Becoming better mentors
- All of us in our professional and personal lives have co-workers, subordinates, family or students that look up to us. Let us reflect on whether we are doing justice to those expectations
Apr 17, 2017-In my school days, we had a classmate who would rather give up his life than share his class-notes with us. He would act as if we were plotting to snatch his beloved “First Boy” title. Like the hideous Gollum, he would fight hard to hide the notes—his precious—away from us and other students.
Years later, when I joined university, I was astonished to once again meet a few of such Gollums. Like my school friend, they would conceal their precious notebooks from us—their competitors.
But luckily, we had a friend who would, without any hesitation or suspicion, share everything he had: books, notes, research articles. And we would share ours too. He would also ask us to come over his house for group study sessions. I still remember those sessions where four or five of us would teach each other, question each other, and listen to different explanations.
For me, those sharing sessions resulted in a deeper grip of the concepts that we were trying to master, and helped us become better thinkers, analysers, and creators of our own interpretations. We would discuss, argue, and often indulge in intense verbal battle—and each time, we would develop newer perspective and better insights. Bottom line: We taught each other and made each other better.
And this brings to my first point. As Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky proposed, learning and evolution happens best through social interaction. The more we share, the more we learn. Yes, we all learn in our own peculiar ways, but we learn best by interacting with each other in different social contexts.
Now, imagine your mentor was to teach the concept of research. The first way, and the most predominant one, is that your teacher starts the class with the definition of research. He then explains the concept part by part. Gives some examples. Ends the class by going over the process of conducting research.
Another way is your mentor tells you to visit 10 different companies, find out the number of employees in each, find out the salary range for males and females, and prepare a report—all these without giving you specific instruction. She asks you to write a reflection on what you did, share your findings, and finally the mentor connects everything to the concept of conducting a research.
I bet the second way will be far more effective because as an understudy, you would be engaged in constructing knowledge with your own mind. You would certainly learn and remember better from the experience than from memorising the concepts handed down by your mentor.
And, that’s my second point: Learning and evolution happens when we actively participate in the learning process, when we take part in co-creating the knowledge by diving into real (or realistic) situations.
Once I was invited for a guest-lecture session in a reputed business college in Kath-mandu. When I arrived at the college’s reception, the lady behind the desk looked indifferent, then confused. She asked me ten different questions about what I was doing there. I tried to explain her: “Look miss, this person from your college had called me yesterday for the session. So here I am.”
She snapped. “What is wrong with this coordinator?” She exhaled anger. I stepped back. Literally. In a millisecond, her face became very unpleasant. “This coordinator never informs me and he shouts at me for not doing my work properly. I am so fed up working in this office.”
All the while, I was thinking, “Dear lady, I don’t need to hear about the institution’s internal wrangling. I am an outsider. You don’t have to vent it out on me.”
I was expecting a warm welcome and a cup of coffee. Instead, I witnessed a disgruntled employee losing her cool and risking the organisation’s hard-earned goodwill.
Later when I thought about the incident, the theories of Organisational Behaviour and Psychology started playing in my head. I knew the theories, explanation, and examples from the books. But they made real sense only after I reflected at the incident unfolding in front of my eyes.
John Dewey, a pioneer in progressive education, had once said, “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” And that’s my third point: Learning and evolution happens when we experience an event and consciously think back to analyse and extract a meaning out of it.
Connecting all three scenarios, I want to share my belief about mentoring and learning, and what we, as mentors and as teachers, can do to impart the desired learning onto our understudies and students.
When we help out mentees explore, find, and draw multiple perspectives through discussions, activities, enquiry, they learn better. When we understand this concept, we can design learning situations that allow understudies to ‘learn by doing’ and we help them experience and reflect to construct new knowledge.
Let’s reflect. Are we simply handing down content? Or are we creating helpful environment which allows them to interact? Are we merely giving them assignments? Or are we allowing them to work together, learn together? Are we constantly dumping knowledge on them? Or are we giving them opportunities to reflect on their learning?
All of us in our professional and personal lives have co-workers, subordinates, family or students that look up to us. Let us reflect on whether we are doing justice to those expectations. We could be just another cog in the wheel, or we could be creating the next generation of leaders and movers and shakers.
Shrestha teaches Communication at King’s College, Kathmandu and conducts various workshops and trainings for students, teachers, and professionals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: 17-04-2017 08:43