Since coming to NIU, I have made use of my research, preparation, and experience in a variety of important but complementary roles. When I arrived here, I took the opportunity to re-invent myself as a teacher, questioning my assumptions not only about pedagogy and the role of the teacher, but also about the expectations my students would bring with them and how I could both accommodate those expectations and build upon them. A strong believer in involvement as a key to successful learning, I strive to engage my students in any way that I can by getting to know their names quickly, giving them active roles in class leadership and discussion, and finding up-to-date, relevant source materials and activities with which to challenge them. As a scholar of digital technologies for teaching, I adapt best practices in the computers and writing field to local needs and contexts, balancing online and face-to-face activities to reach students with a wide range of learning styles and abilities.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CO-MENTORING
I believe in the importance of co-mentoring to enrich our professional and personal lives. By mentoring, I don’t mean the top down hierarchical relationship you might be thinking of, but something more like professional friendship, or mutual aid, where both people have equal standing and equal say. Co-mentors are dedicated to sharing strategies, and most important, mutual advising and support. My enthusiasm for co-mentoring stems from the assumption that I have a lot to learn from everyone I work with, both in my department and online, regardless of how long each of us has been working in our field, which happens to be teaching writing.
About 25 years ago, I was struggling as a graduate student in a large, theory-driven program at a well known west-coast university. As a student interested in teaching writing, I felt alienated from my colleagues in the program, who seemed intent on pursuing the most obscure trends in literary theory they could find. I felt like a misfit, and was close to giving up on the PhD until I attended a national conference and discovered email discussion groups dedicated to teaching writing, and began forming co-mentoring relationships with people all over the world. Soon I found sustenance, nurturing, commiseration, and relief in the kind words of colleagues in similar straights. We complemented online mentoring with face-to-face meetings at conferences, where acceptance and mentoring of new attendees was the rule, not the exception.
As I was co-mentored, so do I now pay it forward by co-mentoring in every way possible: welcoming newcomers at conferences, sending encouraging words by email, helping others troubleshoot problems, and get them involved in new scholarly collaborations.
I’ve kept up relationships online with colleagues all over the country for more than 25 years. What strikes me is the degree to which those relationships have endured and become stronger over the years, because of the consistent pattern of our communication.
Although some of the best ideas come out of solitary thinking, for me, much more of my productivity comes through my interactions with my co-mentors. In recent years, I have discovered that my personal and professional strength has been forged in that trusting, supportive bond that we have formed.
So, I’ve stopped worrying about publishing that next great article or book, the one that will change the world. I’m content to learn and and grow in the glow of my colleagues who make great strides in their careers. It’s all in the collaborations, in the grey area between personal and professional, in the space between individual and shared invention of professional identity. Co-mentoring keeps me close to the source of ideas and inspires me to keep moving and growing as a reflective practitioner.