Gamze Güven Yalçın, Yıldırım Beyazıt University, Ankara, Turkey
Güven Yalçın, G. (2018). Reflecting on successful elements of a mentoring session. Relay Journal 1(2), 296-309.
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Context and Background
This one-to-one advising session was held as the final part of a six-week course; the final one in the Learning Advisor Training Programme offered by Kanda University of International Studies. Each of the four courses comprised weekly assignments and written final papers which helped novice advisors to read, practise and reflect on the basics, tools and field studies related to advising. Course 1 was completed in Japan and the subsequent three courses were completed online and supported by real time sessions with the instructors.
This paper contains the reflections of a novice learning advisor mentor who helps other advisors grow and develop, while establishing a process of mentoring herself in the way to becoming an expert advisor. The mentor conducted an Intentional Reflective Dialogue (IRD) (Kato, 2012), which was based on three principles of advising to practise fundamental advising strategies. According to Kato & Mynard (2016), the most useful advising strategies for the advisee to reflect more deeply include repeating, mirroring, restating, summarising, complimenting, giving positive feedback, empathising, metaviewing-linking, metaphor, intuiting, asking powerful questions, challenging, confronting, sharing, accountability and silence (Kato & Mynard, 2016, p. 46). Using a visual aid like a photograph, an image or a collage during an advising session helps to identify the important events and the feelings attached to those events and perhaps discover the unconscious mental state. Kato (2017) used an effective approach of drawing the Picture of Life (PL) in the first mentoring session with a group of experienced advisors and suggested that the PL acitivity supported the mentees to gain new perspectives in their both professional and personal lives. Drawing a PL helps the advisee/mentee as a learner to reflect and be aware of her autonomy and have full ownership of her learning. The core of advising in language learning concerns “learner reflection as a crucial aspect in learner development” (Yamamoto, 2018, p. 108). In this respect, reflection could be assumed a vital means of the development of a language instructor and a learning advisor with one being the main facilitator in the self-directed learning environment. Therefore, reflections of the advisee/mentee both during and post mentoring session were used to investigate the effects of conducting the PL tool to promote learner/teacher autonomy.
Pia, the advisee/mentee, became interested in the idea of advising since the day I, as a colleague, shared my feelings about my training to be a learning advisor. She reshaped her interest in academic studies towards a new path to also becoming an advisor. Therefore, in time we happened to develop a relationship where I, as a colleague who was on the way to transforming from being a language instructor to being a learning advisor and finally a mentor, was enriching her mind with my both theoretical perspectives and practical experiences of advising. In addition, I was enjoying learning from Pia’s academic contributions as she was focusing on the core ideas of advising and learner autonomy in her Master’s study. We complemented each other as one provided the academic side of the relationship, and the other had more hands-on practice and shared reflections. We were in the habit of exchanging our reflections on our readings and sessions before the mentoring began. Therefore, the mentoring session being a “first” in our relationship was a matter of great excitement and wonder for both parties.
Below are Pia’s reflections on our first session:
“I still remember the first time when Gamze offered me to have a session together. I was very “very” excited and precisely sure that those hours would be golden. As we all know, we have little chance to experience such unforgettable moments in our life journey that’s why my heart was hit with excitement when I heard her offer.”
“The session took more than an hour, yet I thought it took ten minutes, unfortunately priceless things come to an end. Normally I could be distracted due to the length of the time however I tried not to even blink my eyes because the atmosphere was glamorous. The very valuable sentences were flying in the air I was madly endeavoring to write each word in my soul.”
Challenges and Rewards of the Session
Yamashita and Mynard (2015) suggest that dialogue, like a living being, is always in motion, and “each person’s utterances represent that person’s voice including the way they think, their beliefs and values” (Yamashita & Mynard, 2015, p. 3). As for the idea of “being in motion”, what I experienced within my session with Pia was a perfectly dynamic exchange of not only words, but also tone of voice, mood, ideas and perspectives of both sides who are not far from each other in terms of personality, experience in teaching, world view and manners in society. Considering my relationship with Pia as a close friend and colleague where we are inspired by one another and already have a mutual learning relationship, building rapport and trust was like an effortless dance for me as an advisor/mentor conducting my first session. In fact, what was challenging for me throughout the session was to follow my route of engaging with her in deeper reflections and activating the intentional reflective dialogue (IRD) (Kato, 2012), for example by asking well-timed questions instead of going with the flow and interacting more like a daily conversation that we are more used to having together.
One advising strategy of mirroring which is defined as adopting the same posture, pace of speaking and tone of voice enhances bonding (Kato & Mynard, 2016, p. 47). In that respect, the consequence of mirroring is becoming “one”, and when we have a session with somebody we adore, it falls into place without any issues for us. When we normally mirror each other, we don’t just tune in with our ears, we tune in with our whole body. We are totally available to that person. That sort of high level of rapport and trust could be the most rewarding aspect of an ideal session that encourages interaction, collaboration, and reflection. As these are the key aspects for the creation of a supportive environment in which both mentees and mentors can participate in an open and honest discussion about effective teaching, thus have a mutual learning.
Below are Pia’s reflections which refer to the aspects of that supportive environment within our session:
“I was feeling very comfortable because Gamze was very humble. Although she is one of the gorgeous advisors I have ever seen, she behaved as if she was the mentee. I have always believed that the real intention of the sentences can be presumed from speaker’s eyes, her eyes were full of energy, reality and sincerity.”
“As we continued our conversation I was positively affected by her intonation. She has an excellent virtue that I do not have, she definitely knows where to listen and where to speak.”
Pia’s session reflection confirms that traits such as supportiveness, trustworthiness, and non-confrontational styles are important. Kissau and King (2015) describe effective mentors as people who are able to share their feedback in a nonjudgemental manner.
Perfect Combination: Principles, Tools and Strategies
Most learning advisors/mentors usually have self-reflective conversations regarding advising with colleagues. As the advisor/mentor, I wanted to conduct a reflective dialogue which was intentionally structured for training purposes in order to result in both the advisor/mentor and the advisee/mentee being engaged in a different type of self-reflective approach via drawing a picture of each one’s life.
As for the three principles of advising, Kato and Mynard (2016) suggest that focusing on the learner, keeping an open mind, and taking a neutral position are the key aspects to having the best session for both the advisee and the advisor (Kato & Mynard, 2016). In short, it’s the advisor’s job to support learners in most appropriate way while respecting their choices and help them to gain awareness about their own unique way(s) of learning, by challenging their previous assumptions.
In the initial stages of any relationship of my life I have a motto of “giving before requesting” to build trust in the beginning. This refers to providing the other person with some personal information about myself before asking about him/her. By doing so, I feel as if I create a private space for our relationship where I start sharing something personal like my viewpoint, values, and preferences, then invite the other person to engage and share something as well. As Goffman (1959) writes “this kind of control upon the part of the individual reinstates the symmetry of the communication process, and sets the stage for a kind of information game – a potentially infinite cycle of concealment, discovery, false revelation, and rediscovery” (Goffman, 1959, p. 8). This way the conversation starts with me, but as soon as the other person feels comfortable enough to engage, the control shifts from me to the other person. In the end we find ourselves in a flexible and relaxed atmosphere where we are able to share aspects of our academic lives in order to grow as professionals. When I started the session with Pia with my PL before listening to hers, I was able to create a safe space for both of us to engage however we wanted. Thus, drawing on advising strategies and principles in a mentoring relationship, I was successful at focusing on the learner which is the first principle of advising.
When it comes to the tool of this combination, according to constructivist learning theory (Hein, 1991), learning doesn’t refer to understanding the “genuine” idea of things, nor is it recollecting (referring to Plato’s suggestion) apparent flawless thoughts, yet rather an individual and social development of importance out of the frustrating group of sensations which have no structure other than the clarifications which we provide for them (Hein, 1991). Therefore, the life story of a person is not only concerned with the facts and life events, but rather how the person internally constructs and reconstructs those facts and life events. This account grows a type of character, where the things this individual incorporates into the story, and how she lets it know, can both reflect and shape who she is (Beck, 2015). As Kato and Mynard (2016) have pointed out, reflection enhances learner and advisor development and when reflecting, they examine their own values and beliefs (Kato & Mynard, 2016, p. 31). In other words, telling, or in our case reflecting on our lifestory, is a way of making sense of the world around us, and its connection with ourselves as learners within our different selves, i.e. a mother, sister, wife, friend, colleague or a guide for other learners. Reflecting on this connection helps us realise our stance and spot any issues, if any, and find our own alternative solutions for those issues.
One approach to promoting the dialogue between a storyteller and a listener to explore the storyteller’s unconscious mental state is based within the concept of drawing a PL (Kato, 2017). The PL creates a space for the advisee/mentee to revisit important events and/or aspects of one’s life and knead them with their own answers to the reflective questions that the advisor/mentor asks in order for the advisee/mentee to reconsider them with a different perspective. By referring to Pia’s PL (Figure 1), I was to elaborate on some critical moments in Pia’s life by using advising strategies like repeating, summarizing, empathising, complimenting, intuiting, asking powerful questions, metaviewing, and linking by Kato and Mynard (2016).
Here’s an extract from the dialogue as an example of how I used advising strategies by Kato and Mynard (2016) to facilitate a realisation.
Gamze (Mentor): I know you love trees and talk to them, but I wonder how you’ll intrepret your picture.
Pia (Mentee): I imagine a giant tree, a really huge one.. one of the ones that are centuries old.
Gamze (Mentor): Aa Pia.. look at how you’re drawing it in such a meticulous way.. I have had goose bumps.. That’s really impressive. (Complimenting)
Pia (Mentee): And it should be near some water.. The tree could be a plain tree or a willow tree, it has big branches that have loads of green leaves. And it IS magnificent.
Gamze (Mentor): I can see that you are really fond of trees, but do you think being fond of trees is the same thing with imagining yourself as a tree in the Picture of your life? (Powerful question)
Pia (Mentee): (pauses a while) a.. being tree, you mean?It’s different.
Gamze (Mentor): Different? (Repeating)
Pia (Mentee): They are living things, but they are different types of living things, different from how we know them, I mean.. It feels like they live in another dimension of life.
Gamze (Mentor): I feel you’ve attached some aspects to that tree. (Intuiting)
Pia (Mentee): Yes..
Gamze (Mentor): What aspects have you attached to it, Pia?
Pia (Mentee): I’ve attached abundance ..and .. strength and power ..
Gamze (Mentor): Yes, you said it was magnificent, didn’t you? (Linking)
Pia (Mentee): Everybody has some hard times in their lives. They are like milestones of our lives. Everyone has some wounds .. that they bandage themselves.. You know why? They’re so special, that’s why..
Gamze (Mentor): You mean they avoid sharing with others (Restating).
Pia (Mentee): Definitely, they avoid sharing with the people around. It’s the fact that even at those times I’m able to stand up, so when I think about my past life, I feel myself like a big tree with strong roots. Standing up. . and I feel myself like a tree, standing up, even if I live something really difficult to cope with.
Gamze (Mentor): Wow, you are so aware of your strength, Pia. (Positive feedback)
Pia (Mentee): (pauses) I don’t know. Am I aware of it really?
Gamze (Mentor): Do you think you are NOT aware? Don’t you think so?
Pia (Mentee): Well, It’s just like a cliche of a song we hear a lot: “I will survive!” (laughing together)
Pia (Mentee): I TALK to them really.
Gamze (Mentor): It seems as if you get some strength from those trees, do you? (Intuiting)
Pia (Mentee): Yes, you are right.
And strategies may well be seen between those lines below to support the advisee/mentee to have a realisation:
Pia (Mentee): Some people hide their crying from others. For them, it shows their weakness. But I don’t care people see me crying. It’s a natural process. I may as well cry whenever I need to, just as I may as well stand up whenever I can.
Gamze (Mentor): You don’t hide any phases of this process, you mean. (Restating)
Pia (Mentee): No, I don’t. You are right.
Gamze (Mentor): You mean, You are like a tree not only as naked and obvious, but also as strong and standing all times as one. (Summarising)
Pia (Mentee): Definitely.
Gamze (Mentor): Perfectly impressive. (Complimenting)
Pia (Mentee): Do you think so?
Gamze (Mentor): No doubt at all. You really mean to be a tree! Don’t you realise it?
Pia (Mentee): I think yes, I do.
Gamze (Mentor): And it is an old one. It has been there for centuries, and will do so more centuries. It is the symbol of continuance. (Metaviewing)
Pia (Mentee): Oh yes.. (sparkles in her eyes)
Gamze (Mentor): And you’re also saying everybody will become a tree one day. It’s like nothing will be left, but trees. It’s like becoming one body with the nature. What kind of an awareness of is this?! Wow! This means you know your strength really well, Pia. (Complimenting)
Pia (Mentee): I think everybody is strong. I mean each and every one has their strengths. But how can I explain it: Some people cannot be aware of their strengths. Or maybe they aren’t correctly guided to be aware of that strength.
Gamze (Mentor): Hmm.. What do you think you are doing about that?
Pia (Mentee): Families dont ..
Gamze (Mentor): Do you think you guide people to raise their awareness about their own strengths? (Powerful question)
Pia (Mentee): Of course I do.. (pauses).. For example my sons, Mia and Gia, and of course my students. I’m trying to create a naive kind of relationship with my students. For example, I reached each and every one of my students whom I knew had problems in the following periods even if they were not in my class and I helped them, shared my resources, guided them for the proficiency exam. Not every instructor does this, I reckon.
Gamze (Mentor): No, of course not.
Pia (Mentee): I don’t even have to do it.. But I personally think I need to do it.
Pia (Mentee): But instead of helping my students academically, I may choose to give a sensory hand.
Gamze (Mentor): Don’t you think it’s helpful to help them sensorially?
Pia (Mentee): No, it is. It’s the key to help a student. If you can make them trust you, then you can teach them whatever necessary. My dad used to say “everybody can teach maths, physics and languages, but not everybody can teach students to be a human.”
Gamze (Mentor): Ohh.. dads know what to tell, don’t they?!
Pia (Mentee): Yeah, Can I teach them to love the nature, to be trustworthy or to be fair? (Started asking questions to herself)
Gamze (Mentor): Do you think you can teach these things to your students? (Restating question)
Pia (Mentee): I can reach some of them, but not all. I’m sure everyone has a way to be reached. Everyone is precious, but we have load of students and limited time.
The last question that Pia asked was for herself and I restated it for her as it was the first time that Pia started asking critical questions, which indicated self-reflection. The process of self-reflection is beneficial as it offers opportunities for a deeper learning. Okuda and Fukada (2014) thought that “the sharing of beliefs with others can subsequently result in these beliefs being converted into something of one’s own; these beliefs are the results of one’s own actions arising from one’s own experiences, and, as a useful tool for directing attitudes and actions, they lead to the discovery of value” (Okuda & Fukada, 2014, p. 21). In this respect, when it comes to self-reflecting within a dialogue with others, it helps to change one’s attributions and beliefs, which serves a further development. Therefore, I, as a mentor, was on the way to reach my ultimate goal which was to help the mentee self-reflect deeply and creatively and explore her unique way(s) of guiding others, while doing the same for myself, if I could. This development of gaining self-awarenes was initiated by Pia asking critical questions to herself, and this meant she was on the verge of making unexpected discoveries.
Below were the moments of her realisation within our story:
Pia (Mentee): I sometimes feel I run out of my energy while helping out everyone, my kids, my husband, my students, my mom, my friends, my colleagues..
Gamze (Mentor): Do you feel exhausted you mean? (Restating)
Pia (Mentee): Yeah..
Gamze (Mentor): Then, have you thought about your sources as a tree? Where do you think you can refill your energy?
Pia (Mentee): My sources as a tree?
Gamze (Mentor): Yeah, how about drawing the roots of this tree, Pia? What are your roots as a tree? Who / what do you get fed from?
Pia (Mentee): Aa (pauses a long while) .. I feel refilled when I listen to birds songs.
Gamze (Mentor): Birds songs? How do they feed you? What do they do to you?
Pia (Mentee): I feel refreshed as soon as I hear them.
Gamze (Mentor): When and where do you hear them?
Pia (Mentee): Anytime I feel bad.. When stuck in traffic for example..
Gamze (Mentor): Whenever you feel bad?(Repeating)
Pia (Mentee): Yeah, a bird comes near my car, and it starts talking to me and I forget about the bad moment I’m in. I know I sound weird..
Gamze (Mentor): No, not at all!! Any other sources you have?
Pia (Mentee): My friends, my family, my beloved ones ..
Gamze (Mentor): But you said they take your energy away, when you listen to their problems and help. (metaviewing)
Pia (Mentee): But they help me refill as well.
Gamze (Mentor): You mean, your branches and fruits or the people who get benefit from you could feed you as well, like your roots. (Restating)
Pia (Mentee): yes..
Gamze (Mentor): That Show how flexible you are as a learner considering anyone as your branch / fruit that you help or your root that you get help from. (Complimenting) This means your circle of energy never ends indeed, eh?
Pia (Mentee): Yeah, I think so..
Gamze (Mentor): What if you cannot find someone to talk to some day? What if you run out of your friends on a bad day of your? (“What if” question)
Pia (Mentee): No, never.. they never end.. my friends never end.. also I get fed from water..When I feel bad, it’s like a therapy for me..
Gamze (Mentor): All your roots are not things to have an end. They are not inexhaustable. Doesn’t this prove the magnificence of your tree? (Restating/metaviewing)
Pia (Mentee): It does, I guess.
Gamze (Mentor): Whenever you are exhausted, you can refill your energy with the help of an inexhaustable source of yours. Wow! This is really magnificent, just like how you described your tree in the beginning. This never-ending energy of yours stems from this reality, and you are generously spending that energy for your students even when you don’t have to, but you think you need to. (Summarising / metaviewing)
Pia looked as if she accidentally hit upon something vital at that moment of the dialogue, which was the turning point of the session. Her reflections below on our session are some kind of a confirmation of that turning point as well, I reckon:
I think the “very” most important step to be a fruitful instructor starts with having a healthy mind. By means of this fabulous session, I, myself, could see how I might underestimate the features that compose me. Obviously, the tree will have healthier mind thanks to her and this will pave the way to have high quality of fruit.
On her way to being an advisor, Pia was more than enthusiastic about our first session together. As Schön (1983) suggested “When someone reflects in action, he becomes a researcher in the practice context. He is not dependent on the categories of established theory and technique, but constructs a new theory of the unique case” (Schön, 1983, p. 68). Therefore, her reflections-in-action and reactions during the session were open-minded and indicated a change in perspective. However, when she realised that my positive feedback was no more than what she told me about herself, she truly believed that she herself was the sole source of her own wisdom.
A successful moment in the mentoring session for Pia was when she realised that she herself was the source of an idea that would guide future action. As she reflected on her career in a general way, she found her strengths and sources of wisdom, confirmed how effectively she could provide guidance, and developed confidence based on what she had already achieved. During the process, she gained awareness and took full control of her future actions. As her mentor who shared Pia’s experiences and supported her in finding her own unique ways and sources of guidance, I also realised ways of mentoring by focusing on a mentee’s own sources as a mentor, as well.
Within this realisation phase, the PL tool being a tool of interaction with both the mentor and the mentee’s stories weaving together, helped both parties create a strong foundation by building confidence and developing as guides in their own ways.
The process of developing a deeper awareness of advising for me initally in my training was when I asked my mentor about the “source” of wisdom in advising. Her answer was “Learners are the sources of advisors.” This idea created my path as an advisor very clearly. And if we adapt this belief to a mentor-mentee relationship, within the ideal mentoring context, a mentee accepts the mentor as a source, and in the same way the mentor believes that the mentee is the source, which creates a mutual learning trust and can be accepted as the ideal mentoring relationship.
This work was supported by the Scientific Research Fund (BAP) at Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University, Turkey, as part of Project 3934 in the 2017-2018 academic year.
Notes on the contributor
Gamze Guven Yalcin is an English Instructor and a Learning Advisor / Advisor Mentor at Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University, School of Foreign Languages. She holds her bachelor degree in English Language and Literature. She is a certified live online trainer. Her research interests are Advising in Language Learning, Blended Learning, gamification and a/sycnhronous online teaching.
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