Defined as a communication process involving a seasoned professional who counsels, guides, and tutors a protégé (Waldeck et al. 1997), mentoring within the instructional context refers to a teacher–student relationship. In this context, mentoring consists of a communication relationship between teachers and students, where the teacher provides academic, career, and social support to the student. Mentoring often extends beyond academic advising, fulfilling important personal and professional functions for the student. Mentoring provides students with invaluable information on university policies and politics, explicit and implicit rules and regulations, and other faculty in their program of study. In short, effective mentoring relationships promote personal growth as well a professional development for protégés.
Central to the mentored relationship is the personal connection between the teacher and the student. The mentor usually has much to offer the more inexperienced protégé. Having achieved professional success, the mentor provides the protégé with both covert and overt practices to assist him or her in becoming successful (Kalbfleish 2002).
Research on mentoring relationships has identified a range of mentoring functions or mentoring roles. An overview of the literature points to two major functions: career and psychosocial (Clawson 1980). Career functions are more task-oriented and focus on ways the student might advance professionally. Psychosocial functions are more person-centered and focus on enhancing students’ personal growth and sense of identity. Together, both functions assist students in their abilities to adapt to the challenges of their personal and professional lives.
The benefits of mentoring within the academy are numerous (Kogler-Hill et al. 1989). Important to student retention, academic progress, and graduation is student face time with faculty (Ewell 2005). Initiating and sustaining relationships between faculty and students increases the opportunities for face time and subsequent counseling. Mentored students most likely have more face time with faculty. As a result, they are more likely to stay in school and graduate. Mentored protégés tend to secure better jobs, achieve higher incomes (Whitely et al. 1992), gain in self-confidence, empowerment, and self-worth, become more skilled, and are exposed to greater professional networks.
Mentored students typically characterize their relationships with their mentors as “extremely pleasurable, meaningful and productive” (Waldeck et al. 1997, 105). They further perceive their personal relationships with their mentors as “very close, warm, relaxed, and friendly” (1997, 105). In fact, Waldeck et al. found that for graduate student mentoring, the psychosocial function predominates over the career function. Students who developed social, personal ties with their professors also reported their work relationship to be more satisfying.
The effectiveness of the mentor–protégé relationship resides primarily within the communication skills of the participants (Kalbfleisch & Davies 1993; Waldeck et al. 1997). Individuals high in communication competence and self-esteem are more likely or more willing to engage in mentoring relationships (Kalbfleisch & Davies 1993). Correspondingly, these same individuals experience greater levels of satisfaction with the mentored relationship. Conversely, those individuals who may need mentoring the most are less likely to seek mentoring experiences. Waldeck et al. (1997) report, e.g., that students representing minority groups in the United States (e.g., African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans) are noticeably underrepresented in mentored relationships. Moreover, student attempts to initiate mentoring relationships are perceived to be especially difficult. Graduate students, e.g., indicate that their initiating attempts are relatively ineffective, often requiring additional communication strategies and attempts before securing a mentor.
In response to these research findings, more formalized mentoring programs are needed. Faculty could be assigned protégés, reducing the need for either mentor or protégé initiation attempts. Without formal mentoring programs, faculty need to proactively recruit protégés who require academic or social guidance. Whereas much of the mentoring that occurs focuses on the task or career function, students need support and guidance about their personal and social requirements. Face time with students is perhaps the most important mentoring tool that instructors can provide. Interacting with students beyond the classroom opens opportunities for student discussions about those issues that most concern them. Kram (1988) makes similar recommendations in her guides for action for promoting mentoring relationships in organizations.
- Clawson, J. (1980). Mentoring in managerial careers. In C. B. Derr (ed.), Work, family and the career. New York: Praeger, pp. 144 –165.
- Ewell, P. (2005). Student success in state colleges and universities: A matter of culture and leadership. A report of the graduation rate outcomes study. Washington, DC: American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
- Kalbfleisch, P. J. (2002). Communicating in mentoring relationships: A theory for enactment. Communication Theory, 12, 63 – 69.
- Kalbfleisch, P. J., & Davies, A. B. (1993). An interpersonal model for participation in mentoring relationships. Western Journal of Communication, 57, 399 – 415.
- Kogler-Hill, S. E., Bahniuk, M. H., & Dobos, J. (1989). The impact of mentoring and collegial support on faculty success: An analysis of support behavior, information adequacy, and communication apprehension. Communication Education, 38, 15 –31.
- Kram, K. E. (1988). Mentoring at work: Developmental relationships in organizational life. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
- Waldeck, J. H., Orrego, V. O., Plax, T. G., & Kearney, P. (1997). Graduate student/faculty mentoring relationships: Who gets mentored, how it happens, and to what end. Communication Quarterly, 45, 93 –109.
- Whitely, W., Dougherty, T. W., & Dreher, G. F. (1992). Correlates of career-oriented mentoring for early career managers and professionals. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 13, 141–154.
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