Friday, February 8, 2013

Observing Others: Mentorships and Two-Way Learning in the Writing Center

Two days a week, I work in a writing center. I have been working there since July of 2009, with one break in between to do a year of a Doctoral Fellowship. The whole experience has been wonderful. I learned a great deal of what I know about teaching writing and performing Writing Studies scholarship in this center. Because I have been there for a while, I also have the pleasure of helping to train new tutors (we call them "writing consultants").

In this particular center, we typically have a summer training session, where we role play and read articles related to writing centers and writing studies. Then, we move into a mentorship phase. For the first week, a new consultant will observe the sessions of an experienced consultant mentor. After a session or during downtime, the new and experienced consultants talk about those observations and any lingering questions. The following week are "training wheels" sessions. The new consultants hold their own sessions while the more experienced consultants observe and possibly chime in, depending on the new consultant's needs. At the end of the session, consultants review what was written on the mentee observation sheet, which is usually a list of good things with a few strategies for improvement. New consultants usually take this time to ask questions about sessions that they found challenging or things they realized they might need to know for the future. All in all, the training is meant to be a positive experience. I think this is why the word mentorship is important. It establishes a positive relationship, rather than a purely critical one.

This year, I finally had a schedule that allowed me to work closely with a single incoming consultant. I don't have IRB approval for this post, so I won't go into too much depth, but I can give you a basic outline of what went on. New Consultant and I worked together 2 days a week. From the start, she seemed to have a good grasp on what was expected of her and the foundations of a good session. During two weeks, she asked good questions, and I saw her running effective sessions. Even though my mentee was new, when turned out on her own, she did great. And I don't think it has much to do with my training.

Why I'm really writing this post, however, has less to do with what that consultant did (as this is not a study of her technique) and more of the experience of a mentorship. I think it's important that mentorships exist, whether in writing centers, teaching programs, or student-faculty/student-more-experienced-student scenarios. Although one of the individuals in a mentorship typically holds more knowledge or wisdom, it is a two-way learning scenario. While New Consultant learned what she needed to know to move forward, I learned some things that would improve my own consulting.

As I was observed for 12 hours of sessions, I found that I was more self-reflective about my consulting practices. When my mentee had questions, I had to step back and think about what I had done and why I had done it. Plus, I wanted to be a good role model, so I made sure that I was setting a good example by attempting to maintain balanced dialogue, getting students to write in a session, and making sure to keep up with administrative tasks, even more so than I usually would.

When my mentee finally got to her hours of "training wheels" sessions, I was impressed by her strategies. She was very effective, perhaps even more so than I was. I actually was reminded of things I needed to work on in my own consulting as I watched her.

In the end, there is no doubt in my mind that mentorships are great learning models. New Consultant and I both worked on our practices together through observations and dialogue. During this time, we also formed a relationship. This means that if one of us needs help during a session, we feel comfortable enough to ask the other. This also means that we can talk about writing and other things freely, and that the atmosphere of the writing center becomes a friendly one rather than simply a bunch of people who work together in a square space in the library. I see how this model would benefit students and teachers alike, but I think that needs its own post to be considered.

So what are your thoughts? Have you had mentoring experiences? Did you enjoy them or hate them? Did you learn, or were they dead ends?


julia sophia said...

Great blog. I enjoy my stay on the site. Its a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing some great stuff. Thank you.

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Albert brain said...

That’s a really interesting article.

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