During the spring semester 2015 I have taken part in a mentoring process where the 2nd year LET students have acted as mentors and we 1st year students have been the mentees. This is what is commonly called peer mentoring or simply peer tutoring, which typically focuses on a more experienced or advanced student(s) helping less experienced student(s). In peer mentoring the more experienced student helps a less experienced student to improve overall academic performance while at the same time the process supports mentors’ personal growth, and provides advice, support, and knowledge to the mentee (Colvin and Ashman, 2010).
I discussed my experiences of informal mentoring in work life in my post “Mentoring as a form of developing your expertise”. In that post I reflecting my experiences of when I was a young and inexperienced project manager at the start of my career, and received some valuable advice and help from the more experienced colleagues. Taking part this spring in a formal mentoring process, in which other students act as mentors, was an interesting and also a surprising experience. Compared to informal mentoring, in formal mentoring I felt that I’m responsible for fulfilling my role as a mentee in actively participating in the process. Also, the process itself was more reciprocal in that not only the mentees were the “receiving” party in it. In the peer mentoring process the student mentors and student mentees were equal in sharing thoughts, experiences and knowledge from different domains and thus contributing to our understanding and knowledge about what it means to be an expert in learning and educational technology.
Our mentoring process started in the beginning of the year when we in the first two meetings got to know each other better, discussed the mentoring process, and thought of issues we would like to address during the process. In our group of three mentors and four mentees it was decided that the whole group would meet regularly. But in addition to that we also formed smaller sub-groups of one mentor and 1-2 mentees to ensure that a more close and personal relations would be formed between the mentor and mentee.
In the joint meetings of the big group we had presentation of the educational systems of our home countries. It was very interesting to hear about the educational systems, and realize how different they actually are. I started to appreciate the Finnish educational system all the more as it provides equal and many opportunities to all (compared to many other countries) which we Finns take more or less for granted.
In the smaller sub-group I had Pavi as my mentor, and Hany was the other mentee. Over a cup of coffee we have been discussing our thesis processes, our LET studies, experiences, expectations and goals, as well as emotions towards these. The discussion have provided valuable new perspectives on these issues, and help taking the next steps into attaining expertise.
Peer mentoring roles, risks and benefits
According to a study about roles, risks, and benefits of peer mentoring relationships in higher education, Colvin and Ashman (2010) found that there are five specific roles of mentors: connecting link, peer leader, learning coach, student advocate, and trusted friend. A connecting link is a student that helps other students inside and outside of class to get involved with their campus and education. Mentors as peer leaders show leadership qualities in motivating and guiding their mentees. A learning coach helps students identify learning strengths and styles and achieve their potential. In the role of learning coach, peer mentors teach students important academic as well as life skills. The student advocate role is related to the peer mentor being a helper, mostly in being a liaison between the student and the instructors and helping the students with their academic and personal needs.
Colvin and Ashman’s (2010) study indicate that peer mentoring benefit both sides of the mentoring relationship. Mentors value being able to support, help out, or uplift the mentees. They also appreciate the chance of getting involved with others in the program and developing friendships through the mentoring process. Additionally, mentoring can allow mentors to reapply concepts into their own lives and help them become even better students themselves. Interesingly, in the study, majority of women’s comments focused on relationships, and the majority of men’s noted grades and overall academic performance, not just for the students they worked with but also for mentors themselves.
Mentees also considered having mentors beneficial in helping with their class work and connecting them to campus. The next most often expressed benefit for mentees was individual attention, on having a friend or someone to help them one on one.
Instructors, peer mentors, and students all saw some risk or challenge in maintaining a peer mentor relationship. Comments from mentors focused on their personal lives, interactions with students, and interactions with the instructors. Balancing both the specific requirements and personal desire to do well as mentors with time and other commitments was seen challenging. Mentors also felt that there is a risk of rejection if students didn’t accept them, or conversely, the students being too dependent on the mentor.
Mentees saw risks and challenges in working with a peer mentor through two aspects: the role the mentor was fulfilling and the relationship that occurred. Considering the role of the mentor, the mentees either worried about being too dependent about the mentor, or the mentor bothering them too much when they did not need help. Relationship challenges were seen as either not feeling the relationship close enough to enable open communication with the mentor, or the mentees were worried about favoritism.
Some thoughts about peer mentoring process
After having experienced peer mentoring process from the side of a mentee, and after reading Colvin and Ashman’s article, I realise that although I felt being responsible for being “a good mentee”, the mentors must feel even more responsible and perhaps even pressure to do well in their role as a mentor. Although I highlighted how the peer mentoring process is quite reciprocal in sharing thoughts, experiences, knowledge and even feelings, it’s still the mentees needs that are focused on, and that mentors need to be very sensitive in seeing what they are, even if the needs are not expressed explicitly.
I feel that mentoring process is a very delicate one. What I mean is that there needs to be a mutual trust and respect between the mentor and mentee, shared understanding of the goals, and commitment to the process. If any of these aspect fail, so are the chances of the whole mentoring process to fail.
Not wanting to sound too grave, I don’t want to end this post by discussion of the risks and challenges of the peer mentoring process, but instead I want to bring out one more aspect of the process. And that’s FUN. I think one key issue for the mentoring process to succeed is the aspect of fun, that is, that the process would feel enjoyable for both the mentee and the mentor. If both are enjoying the process, rather than concentrating on fearing if they are able to fulfill their roles, the chances are that both will benefit from the process.
Last but not least I want to thank Pavi for being a great mentor to us! And also Hany, I really enjoyed our discussions. Together we had a laugh, but also learned something during it. 😉
Colvin, J. & Ashman, M. (2010). Roles, Risks, and Benefits of Peer Mentoring Relationships in Higher Education. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 18(2), 121–134.