“I feel confident both the tutee and myself benefited from the experience. My tutee stated that they appreciated the help and I now feel more confident in tutoring again.”
Mentoring has been defined as ‘A confidential, one-to-one relationship in which an individual uses a more experienced, usually more senior person as a sounding board and for guidance. It is a protected, non-judgmental relationship which facilitates a wide range of learning, experimentation and development’ (The Industrial Society, 1995).
This introduction, written by Dr. Siobhan Holland (St Mary’s College, University of Surrey), draws on discussions held in Birmingham under the auspices of the LTSN Generic Centre in November 2001. Dr. Holland would like to thank Dr Ann McKee and Ann Morton for their help in developing this introduction).
Mentoring is separate from appraisal, counselling and supervision procedures which need to be provided by other means within a department or institution. Mentoring processes may well draw attention to flaws or gaps in induction or support procedures, but they do not exist to identify these problems and they should not be used as ‘catch-all’ solutions for problems that require management solutions. They should also be confidential, so that they do not feed automatically back into management structures. Nonetheless, the different kinds of scheme currently available tend to draw on either supervisory or counselling frameworks in some way at least in the ways that they understand and make use of the mentor’s prior experience. Some models for mentoring are predicated on the idea that the mentor and mentee can fruitfully share their different experiences and incorporate some element of training for the mentee. In other mentoring models, the mentor does not, at any time, introduce his or her own experience into discussions with the mentee.
The mentoring relationship needs to operate as a kind of protected space in which the mentee can discuss progress and problems freely and in confidence. In order that the mentoring relationship can function in this way, mentoring schemes need to provide an element of training during which roles, responsibilities and the ethics of the process are explained and discussed. Not everyone will be suited to work as a mentor; not everyone will feel comfortable about being a mentee. However, training can help to clarify the processes involved in mentoring. Mentoring is a dynamic process and training can help those involved to consider strategies so that they can cope flexibly with it.
Mentoring is an expensive process to organize and maintain and so anyone interested in developing a scheme needs to be clear about its implications in terms of time and money. She or he will also need to have a clear idea of what its benefits might be. These might include a possible improvement in retention rates. An interest in retention has led to the development of mentoring schemes for HE professionals and for first year undergraduates. Mentoring schemes can also provide students and staff with structured and supportive opportunities to discuss their roles and activities, outside the context of meetings and management.