You are now in a relationship. How will you – mentor and mentee – grow and maintain your relationship? As is the case with any type of relationship, if you are not intentional about what type of attention you give it, it will not grow or sometimes it will grow without you.
This can be one of the most difficult stages. Questions to ask yourself:
- Do you feel that you know each other very well?
- Are your initial agreements with each other the same?
- Have you co-created a way to have dialogue with each other?
- Do you need to revise this?
- Have you created an environment that welcomes questions and honest answers?
- Have you or your interest (research, program, for example) changed?
- If so, have you shared this change?
To cultivate a relationship is to return to both the reflection and initiation stages to determine if your expectations about the relationship, program, research, and/or progress are realistic and/or feasible. Whatever your answer, now is the time to commit to at least one monthly meeting to not lose sight of steps you need to take.
How long does this stage last? Trust is the foundation of every relationship. It develops slowly and from being able to, for example, honestly say what is needed/wanted. It deepens as each person becomes comfortable with revealing and sharing parts of their personal and professional selves, and where/how they intersect. Without trust, the stage of mentoring will not be successful. To cultivate a relationship, you must communicate.
Have you Talked?
- Take time to commit to meeting regularly.
- Plan meetings at the beginning of the semester.
- Commit to meeting at least once a month.
- Be flexible with meeting format (e.g., virtual, texting, phone).
- If you are the faculty member, ask the graduate student about their semester plan and if you could review it together.
- If you are a graduate student, commit to reviewing your plan and discussing concerns about completing it.
- Assess your semester plan regularly.
- If you are a graduate student, commit to assessing your plan every week when you review your schedule.
- If you are the faculty member, review your mentee’s weekly and monthly progress at your meeting. Doing so could help you both understand habits that are helpful or not to the student.
- Listen to understand.
- If you find yourself listening and preparing an answer, stop. Instead, practice listening to the words being said, to facial expressions, to body movements.
- If necessary, let the speaker know you will be taking notes to help you remember and better respond.
- At this stage, listen for any shifts in language, plans, and/or expectations. These are often the first places that a shift can be seen in interest and/or progress.
- Know what you know or don’t know. And be honest about it.
- Before you end your meeting, have you asked the questions you wanted to ask?
- If not, what questions do you need/want to ask for more information, to get clarification, to what additional resources might be needed?
- Is there anything that made you uncomfortable or uncertain?
- Educate yourself.
- If you are the faculty member, did your review of the semester plan or subsequent dialogue reveal where the student may need additional assistance or resources? How can you assist the student access what they need?
- If you are the graduate student, did your review of the semester plan or subsequent dialogue reveal where you may need additional assistance or resources? If your mentor does not make a suggestion or offer help, are you prepared to ask them for what you need?
- Decide if the direction in which you are going is what is needed at this moment?
- This would be the time to re-commit to the mentoring relationship.
- If you are the faculty member, is this a time to invite the student to re-assess the progress of their learning plan or specific research goals?
- If you are a graduate student, is this the time to re-assess your progress of your learning plan or specific research goals? Your personal goals?
- Or, perhaps if you have been in your mentoring relationship for a long time, this would be a time to decide if it is meeting your needs.
Communication requires bearing witness, the intentional practice of seeing who is before you.
BEARING WITNESS: A CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE FOR THE CULTIVATION STAGE
Why incorporate contemplative practices into mentoring, especially during and between each stage? Contemplative practices help you slow down and reflect on yourself and your interactions with others. They also help you better focus and develop an intentional awareness of living. There are different types of contemplative practices that you can use not only in mentoring, but also in your classroom.
Before and during each of your meetings, commit to the practice of Bearing Witness. During the cultivation stage, bearing witness can help you discern if your responses are grounded in your own perspective or the other person’s. It can stop you from re-acting out of your own expectations and truly listen to what is being said. In relationships that hold a power dynamic, bearing witness can help mitigate the fear and discomfort graduate students sometimes feel when speaking to faculty members, even their own advisors and mentors.
When meeting with each other, commit to seeing the person before you because we all want to be seen. The practice of Bearing Witness is one way of letting each other know that you are actively listening and paying attention. You can do this by listening:
- without interrupting the person speaking.
- without allowing yourself to be distracted by other activities while meeting.
- reflecting back what has been said and asking a question for more information or clarification. For example:
- Thank you for taking the time to meet today. I heard you say [fill in the blank] about your semester plan. Could you tell me a little bit more about [fill in the blank]. Are you open to a suggestion about this part of the plan?
- These questions or statements will serve both mentor and mentee well in staying focused on what is being said and having clarity of what is being said.
To bear witness is to intentionally focus on who and what is before you. To do this, you can contemplate the questions below.
- Who is before you?
- What ideas about them do you need to take in or let go?
- What assumptions do you have about them because of identity? Previous experiences?
- What is before you?
- What is the situation being experienced, described?
- What ideas about it do you need to take in or let go?
- What do you need/want?
- How do you ask what is needed/wanted, if it has not been stated?
- How do you ask if your need/want can be met?
- How can you serve or be served?
- Do you have reservations about working together based on what you have heard?
- This can be as simple as recognizing that you do not have time, resources, or attitude to work together.
- How can you listen to learn more?
- How can you help them decide what they need and get it?
- What are your next steps? Individually? Together?
The cultivation stage may bring to another question: how long should this mentoring relationships last? If you find yourself asking this question often, perhaps you need to reflect on whether or not one or both of you have outgrown the relationship, or whether it is no longer meeting your needs.
Whatever your answer, it is always important to ask questions about why you are in the relationship. Is mentoring tied to dissertation completion? A publication? Understanding graduate school? At the end of each semester, it is important for the mentee and mentor to discuss whether or not their goals have been accomplished and if they wish to continue working with one another. If the answer is yes, then the next step is to re-commit to the relationship and determine together what the next phase of growth looks like.
Good mentoring changes lives. To get the mentoring you need, reflect first on what makes you, the mentee, the person who you are. To give the mentoring you want, reflect first on how your mentoring experiences have shaped you and your mentoring practices. Then, initiate a conversation with each other to learn if this is the right step for you and, if so, begin planning your journey. Once you enter the relationship, commit to cultivating it by building trust with each other.
LEARN MORE: Contemplative Education Bibliography, Mentoring African American Faculty, Mentoring Underrepresented Minority Students, Uncovering the Cultural Dynamics in Mentoring Programs and Relationships (book), Mentoring Students of Color: Naming the Power of Race, Social Class, Gender, and Power (book)