Tuesday, September 22, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 75- Mentoring Army Style

#WeirdEd has a special guest co-moderator tonight. His name is Ray Kimball and he's the author of The Army Officer's Guide to Mentoring. Ray and I were linked up by Art LaFlamme, and I think Ray's outlook on mentoring for the Army dovetails nicely with how we should be thinking about mentoring students and other teachers. We should constantly be looking outside the education space to find ideas to use in education, and Ray is an excellent example of that. The blog below was written by Ray and is an excellent overview of what he thinks and what we can expect from the chat.

I recently completed an in-depth study of mentoring practices for Army officers. It was an amazing experience: it confirmed some of my long-standing beliefs and challenged some of my assumptions at the same time. I acknowledge that there are challenges in taking observations from one profession and transporting them to another. However, based on the broader literature that exists on workplace mentoring*, I've listed some insights below that are worth discussing in a teaching context. I look forward to discussing all of these during our chat!

Mentoring vs. coaching: I find that many, many fields misuse these two terms, and often say "mentoring" when they really mean "coaching." Coaching is a short-term relationship intended to build a discrete capability or specific skill. Mentoring, in the professional context, is a voluntary and mutual relationship that is intended to last for a significant period of time to build someone's overall professional and personal capacity. Sometimes, I think people get scared off by the commitment involved in mentoring, but would be fine with a coaching effort; conversely, others eschew coaching as being shallow but really like the engagement involved in mentoring.

Benefits of mentoring: We have this vision that the benefits of mentoring only accrue to the protege. One dead giveaway of this approach is the use of the term "mentee" instead of "protege": the former implies that the junior member is in receive mode only, while the latter puts an emphasis on mutual engagement. My work supports the idea that the mentor benefits as well, both from the reflective practice of discussions as well as insights from the protege.

Cross-gender mentoring: My work identified some real issues here for the Army. Concerns about cross-gender mentoring relationships being perceived as romantic ones; female proteges complaining that male mentors couldn't help with some deeply personal aspects of life; even spouses being jealous about the mentor-protege relationship. I personally am really interested in if and how similar issues manifest in teaching.

Peer mentoring: In theory, peer mentoring should absolutely exist, as the only criteria for a mentoring relationship is for the mentor to have greater experience than the protege. You can and do have two peers (in terms of position) who have vastly different experience in terms of work areas. In these relationships, the mentor-protege role often flips, with one being the mentor for one topic and the other being a mentor for another topic; the scholarly term for this is mutuality. What seems to impair peer mentoring for the Army is the fact that we make officer peers compete against one another for everything. I'd be interested in a discussion on if and how peer teachers form mentoring pairs.

E-mentoring: I use "e-mentoring" as a shorthand term for any mentoring not done face to face (via phone, email, social media, chat, etc). My studies found no purely e-mentoring relationships, but showed that e-mentoring could either help facilitate an initial introduction that caused a relationship to blossom or could sustain a relationship when F2F was no longer possible. A lot of the need for this is driven by the constant moving of people that the Army does; so do teachers have a need for e-mentoring?

Let's have a great (and weird) chat!

* In this post, "mentoring" refers to workplace mentoring, which is driven by a professional identity. That stands apart from youth mentoring in the classroom, where teachers act as mentors to students. The two fields use different terms and have different approaches.

Ray Kimball is the author of the forthcoming book The Army Officer's Guide to Mentoring. His views are his own and are not necessarily reflective of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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