Themes, Practices, Resources for Faculty-initiated Mentoring

Instead of presenting one person’s advice about what to do in the area of teaching to increase one’s chances of getting tenured, the presentation (on teaching for pre-tenure colleagues in the College of Education, 11 Feb. ’08) was more of a workshop on “Reflective Practice.” In its simplest form, this is the idea that we experiment/take risks, montor/take stock of how things work, and feed that back into improvements.

The workshop began with participants noting on a “Self-mentoring” worksheet ideas they already had about what they did well and what they wanted to improve. They could add to the worksheet as they heard useful ideas during the session.

I proposed that, paradoxically, the best way to approach teaching to get tenure (and be happy teaching in the years beyond) is to act like the most important thing is not what the tenure review committee thinks. Why? Because:

  • the reviewers are likely to overlook or discount things we have done. (Participants used notecards to write anonymously their fears/bad experiences in this regard and some of these were read out.)
  • an assessment by others at one point of time is not enough to sustain us; and so
  • our teaching (like all things in life?) needs to have value in itself for ourselves. (My plan was that participants would do a guided freewriting on what’s important, but I forgot to ask for this. See back side of worksheet.]

I proposed that reflective practice is one route to teaching having a value in itself, because it affirms one’s creativity/generativity. Participants were asked for their themes and practices of reflective practice, then I ran through some of his own (hear the audio below and see the notes & links that follow). The session ended with a go-around in which participants noted one thing they are taking away to chew on/work with.

  • You already know a lot about the topic at hand, so begin the session (or course) by acknowledging and exposing that knowledge in its diversity. (“you” = participants in a session, students in a class) e.g., “Self-mentoring worksheet”
  • We need to clear mental space so that thoughts about an issue in question can emerge that had been below the surface of our attention. Guided Freewriting
  • Toolbox & Creativity The more items in your tool box—the more themes, heuristics (rules of thumb), and open questions you are working with—the more likely you are to make a new connection and see how things could be otherwise, that is, to be creative. Yet, in order to build up a set of tools that works for you, it is necessary to experiment, take risks, and reflect on the outcomes. Such “reflective practice” is like a journey into unfamiliar or unknown areas—it involves risk, opens up questions, creates more experiences than can be integrated at first sight, requires support, and yields personal change. (See http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/journey.html)
  • Reflective practice as regular “plus, delta.”
  • Do yourself in the future a favor e.g., annotate syllabus and prepare revised version as you go
  • Multiple audiences/kinds of evaluation (for improvement by instructor/leader, for improvement by students/participants, for decision making by future students, for decision-making advice by superiors)
  • Do yourself in the future a favor II e.g., full revision of syllabus at end of semester
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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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