This document is based on the seminar / workshop on Peer Mentors, that I gave in the Faculty Lounge, St. Thomas University, from 4:00 to 5:30 pm, on Tuesday, 26 October 2004, by invitation of the Learning and Teaching Development Committee.
The purpose of the workshop was to determine what was meant by peer mentoring and to establish some of the many different ways in which peer mentoring could take place.
I would like to express my gratitude to the following faculty members who filled out the questionnaires and enabled me (a) to assemble the raw material and (b) to attempt a definition of the nature of peer mentoring. Dr. Andrea Schutz, Dr. Julia Torrie, Dr. Craig Proulx, Dr. Christian Mbarga, Dr. Dereck Simon, Dr. David Korotkov.
A. Write down briefly the sort of peer mentoring you would have liked to have received.
- help with setting exams
- general pointers on teaching
- advice on difficult classroom situations as they arise or preferably before they arise
- a general resource person
- suggestions for topics, activities, and assignments that might work with different sized groups, especially larger groups
- a clear, and early, understanding of who was available and of their expertise
- the availability and location of teaching resources and aids
- general peer mentoring preferably by a friend or counselor
B. From which of the following would you like to receive advice and why?
- fellow faculty member
- junior faculty member
- senior faculty member
- head of department or section
- member of LTD
- LTD Officer
- Fellow faculty member
- Each of the above, because each is in a different situation of power / responsibility in or outside the university.
- Fellow faculty member
- Fellow faculty member, head of department, member of LTD
- Fellow faculty member, friend, senior faculty member, head of department
Comment --The reasons for the choice varied from friend or fellow faculty member -- less threatening -- to senior faculty member and head of department -- more access to greater knowledge. Interestingly, most of the categories were selected as having different knowledge and resources.
C. On the basis of A and B above, reflect upon the assistance you would be willing and able to give other faculty members.
- how not to do things incorrectly
- form part of open forum
- participate in small group discussions
- advise on difficult classroom situations
- be available -- sometimes you don't know what is needed until the case arises
- offer sample assignments for different size groups
- need based -- as problem arises
- sample course outlines, assignments etc
- supplying new faculty with teaching resources
- offering timelines -- helping people by letting them know WHEN things happen
- help with renewal process
Comment -- From the above it can be seen that there are four main areas in which peer mentoring can be offered and would be useful:
- In the classroom itself -- especially in dealing with troublesome and threatening [this came from this and previous conversation] in class situations. Help here is usually needed immediately and early help can resolve critical issues before they become unmanageable.
- Preparing for the class -- resources, teaching styles, teaching material, group assignments, exam setting, timelines for classes and exams
- General university work -- especially timelines, forums / fora, group discussions
- Professional development -- especially renewal, promotion, tenure.
D. Some one is about to enter your classroom on a tour of inspection. What are your fears and hopes?
- FEARS -- that I am not working to the level the visitor expects of my class; especially that I haven't been teaching the students well enough; not knowing what to expect; how the colleague will "read" the in class situation; what criteria will be used in the observation / assessment; that I will make a fool of myself; that classroom dynamic will change and students react differently; that the class may be hijacked; lack of confidence in self; fear that what I think is working might not be working to another's satisfaction; embarass myself and the person entering the class; disrupt class; interrupt class; nervousness.
- HOPES -- that the students won't be distracted and numb but will just be their normal selves; constructive feedback; skill-based reflection; change; reassess; rethink; good advice; that I am actually a teacher and will be recognized as such; that the inspection will be useful and that the inspector will understand what is happening in class.
E. How would you like the person entering your class to proceed?
- BEFORE CLASS --
- Consultation; know my class objectives; I have self-identified concerns on which I would like an outsider's view.
- Share what I want the observer to see.
- Two different types of class visits (not defined).
- Not look at class plan, rather observe effect of class on students.
- Tell me what to expect.
- Tell me what the observer is going to observe.
- IN CLASS --
- I'd like the visitor to forget what he or she was there for and to participate in the class.
- A silent observer.
- Silent observer or active participant -- I'm not sure.
- View the class from the students' perspective.
- Observe carefully and take notes.
- Be invisible unless actually there to poll the students or consult with them.
- Sit at the back of the class and eventually participate in a constructive manner.
- AFTER CLASS --
- Continue the conversation of the class with some immediate feedback -- brief and point form.
- Some immediate feedback.
- Meaningful follow up rather than a long silence.
- One on one conversation, perhaps a report first that I can read, and then a conversation.
- Perhaps look at plan now, to see if it was achieved.
- Be brutally honest.
- Meet with me briefly to discuss observations.
- WRITTEN REPORT --
- I like teaching letters which are detailed and specific and personal so that's what I would like from my colleagues and what I would write for them.
- Follow up consultation to written report.
- Further reflection after, perhaps, a week.
- An accurate report outlining what was good and what was less good.
- Suggestions for improvements.
- Tell it like it is but in strict confidentiality.
- Suggestions for change.
- Blow by blow of what I'm doing wrong followed by what I'm doing right.
- Mature, precise, concise professional report.
F. You are about to enter someone's class, at their request, to assist them with their teaching. Based on today's discussions and on your answers to the previous questions, establish a protocol for an in-class visit. Use the format outlined above -- before, during, after, written.
- Pre-class chat about principles and what to do.
- Identify and explore professor's fears and hopes. Establish a set of objectives and priorities. Agree to leave room for the "unexpected" (perhaps?). Maybe some playful exchanges along the way.
- Discuss what you will see and determine styles and procedures. Establish the role in class which is to observe.
- A conversation to establish parameters; determine what each party wants and keep this conversation open-ended.
- Tell the person what to expect. Ask them what they want me to look at. Ask them what level of brutal reality they are capable of accepting.
- Before class, I would like to chat with the teacher in order to help dispel any nervousness.
- Try to be as inconspicuous as possible.
- Introduce visiting consultant and explain what their role is and also the purpose of the visit. Educate students (perhaps in a previous session) about the value, purpose, and benefit of peer evaluations and commentaries.
- Review student mood; pace of class; handling student comments; check number of student questions and manner of asking and replying; check professor's interaction with students.
- Observation (a) from student's point of view and (b) as an informed observer.
- Be invisible.
- During class, I would like to take notes and would stay quiet or take part depending on the kind of class and the class atmosphere.
- Post mortem -- what the teacher thought went well and maybe spin for what the teacher thought didn't go well.
- An immediate but brief exchange of how it went (at the end of class). Reflection time (possibly an hour) where both observer and professor go apart to reflect on the experience of the visit in the light of the fears and the hopes, the planned objectives, and the unexpected. After this reflection time, a detailed follow up and de-briefing meeting which ends with some mutually agreed upon recommendations.
- Did observations meet expectations?
- Conversation perhaps with the written report circulated first.
- Try to give the type of feedback that was negotiated before class.
- After class, depending upon time demands, I would chat with the prof and respond to any remarks or concerns.
- Report -- specific details for person or teacher.
- Emphasis on constructive recommendations.
- Pros and cons and suggestions for change.
- Tell them what they are doing right then make suggestions in those areas where you feel change may be needed.
- I would write an encouraging, mature, and concise report.
- Ongoing conversations.
The Peer Mentor Project is ongoing and I would invite anyone reading this to respond to the material outlined above. This can be done by emailing your comments to email@example.com
The material is also self-explanatory and I believe that peer mentoring is an exciting process that usually involves intellectual contact between mature individuals who wish to improve their teaching.
Clearly this peer mentoring can exist at many levels, but we have outlined four strategic areas above (1) in the class room; (2) preparing for the class; (3) general university work; and (4) professional development.
The area that generates most concern is the in class visit, and all the participants were aware of their own hopes and fears and were thus able to transfer to their in class preparations a series of plans to reduce those fears and materialize those hopes.
Should you, personally, wish to consult with a Peer Mentor, then you should contact the Learning and Teaching Development Officer of the Chair of the LTD Committee, or a member of the LTD Committee.
I have been doing a great deal of mentoring over the past couple of years, and I have covered several areas regularly. I believe some of the work I have done deserves to be mentioned.
- WEBCT -- My knowledge of WEBCT is limited. I was however able to complete the workshop at UNB (8 hours) and two of the workshops at St. Thomas (16 hours and 8 hours respectively). In addition, I am using WEBCT in all 3 of my courses this year. Advice that I have been able to give to various faculty members includes --
- loading normal files
- loading PDF files and Powerpoint presentations
- constructing discussion groups
- using email
- constructing a grades page
- posting grades
- tracking students
- getting UNB students on to WEBCT
- making WEBCT pin numbers available for UNB students
- Renewal Promotion and Tenure -- I have worked with faculty members in all three areas. In particular, I have given advice on preparing the initial letter, on writing the Philosophy of Teaching, on what might be considered acceptable evidence, on marshalling and ordering the evidence, on portfolio presentation etc etc
- WEB Advisor -- I have also worked with WEB Advisor, showing new faculty how to access class lists.
- In class problems and advice -- I have been able to work with faculty, old and new, on problems arising in classrooms. These problems may vary from potential student grievances, to potential in class conflicts; from reaching out to quiet students to controlling noisy students; from making the best use of the teaching space to arranging the furniture into formations suitable for the individual class; from how the professor might take ownership of the class to what sort of examinations might be set; from how to write up the course outline to how to reorganize group work and teaching within a specific class or subject.
- Contacts -- When I am unable to give advice, I can usually find the appropriate person to do so. Thus, passing on contact names and numbers is a key part of peer mentoring. It is also essential for the student professor relationship too. How to access the necessary and appropriate information in the shortest possible time can be truly important.
I have to admit that I really enjoy working with people and sharing whatever knowledge there is available. For me, peer mentoring, at all levels, is one of the best things a professor can do. Sometimes, the necessity of telling and sharing is all a fellow faculty member needs. Sometimes, a crisis will arise, and then it is up to the mentor to work with the individual who is seeking help as firmly and as objectively as possible.
An intimate knowledge of the campus is always useful; so, be knowledgeable about your campus and be prepared to share that knowledge. After all, your university is where you live your academic life!
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