Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 30 seconds
When I first started teaching, there were a couple of much more experienced teachers I would meet every now and then, and I’d talk through with them what was going on in my teaching, get ideas and share concerns. I don’t think it was a formal mentoring program or anything, but it kind of happened organically, and it really, really made a huge difference to me. To be able to talk to someone about what I was thinking and doing.
Later on in my teaching career, I was co-teaching with colleagues in my department, and we had each other to talk to, and of course we also had the students in common, so it was even easier to talk through what was going on and any dilemmas or challenges we faced.
Right now, I don’t have a single person I talk through my teaching with, but occasionally I talk it through with my colleagues at the Center for Learning and Teaching, and some of my students (current and former), and of course I write on my blog and post things on Twitter and get great advice from anyone online.
But this post is not about my role as a teacher, but about my role as an educational developer. My department has a formal system for people to sign up for consultations which then get distributed amonst us all. Besides this, though, I lead the learning community for new faculty, which we call Faculty Institute of Learning and Teaching, so they often have direct contact with me. Besides this, though, I generally am quite comfortable sharing my phone number with faculty, so a heck of a lot of faculty had my mobile number during the pandemic and would call for help any time from 8am to 10pm and text me on WhatsApp and more.
I feel like my role as an educational developer is way more than a “consultant”, but a more… sustained and continuous role as sometime-mentor, sometime-buddy, sometime-confidante, sometime-mirror, sometime friend… and I love that my relationship with some faculty continues way beyond any formal roles.
I really feel like the whole phone and WhatsApp element helps a lot with this… informality, and ease of access. It may *seem* like I’m overwhelming myself with care work, but it actually is, I feel, better for all of us and our time. When people like it, it means that if they need a quick consultation for 10-15 minutes they can text or call me and it’s over. Today was one such day. I got three separate calls from three faculty: one new who needed a quick consultation, one new-ish who need a longer one, and one veteran I knew well who wanted several things. I also had another one text and voicenote me throughout the day for several different things, and I was able to fit them all into a relatively busy day and still manage to get everything on my schedule done. It works for me as a really busy person and mom, and I’ve noticed it works well for other parents of young kids, also. We didn’t have to go back and forth to schedule appointments on Zoom or in person (I work remotely today anyway), and no one had to wait for a quick question, nor did their questions get buried in a pile of email. I feel like these relationships are also reciprocal – but that’s for another post!
When we do meet in person, it can be in my office with another colleague joining me, but it can also be outdoors for a walk or for a coffee, and that also makes a huge difference.
I think of it as more of relationship building than just a mentor/mentee or consultancy meeting. I feel like I’m better able to support faculty that way, by knowing them as people, not as a transactional relationship. I bet a lot of faculty developers develop these kinds of relationships, which some faculty will welcome, and some won’t… but I think it matters that this option is on the table for people who need and value it more.
What do you think?