Monday, 3 July 2017

A personal approach to mentoring

Looking for me?
Independence can be an obstacle to effective mentoring. From a personal point of view I'm happy to go away and look up an answer myself if I'm struggling. That's perfect if it is a fact based problem but what if it is more empathic or personal? Allowing yourself to develop your soft skills through discussion is actually a skill in and of itself. Asking for mentoring assistance can be tricky and requires an exchange of trust. 

Seizing opportunities

This has been reinforced to me recently through a chance encounter with a young gentleman. He is 10 years old and his parents needed a native English speaker as a tutor. I've never taught, so applied citing a degree in English and a wide range of interests, with no real expectation of getting the job. They were delighted to give me a chance and to see what we would cover. As a result of my tutoring inexperience, a determination not let him down, and my own high standards, I prepare carefully for each weekly session. And so far, both parties have been satisfied. It turns out librarians make excellent tutors; and enthusiastic bright children enjoy telling stories using their new vocabulary. 

As I enter into this new library role, one of the first tasks I've taken on is liasing with a work experience student. She has aspirations of becoming a researcher/writer, and my boss thought she might benefit from my experience. In the past I may have shied away, but I have seen the benefits of having a regular structured meeting with someone who can take my knowledge and apply it in their own life, studies, or whatever. My tutoring experience has also clarified a few issues for me, especially as to how I'm going to approach mentoring.

Something measurable

I appreciate tutoring a 10 year old is slightly different from mentoring a university student. But there are some similarities. They both have something they want to achieve; they require regular guidance and review and most importantly, someone to bounce ideas off. There is also a large element of trust. Part of my previous unwillingness to ask for mentoring stems from the fact that finding the right person is difficult. 

Often you need to be able to ask really basic questions without fear, without feeling that you're going to be undermined. You will make mistakes and be able to discuss how you can do things more effectively. Often human resource departments are involved with mentoring and they can have a conflict of interests. Hence the concept of matchmaking for mentors, and outsiders often make a better mentor! 

Mentoring and work experience are two way processes; both parties should benefit. Therefore the first step is to ascertain what the company expects from her. And conversely, what expectations she has. Whether it is a number of reports/investigations to get her thinking about the research and writing procedure, or a regularly updated personal blog, the outcome has to be something measurable. She will need to have something to show the university or future employer.

We will do it our way

My approach is goal driven. I work well when I have something to aim for and coming away from a meeting with a to-do list of achievables is satisfying. Everyone works in different ways so when I sit down and talk with her, I will get a sense of her approach. My young 'tutee' is ideas driven, for instance, with a simple prompt of 6 new words, he weaves together an original story. But I always have a goal for every piece of work. Once we have critiqued it, he is left with an enthusiam for new words, and I can identify knowledge gaps for future lessons. Win-win and fun-fun.

In my student's case we will discuss our goals and discuss what we want to do in our weekly meetings. A schedule is essential to get the best out of a short summer placement. We can look at samples and templates, go through approaches to research, and think about freely available business information sources. Given the focus on writing, we can work on style, audience, tone and so on. But above all I want to make it into an exchange where she shares her ideas and enthusiasm with me, and she can make use of my varied experience and knowledge. 

As part of this development, it occurred to me that I might benefit from some mentoring. I've been out of the the library and information world for a short while, and have been fortunate to have rejoined in the best way possible. My team is made up of professionals with different approaches and I have much to gain from them. I hope that they can utilise my ebullience and enthusiasm and we make our service even better. Taking that first step with people you can trust is the perfect start to real mentoring.  

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