portfolios (January). We encourage mentors to meet regularly and support their prot‚g‚s by listening to their concerns, and we give the mentors chances to discuss how relationships are progressing from their perspectives.

During the second semester, sessions for prot‚g‚s and mentors focus on building a research agenda (March) and using the summer to maximize scholarly productivity (May). Because new faculty members say they enjoy their informal interaction time, some of the structured activities have been combined with luncheon meetings or coffee hours.

One important step used to guide these activities and serve as a way of assessing a new teacher's level of adjustment is an interview at midyear. In May, both mentors and prot‚g‚s evaluate the year's activities.

  • Matching mentor and prot‚g‚ needs careful consideration. Like school mentor programs, ours has studied and tried many matching mechanisms, including those by discipline, age, seniority, gender, ethnicity, and tenure status. The literature on mentoring notes some benefits from same-sex and same-race mentoring relationships. And in settings that are culturally isolating or not very diverse, it may be particularly advantageous to pair mentors with prot‚g‚s of the same race or gender. But after trying various methods, we now invite (rather than assign) faculty to mentor each new person. We have learned that matches work best when mentors enthusiastically accept the new role and that matches may need to be reevaluated at midyear.
  • Both new and experienced teachers profit from mentoring. The conventional wisdom is that only newly inducted teachers want or need orientation to campus policies, teaching resources, or tenure procedures. But we have found that, while age, career stage, and level of teaching experience may be factors, transition to a new job is hard for everyone. Because each institution has a distinctive set of values and cultural norms, it is important to acknowledge different mentoring strategies to fit the particular needs of prot‚g‚s--experienced teachers and new ones.

Teaching often requires us to be a "horse for a single harness," but in periods of transition even practiced teachers need help and support. An experienced professor new to our campus reported that she profited from mentoring because she was "anxious to appear to students not only well-prepared but also savvy." For most new faculty, effective mentoring takes about two years to help the teacher progress to the higher "stages of concern," such as awareness of effects on students.

  • Mentoring can revitalize senior faculty. While it seems obvious that a new teacher might benefit from working with an experienced one, it may be less obvious that mentoring relationships also enhance the worklife of senior faculty. As with K-12 mentor programs, our mentors report that as they "think through what makes their teaching effective or what they do to be scholarly and productive," they learn and grow. Some say that the very personal context of mentoring makes them feel more connected.

It also seems likely that senior faculty go through a stage in their careers when "generativity" manifests itself. To adapt an idea from Erik Erikson's stages of social development, these seniors need to care for and pass on wisdom to the next generation. One mentor reported that during these mentoring activities, he "felt a part of something bigger--a positive group ... a family feeling."

A systematic mentoring program can be a useful tool for attracting, inducting, and retaining faculty members.

A concurrent effect was evident in our program's second year, when we began to get requests from senior faculty who were not mentors for the materials we used and inclusion in our sessions. Apparently, they recognized that new teachers were benefiting from an experience they had missed.

  • Professional development requires a systemic commitment. It is important that the entire educational system embrace the idea of helping new teachers succeed through nurturing their professional development. In universities, this may mean reducing their teaching loads for the initial stages of planning new classes or publishing dissertation research, or limiting committee assignments or numbers of students to advise. Mentoring should be expanded to include all faculty members and administrators who have a willingness to lend support.

Administrators serious about developing young people must advocate more comprehensively for them. New teachers need consideration in the allocation of scarce professional-development money (for conference travel grants, teaching enrichment activities, and so forth). And mentors, in turn, need to be recognized for the time they give and the responsibilities they assume. Adjustments in mentors' workloads, providing training for their new role, and giving consideration in their faculty evaluations to this work are just a start.

Whether in K-12 or colleges, developing new teachers through mentoring requires a coterie of caring and committed faculty, thoughtful planning, and an administration that values and supports the whole process. A systematic mentoring program can be a useful tool for attracting, inducting, and retaining faculty members. But, for us, the real payoff is the likelihood that new faculty will see themselves as part of a community of teachers--and that mentors will feel revitalized by the act of sharing.

Pamela George is a professor of educational psychology and chairs the leadership, policy, and professional-studies department at the North Carolina Central University school of education in Durham, N.C. Sandra DeAngelis Peace is an assistant professor of counselor education there.

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