We do much better as teachers when we learn the art of mentoring students

Role of a teacher as mentor is indubitable; however, it needs to be re-enforced emphatically to achieve greater good. Learning the art of mentoring can go a long way in enhancing outcome.

No doubt, one irrefutable responsibility of a teacher is to act as a mentor to students. A good teacher is also a natural mentor. However true, but practically speaking it may not always be true. A good teacher may not necessarily be a natural mentor. Mentoring as a skill needs to be learnt and it should be a part of mandatory training for faculty in higher education. Mentors are friends, philosophers, and guide to a student. Mentors are the most effective healers available on this earth. A good mentor is the greatest blessings one can have in life. The task at hand on mentoring front in higher education is twin-fold. One would be on the faculty side while we also need to work on the student side. After all, finding and seeking a good mentor is not just a coincidence, it is also a matter of having right focus and pursuing skillful search.

There is a difference between the roles a mentor can play in the life of a student and the roles a trainer possibly can play. Trainer as skill builder may not touch the essential cord of a student life. A mentor can transpire the needed self-realization, and hence can bring about transformation. A true transformation of a student from “what they are” to “what they can be” rests heavily on mentoring skills of faculty. The focus of mentoring, however, needs to show progression as the student progresses from entry to first year and to second year. There will be generic mentoring needs as well as individual specific needs. Such needs must find place in “mentoring policy”. Informal mentoring can very well be the part of the design. It is through a good mentoring process that a student can be enthused, inspired, motivated, and directed towards realizing potential to achieve greater goals in life.

Similarly, students need to be told and trained on how they can keep alive their relentless quest for seeking and finding a mentor. They need to be told the art of building relationship, and the science of becoming a worthy mentee. They need to be told about the virtue engrained in the attitude of gratitude. A fruitful mentor-mentee relationship would hold the key and it needs to be re-enforced and nurtured.

Art of Questioning

A right question can change lives. What questions a mentor should ask to start engaging with students? Often we wait for the students to come up with questions. As a teacher, we love to supply answers to as many questions as students would like to ask. Most of such answers are in the form of great content which we give to them. Does it really work? May or may not. Your personal experience can only tell the story. However, teachers must raise questions while students work diligently to find answers. The very feeling that the teacher is standing with them creates enough encouragement for students to great work.

Active listening enhances the confidence of students. Affirmative signal from teacher boosts moral. Knowing that someone believes in them and their abilities often is the difference between students who just show up and students who strive to learn and improve. It is an opportunity to teach our students to ask for help, to advocate for themselves, acknowledge the reality of our students and to find creative ways (one-on-one meetings, alternate assignments, flexibility with deadlines) to help them to make it through. Open ended question is great way to start. It allows students to actively reflect and come up with alternatives which they might thought suitable to them. Mentoring works well when students are made to go back to their strengths and build upon, things which they really liked to do.

A right question changes the frame of reference for the students which is so vital for explorations and knowing what they really want to do.

How should we take it forward?

Starting to meet and converse is a great way forward and the starting point of any structured mentoring system. This builds relationship and establishes emotional connect. If students are not feeling comfortable listening to teacher, there can’t be any mentoring. Frequently seeing and meeting can hold the key as much as talking informally would be. The second phase starts with setting the expectations. Expectations setting must move from ‘dream’ to ‘reality’ in terms of achievable. Talking about dream in the first phase is the right thing to do. However, for an effective outcome it has to be delineated into immediate, medium term and long term achievable. Getting students agree to set expectations for self-development is bristle with difficulty. We may often go wrong in this stage and the entire mentoring outcome may come under cloud. A teacher can be anything but not imposing on students. Here, the clue lies in becoming more ‘persuasive’ and less of ‘asking to do’.

Next comes the phase where students start working the expectations and list of achievable. Not all of them may actually be realized in due course of time. However, a ‘knock on the door’ policy adopted by the teacher can greatly enhance the quality and quantity of the outcome. At this stage, teacher should also be greatly concerned about the constraints being faced by the student. Acting as a sublime guide and great rescuer can generate great outcome.

A teacher who is deeply concerned about the success of students, both in their life and career, cannot afford to lose the opportunity to learn a bit about the art of mentoring. After all, neither teaching nor mentoring have been a naïve job. There is a great deal one can learn and get trained in.

This piece of writing has drawn upon many sources. Some of them are listed below under references. Readers may like to go to these references for any further understanding on the topic. 


Author: Dr Prabhat Pankaj

Dr. Prabhat Pankaj is a postgraduate in Economics and a Ph.D. in applied economics. He is a teacher by choice and started his career 30 years ago in 1991 from Arunachal University. He has been teaching Economics at postgraduate and undergraduate levels for about 30 years, in Universities and B-Schools in India and abroad, including 7 years in Bhutan. Dr. Pankaj has also obtained his Executive Education in "Management and Leadership in Higher Education" at Harvard University, Boston, USA. Furthermore, He has written for the Times of India and other popular publications. Currently, he is serving as the Director of Jaipuria Institute of Management, Jaipur.

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