As a Ph.D. candidate, I remember having to convince my academic advisor that it would be beneficial for me to take a one-credit course titled “How to Teach”. Taking that course with Dr. Keith Barker at the University of Connecticut was one of the best decisions I ever made. It allowed for a safe environment to learn new techniques, explore different learning styles, and most of all, about the importance of getting to know my students. Many schools today have tried to mirror that course with a Mentoring Programme or what many now refer to as Coaching.
How do you find the right mentor/coach?
After taking the course and learning the basic skills, I needed to explore my own teaching style. I did not gravitate to the official coaching programmes at the institutions where I worked but I did have amazing mentors along the way. I looked for qualities in in other educators that I valued and approached them for advice and guidance. Different people satisfied different needs that I had both in the classroom and as a researcher. Over the years, I have built an amazing network of mentors from all over the world. Having colleagues to share ideas with who were not connected to my tenure, promotion process or school, were those that helped me the most.
When done right, mentoring programmes can be extremely valuable. Below are a few insights as you embark on a coaching or mentor experience.
Is your coach/mentor also evaluating you?
For a profession that promotes creativity and tolerance, the promotion process can be extremely competitive, lonely, and anxiety provoking. For example, it is very difficult to be truly honest about your frustrations with a mentor, if that individual is also evaluating you. Unfortunately, I have seen where an educator was honest about their abilities and challenges and those conversations were later used against them in an evaluation. This does not happen all the time. However, I do think it is something to be wary of. Be careful of how much you share with a coach from your own department or even school. As you become familiar with a school, you realise that everyone is connected in different ways. Be sure that you can trust the person you confide in.
Are you required to participate?
In an environment where the pressures and expectations of educators are rapidly expanding, required programmes or those in which the educators are strongly encouraged to attend, might become counterproductive. Coaching and mentoring should be an organic process of self-exploration, where the individual feels comfortable with sharing experiences and not pressured to try certain techniques. If your administrators tell you to participate, you should. However, be careful with what you share. Realize that you may need to search out other opportunities for learning that are not tied to your promotion process.
Jump out of your comfort zone
Seek out workshops and coaching opportunities that allow you to explore new ways of thinking and that encourage you to feel free to express your opinions/challenges. Attend international workshops/conferences in areas out of your comfort zone, so you can see how other professionals are succeeding. Attend technology workshops and make connections with colleagues in your technology department. This will help you to stay abreast of the best ways to add new tools for learning. Be open to trying new techniques, and abandon those that do not work.
Most of all, as you move through your professional teaching career, find a mentor or coach who reminds you that you are important and that you don’t have to be perfect to be an amazing educator.
By Dr. Jan L. Jones
Dr Jones (Ph.d.) has over 10 years of full time teaching and advising experience in leisure, sustainable tourism and global education. Her research has taken her to Cuba, Portugal, Germany, Ireland, Jordan, Jamaica, Cyprus, and Crete.