Feedback from students, alumni & mentors
Survey – Mentoring Experiences of Students in NAIP and Mentors Reflections
The working group decided to gather information about the place of mentoring in the participating institutions, and to receive feedback from students about their experience of mentoring and from mentors of their definition of good mentoring.
In January 2018 an online-survey was conducted concerning the experiences on mentoring of NAIP students and graduates. The survey was sent out by email and was addressed to 70 second year students and graduates. There were 27 responses, by both alumni and students.
The students were asked about their experience of mentoring, what worked well, what could have gone better, which changes they would suggest to make it more effective. They were asked about the role of the mentor, as well as given opportunity to provide any further feedback.
The feedback received from students provided insight and shaped the group’s discussions, choice of topics and the direction taken with regard to the group’s output. It raised the importance of ethical discussions as well as being clear about what mentoring is or is not.
To collect some feedback from mentors we asked some mentors from the working group to reflect on what mentoring means to them, how they define quality in mentoring and the institutional support needed for mentoring to make mentoring meaningful. They were also asked about the relationship between different areas of mentoring in their practice and on ethical issues. Their answers provide a rich insight and manifold perceptions of mentoring and are left unedited at the end of this chapter.
Feedback from Students
The general feedback was positive and seemed to give good ground for the need of mentoring with in a programme like the NAIP, that focuses on each student’s development and individual pathway through the studies: “It was a wonderful experience. I believe this really is the future of education. Respect and equilibrium between two humans one of whom is willing to help in wherever is needed.” It was also apparent that some students valued the holistic nature of mentoring: “Mentoring was very central for me in this study which made it different than any other programme could offer. Mentoring was the only subject I found in the general high education nowadays that is not about skills but about people“.
The Halo effect is a well known phenomenon in education and much has been written about the positive light in which students tend to see their “master” teacher. Many of the mentees’ answers were of this nature and they tended to give a very positive description of their mentor. Some simply stated that they “liked” their mentors or that they “were great” or “wise”, while others gave a detailed description of how “dedicated” their mentor was, had a “huge and positive influence” on them, or “ an open, non-judgemental attitude”. While it is encouraging to read the positive student comments it is important to keep in mind that a certain positive bias is to be expected.
Some answers indicated how the mentoring sessions supported student autonomy: “The mentor advised us without imposing his ideas, but rather allowing us to explore our own and take initiatives.” A coaching style seemed to be apparent when a student described how “conversations worked as a mirror” and helped him organise his thoughts.
When looking at the mentee’s feedback three main themes could be identified: Frame, content and approaches.
The one to one setting was seen to provide individual, personal attention and as ideal for coaching: “I liked the personal approach of my mentor who really took an interest in each of our projects and encouraged us to go further and try new things”.
Feedback was appreciated and useful in individual as well as group settings, as well as the continuous follow-up on the mentee's progress: “I felt that my mentor was very dedicated to all his students, which is very important and that I could rely on him for any problems”.
Regularity was seen a beneficial for those who did see their mentor on a regular basis but at the same time irregularity was often criticised. Students appreciated their mentors’ availability and flexibility in times and content. “I had a very regular schedule with my mentor which keeps me active in thinking”.
Time and time-structure were recurring themes. Although flexibility was appreciated by some, others expressed a need for “more frequent and more systematic” mentoring sessions. They felt that mentoring should be added to the schedule like a regular class as it was “just as important (maybe even more) as other classes”. Others felt they needed “less hours of mentoring, I don't feel the need to analyse everything I do.”
Students felt that they needed more clarity about what was expected of them with regard to mentoring. They seemed to be confused about the objectives and purpose of the mentoring. Practical discussions about structural problems sometimes seemed to be part of the sessions, taking up valuable time that should have been reserved for mentoring: “Practical business consumed a lot of reflective time”.
Some indicated that a “clear timeline for every session” in group settings as well as for individual mentoring would be beneficial: “Perhaps make a clear path for progress and goals during the year, with regular reassessments.” They also felt that there could be more focus in the discussions. The students suggested that feedback about the mentoring could take place as part of the process. This would allow a dialogue about expectations, and clarity about who is in charge of setting up meetings. An important part of this dialogue would be to discuss the balance between freedom and flexibility, versus structure and follow-up.
The mentoring sessions provided space to articulate and express oneself, for reflection, philosophical thoughts and discussions. Mentees liked “being challenged in new directions” and the sessions provided stimulation and support in individual problem solving. They received support in research matters, as well as various tips, tricks, advice and ideas. Mentoring seemed to be a facilitation of possibilities, it provided a network, encouraged participation and connections. The mentoring sessions gave support in finding and “exploring one’s core”. The mentees felt it was useful to have deadlines set by – or rather with – the mentor and they appreciated the possibility to change mentors when needed.
There seemed to be a variety of topics that were discussed during the sessions. The mentoring approach was usually flexible, integrating both the artistic, personal and professional development of the mentee: “Through the discussion with my mentor around many subjects, I could reach a much deeper view on music and musician as an occupation”. One mentee identified how the mentor encouraged “finding reasons on why I feel how I feel”, while another felt that “more openness could be offered in understanding what the student wants to do and needs to develop”.
An important part of the mentoring process was also connecting the students with the professional field, in order to “connect with other people to be able to grow in their innovative ideas”.
Mentoring provided the students with the ability to see the big picture, set goals and plans for the future:
“Mentor should be able to show you where you are and what you're doing and also give you a perspective of where you're heading to. My mentor was fine in giving good advice and help, sometimes in understanding my needs and in helping me clearing up a way for the future”.
However, the students sometimes also needed support to identify clear tasks and appreciated help with planning, “shutting some doors rather than leaving everything possible and changing artistic direction too often, more small task deadlines”. They also found support in finding collaborators through their mentoring sessions: “Connecting to other people who may be doing similar things”.
The mentees described a certain attitude of the mentor. This included understanding of the students’ needs, trust, encouragement, providing a safe and open space.
However, they also had ideas for improvements or suggestions for a different approach.
It is important that the mentors keep in mind that the students have never participated in mentoring before and therefore need an introduction to the practice: “I wish mentors took more time and mental space to communicate and be very clear about what they and the programme can offer, as well as what is expected from the student”.
One student’s response shows us how important it is to maintain and respect the trust that is established in the mentor-mentee relationship: “The NAIP gives the students much freedom, but occasionally that freedom is taken away suddenly and without apparent reason. Feeling like your mentors don’t trust you is very disempowering”. A key aspect to maintaining the trust is an awareness of the balance of power, and the mentor’s role in other capacities toward the student (for example assessor or programme director).
The mentees seemed to appreciate when the mentor took a facilitating approach, leaving the responsibility in the hands of the students, staying “on the sideline, but still being supportive and encouraging during projects”. They valued when the mentor was “clear on which aspects are the responsibility/ownership of student within a project”.
Looking at the answers from the survey, the recurring themes seem to be related to clarification about timeframe, structure, content and approach. This gives a very strong foundation for the importance of contracting in the beginning of every mentoring period. This allows for both clarity and structure, as well as flexibility and allowing the student to influence the process.
Contracting is where the needs of the mentee, boundaries and ethical issues are discussed, the mentor and mentee set the frame and timeline and co-construct the purpose and goal of the mentoring. This is also an opportunity to have dialogue about the content of the mentoring.
The contracting process needs careful consideration in the course structure. This is especially important with regard to defining the learning outcomes. They should identify the most important aspects of the students’ learning, but at the same time be open enough for the contracting dialogue to take place. This means that the learning outcomes will not be able to identify all aspects of the learning which takes place through the feedback received, relating to everything from very skill-specific and knowledge based to personal.
Feedback from Mentors
Following are some Mentors reflections and conversations on the topic of the working group dealing with questions that have risen during the work.
* What does mentoring mean to you?
Siggi: Mentoring is a relationship between two professional practitioners aimed for the personal and professional growth of members of the relationship. It can be a relationship with a clear timeframe - formally established - or it can be continuous without a designated end-point (non-formal). It can be between two or more individuals that are in a different place within their careers, where the elder or more experienced is primarily in the role of the listener or the "sounding board", which might be a formally established mentor/mentee situation.
It can also be peers who have different experiences that can be shared to the benefit of the others through conversation. Mentoring involves the use of open questions for the participants to answer or reflect on, rather than instructions or advice. Problem-solving in a mentor/mentee relationship should ideally be in the hands (or brain) of the one dealing with the problem, with the support of the mentor or peers in a mentoring session through open conversation and sharing of ideas. The mentor relationship depends on empathetic approach and needs to be built on genuine trust, where the mentor is never in the position of judging the mentee, and it is preferably not competitive.
Alexander: Mentoring is about facilitating a process where the artist in question is supported to identify the questions and objectives most urgent to their development.
This is not about me knowing more than them, about where or how they need to develop, but very much about encouraging them to see themselves and their work in its current state. It is about supporting them to see and listen to themselves, their needs and desires, as well as the needs and desires of their work.
Then – we ask – who and what can support you in getting closer to those objectives? What needs to be done, and who should it be done in collaboration with (or with the support of)?
Ulrika: Mentoring is a meeting arena for a mentee and a mentor in a creative process for developing artistic independence and integrity within the mentees professional qualities.
Renee: For me mentoring stands at the core of education. It’s creating space for reflection, orientation, awareness and motivation in a way that leaves the agenda with the student. I find it the most rewarding part in my practice as teacher but also the most difficult.
Detta: The first thing that comes to my mind, is people the people that I have worked with as a mentor and as a mentee. Also the people that have in one way or another, been mentors to me throughout my life. This includes music teachers- I was blessed with exceptional instrumental teachers who took into account my whole being and life in their teaching and who, I see now, encouraged me to make connections between my early musical experiences and my life as a whole, and the wider world! It also includes my old English literature teacher in 6th form college, who I remember as someone who challenged and provoked me, asked me questions, as well as inspired me and encouraged me to find my own answers to my questions. As I’m writing this now, I see that these early experiences of mentoring, (although I didn’t think of them as mentoring at that time and they certainly were very informal mentors) embodied the qualities that mentoring means to me now - meaning that the mentoring relationship for me is about support and challenge, encouragement, questioning, allowing the whole person into the space, making connections and finding new insights and our own answers to the questions and issues in our lives.
Natasha: Yes, I like your point about mentoring relationships and that they can be a space for support and challenge, encouragement and questioning... and most importantly about finding our own answers. I think this is something I found in many of the mentoring relationships I’ve had throughout my life. Most of these were very informal and were alongside other roles (teacher, coach, supervisor, etc). I feel that each of them, in different ways, supported me in finding my own answers, so the time we spent together felt very shared, but also very much something that I could own... I suppose this is different to other experiences I have had with teachers sharing their work, learning or experience, or in collaborative settings where you are making something together. In some of these mentoring relationships there was a feeling that we were equals, but also a wonderful sense of having someone there to support me in doing my own best thinking, work and connecting. This quality in these relationships was vital, and at key moments in my life these mentors had a profound impact on how I made decisions and felt able to meet challenge with resilience and readiness. One of them was a cello teacher I had while doing my master’s degree. As you mention Det, beyond the teaching relationship I felt very much that we had a mentoring relationship, which allowed for the whole person. I could bring worries about bigger issues and concerns outside of the repertoire we were working on, and in the end she helped me to make some big decisions about whether to carry on in music or not and how to find my own unique way forward in this! Maybe one of the most important things she offered me was a space to voice what I was feeling and experiencing, and to consider and think through issues in a safe and supportive space. This was at a time when I felt a considerable amount of outside pressure to act according to one plan or another, to think and behave in one way or another - and at the time what was more valuable than anything was feeling that I had a place which allowed for a bit of the messiness and cloudiness, with a person who was willing to patiently be with me or be alongside me as I figured out how to self-navigate my way forward. I think this is something I have thought about since beginning to mentor others more formally - this quality of allowing someone to find their own answers, and to be a whole person.
* What qualities are essential for you to be a successful mentor?
Alexander: The mentor is there to learn too, but through the work and questions of the other. The mentor and the mentee become a hive mind centred on the work of the mentee. So the mentor needs all of the qualities that any learner needs:
The ability to listen, invest in empathy, trust, passion, hope, curiosity, a willingness to fail, a willingness to be wrong, an ability to give value to small victories, an ability to find the potential in everything, a willingness to organise around priorities and exclude everything that is not urgent, an ability to enjoy confusion and the yet to be understood, a willingness to ask stupid and obvious questions, a willingness to avoid giving answers...
To be a good listener
To be encouraging
To be empathetic
To be respective
To be optimistic but able to support the mentee in being constructively self-critical
To be able to help drawing together fragmented thoughts and see the big picture
Detta: Listening: Developing a quality of listening that allows you to be aware of yourself and your own thoughts and also to be able to put them to one side wherever possible and to listen at a deep level to the person you are working with. This is something that I think about in every mentoring session. How can I be present with this person and give them my full attention?
Natasha: Yes! Listening!! Jenny Rogers describes 3 levels of listening in her book Coaching Skills, derived from a psychotherapy text. I like how she distinguishes different modes of listening - one of listening to primarily what is being said, a second level in which we are in rapport and moving seamlessly in a concentrated conversation, listening for meaning and underlying movement within the conversation. And the third level she describes as ‘radio-field listening’, which I love. It has to do with being completely tuned in not just to what is said and what is meant, but to the emotion, risks and choices within a conversation and the bigger of the conversation with
the mentoring relationship. This is something I think about frequently and often when I feel I haven’t done my ‘best’ mentoring I think it can be traced back to the quality of listening I was able to offer in a session.
Detta: Connection and respect: Developing a sense of connection with the person you are working with, a sense of meeting and sharing, person to person. In coaching practice this is often referred to as rapport - meeting people where they are at, and finding your way to connect with them. For me, this can feel very easy with some people and much harder with others. How do I find that sense of connection with people who are quite different to me? Meeting people with a sense of respect and curiosity helps me to do this. ‘Unconditional positive regard’ - bringing this quality to each person you work with - that I bring a sense of positivity, respect, belief and compassion to that person.
Natasha: Yes this connects for me to non-judgement -- finding a way to meet someone where they are, and a key tool in this being a rigorous approach to unearthing our own assumptions and judgements. Some of these are so hidden or so much of a part of us that they are hard to see. A key support for me in my own mentoring in addressing some of these has been time with a supervisor, peer coach or friend. And particularly our conversations Det! Often through discussing why it is difficult to connect with a particular mentee I find that the block is something I wasn’t able to see myself, but something that once uncovered has made the work much more fluid and easy. And as you say below - I think this all connects to curiosity. How to be interested in finding out more about our own selves and about others in the process of mentoring. How to genuinely let curiosity and finding something new guide the work.
Detta: Curiosity: This is so important to me as it helps me to listen deeply, and to develop a sense of connection. It also helps me to offer questions to the mentee that might help them to think differently or see something in a different light. Staying with a questions frame of mind on - I have to remind myself of this many times in a mentoring/coaching session - to use open questions to find out more, and to not assume I know what the other person is thinking or feeling. Questions and curiosity also help me to offer challenge to the people I work with - finding ways of challenging the mentee to dig deeper or to ask a difficult question when it feels useful to do so. Curiosity is also a quality that guides my artistic practice and this meeting point between parts of myself and work feels exciting and vital. Curiosity is hugely important to me in the work I do with community groups and in my teaching practice. As a player and composer it helps me to stay fascinated with sound and with the possibilities of a piece or an idea. When I don’t feel curious about what I am doing, things get hard fairly quickly for me!
Natasha: Yep one final thought - I’ve so enjoyed using Nancy Klein’s Thinking Partnership model, maybe because it draws on so many of the above qualities. At it’s most basic, a designated ‘listener’ simply creates a space for another person to do their thinking for a certain amount of time - maybe 10 minutes. The emphasis is on listening, but in actual fact it isn’t that simple and it is very active - the practice for the listener involves being actively curious, ready to listen, ready to be connected with the thinker wherever they are, in a way that is non-judgemental and offers them a safe space to think aloud and find their own connections. This practice is very much about what you mention -- remaining curious and ready to listen, without giving in to the instinct to save the person when they falter, to offer a bit of advice which you know might help them, to guide them towards an easier way of being with a problem, to help them solve their issues by asking just the right question..
Putting the mentee in the centre of the process
The ability to listen, to hold back your own solutions, to be empathetic, to be open minded.
* What support exists or is needed from the management of your institute to make mentoring meaningful?
Alexander: We are doing ok in this area. There is enough flexibility in the structure to allow each course, programme and student to mould mentoring around their needs.
Siggi: To my opinion, my institution is currently investing sufficiently in the mentoring for the NAIP students. From the experience of our SP projects and the running of the NAIP, a lot of elements of mentoring are blending into other study programmes. This could be thought out more systematically.
Renee: A training program for mentors. A budget for paying mentors. Good spaces for mentoring meetings. Enough time to unfold a mentoring trajectory.
Detta: A structure of learning that supports mentoring: allowing space and time for regular mentoring to take place, recognising the value of one to one, group mentoring and peer to peer mentoring.
Communication between mentors and the wider team - allowing conversations to take place and best practice to be shared. Support, training and awareness: support for mentors when things are challenging or when issues cross over into other areas, for example with students welfare services - this happens a lot at the Guildhall, so facilitating good communication and a positive relationship between mentors, mentees and student welfare teams. Training for mentors wherever possible - at the Guildhall we have a structured, well resourced and supported training programme, which allows staff to progress through different levels of mentoring and coaching. Awareness of mentoring, how it works and what can be gained from it for all staff and students. Eg. meetings and sessions with key mentors and groups of students, an introduction to mentoring from the mentor team or a lead mentor within the institution.
True understanding of the importance of mentoring
Continuous follow up of the mentoring processes
Financial support concerning further education in mentoring for the mentors
Institutional support for the mentors
* What are the relationships between the different areas of mentoring in your practice?
Alexander: Mentoring is key to all my teaching. I always want the students to feel that the work they are doing my classes is directly contributing to the work they most believe in an find most urgent. And in that way, we are always organising around diagnosing the student's needs, objectives and desires as artists and shaping our activities accordingly.
Siggi: As far as I understand the question, I would say that the mentoring for the NAIP students in the IUA is carried out by a team of mentors, so the students can have access to anyone of them, although some practical things and idealistic matters regarding the philosophy in the NAIP programme do more often come to me, being a programme director.
Renee: There is a huge overlap between mentoring in the purest sense and study coaching. To make them both work for the student, the two should be clearly separated.
Ulrika: We have not yet introduced mentoring, but mentoring qualities exists in the ordinary teaching and through the knowledge of mentoring in the NAIP programmes we are more aware of the mentoring already existing and the need of mentoring in a larger scale.
* As a mentor, what are the issues in regards to ethics that you feel are important?
Alexander: I believe in contracting and transparency. We sit together before, during and after our work is being undertaken and repeatedly check in that the course of activities we are taking are working for everyone. I take the attitude that the 'how' we do something, is as important, as the 'what' we are doing. I am always aiming to create situations where everyone feels they can have a voice throughout regarding how we undertake the work we do together. It is a never ending work.
Siggi: The most important in a formal mentor/mentee relationship is to respect totally the confidentiality - as there is total trust in the relationship, and anything that is said and discussed should not be shared outside the sessions unless agreed to by all. Apart from that it is important to keep the relationship professional and focus on the topics that are relevant to the objectives that the relationship is built around, although it is always a matter of opinion what could be relevant. The mentor sessions are not therapy, so if there are issues that arise that might need specialist assistance it is important to keep those aside.
Renee: They stand at the forefront since mentoring should be based on trust, reciprocity and a non-hierarchical relation between mentee and mentor. Yet the mentor has her/his own responsibility for making the mentoring work.
Natasha: I suppose one big ethical issue is how to be aware of power relationships that can be inherent in relationships however formal or informal when they involve difference - eg with one person more experienced than another, one with the role of marking another - where the possibility for an open and trusting relationship might be compromised. Some of this is the responsibility of our institutions - to set out clear guidelines for practice which protect everyone involved and promote all of us to do our best work. Something I have found which greatly helps define the boundaries for safe and ethical work in my own mentoring is a contracting process - making space at the beginning of a mentoring relationship to discuss how we will work together. What is the focus of our work together? The scope? The boundaries? And what are the qualities we would like to have in our relationship? Having a candid conversation about this at the outset and from this creating a document we can refer back to has been invaluable. It’s a moment for both the mentor and mentee to be clear about acknowledging possible issues, expectations and for explicitly deciding how we want to work, together.
Detta: Yes I think contracting is so valuable in terms of setting out and understanding each other’s roles, expectations and in terms of creating a safe and trusting environment. For me, the very act of engaging in a contracting conversation has huge potential in terms of setting the tone for the relationship. That this conversation invites each person to set out what they need and expect from each other and what is within and without the boundary. It also acts as an important place to discuss any institution wide guidelines or expectations and where to go or what to do if further support is needed. So I think it’s pretty essential! In my experience, the quality of this conversation also impacts on the rest of the mentoring relationship - the openness, trust, respect and quality of listening needed to draw up a clear contract sets the tone for what will come. I have had wonderful contracting conversations with people where you not only discuss aspects of the relationship such as confidentiality, but also start to find our what is really important to that person and what they are interested in focusing on. I remember the first time a mentee said to me, well it’s important to me that we have fun! How brilliant! I had never thought to include this in a contract before, but there it was and we invariably referred to that quality as we went through the rest of the mentoring assignment together.
One further thing I was thinking about is the ethical importance of support for the team of mentors. I mentioned this in the question above, but I think it’s so important to offer support to staff who are mentoring. Like one to one teaching, mentoring can be a fairly lonely experience, or at least, for me, it’s a part of my work that is quite unusual in that it’s just me and one other person! So the need to feel that I can talk to other people (within the remits of confidentiality agreements) is so valuable. There are times when I have had a difficult session with a student and I’ve carried feelings, or worries around with me, not feeling sure what to do next or who to turn to for help or advice. Mentors also need people to check in with through supervision, team meetings, peer to peer mentoring and training. There is also the need (as discussed above) for close contact with student services and welfare staff who can assist when complex issues such as around health, wellbeing and safeguarding come up.
Respect in the mentoring situation for the mentee
Keep a healthy distance with a professional engagement
Keep in mind that the mentee is in charge of his/her process