6.2.3 For the mentee

From the same study, mentees indicated that they appreciated having someone available for seemingly 'trivial' questions, as well as for detailed advice on the module or teaching. Some found it useful to hear from mentors about parts of the module that students found difficult. Being an OU tutor can be isolating and mentees say that the most useful thing about mentoring is knowing that 'someone is there' to contact quickly if a query or problem arises.

The best mentors are probably those who both guide and respond flexibly to the varied needs of a colleague in a new teaching/learning situation. The mentor acts as a sounding board and offers encouragement to new colleagues, as they gain confidence from their own experience.

The job of a mentor in the OU is to:

  • Be proactive in making early contact with a new member of staff (contacting them as soon as possible after their appointment) and suggest a structure to the mentoring process. The relationship can become more flexible as it progresses.
  • In some instances, the Staff Tutor may ask a mentor to brief the mentee on the content and delivery of the module itself.
  • Be available online and /or the telephone, particularly in the early weeks of the mentee's employment, to advise and encourage on all aspects of the job.
  • Make contact before and after the first tutorial.
  • Make contact around the time of the first tutor-marked assignment (TMA) cut-off date
  • Be a continuing resource for the mentee during their first year.
  • Be interested in the new member of staff's previous experience and, how it relates to this new role, not assume 'being new means knowing nothing'.
  • Share experience.
  • Find out answers to questions they cannot answer themselves.

In this video, Vicky talks about whether it is helpful to have a mentor and gives an example of how they can help a mentee tutor like her.

Download this video clip.Video player: nc4487_alstem_2020_vid103d_1080x1920_high.mp4
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So Vicki, has it been helpful during your early years as a tutor, to have a mentor? And if so, in what way particularly? Can you give an example of a query that you've directed towards your mentor?
Yes, I have found it useful having a mentor. It's good to have a name specifically you can get in touch with any time with queries. I've mostly used the tutor forums to discuss questions I've had. But one example I can think of where I contacted Mary was when a student had asked me a specific question about an assignment, and I wasn't sure exactly how much information I could tell them. And I was worried about giving them too much information. So I contacted Mary with their question and what I was proposing to respond, just to check I wasn't crossing the line and telling them too much.
I think sometimes there are some questions that you don't really want to necessarily go public with with a large audience, that you would direct one other person. And the mentor is perfect for that part.
So final question to you both-- I'll come to Mary, first of all-- you're mentor and mentee, but you've never actually met one another face to face--
Which is not atypical at Open University. Do you think that makes a difference?
No, I think that, especially these days, you can do a lot through email. And I think we're now getting used to these online conferences. So that might be something for the future. But usually, most of the contact I've had with my previous mentees is through the email, or maybe through the tutor forums. So it is quite normal. So we can be quite supportive of each other without actually meeting face to face. And it sort of echoes the way we support our students too, so it's good practise for that too. And it's always a serious issue though. I mean, in the past some previous mentees-- if there was something perhaps crucial that we didn't want to do through email, it's sometimes quicker to pick up the phone and speak to each other. Sometimes you might meet staff at face to face staff development events. But for the mentoring side, it is quite normal to contact each other through email or phone if necessary.
I didn't find it difficult or unusual, not meeting face to face. Most of my modules that I did throughout my degree were electronic only. So there was sometimes no face to face tutorial. So I had several modules where I didn't meet my tutor in person. And I think most people would be OU being distance learning, they're used to the remoteness of it. And as Mary said, if there was something more complicated or a bit more detailed, then I would just call her and have a phone discussion. So I know that option is always available, as well as Skype for business meetings, as well, if we wanted to have a video chat.
So it's really interesting, Vicki, that the way you describe that sort of flexibility about being able to contact your mentor, as in when, not in office hours, at different times through emails, that flexibility and the way in which it sort of mirrors the way in which we support our students in a distance learning institution, that the support is there, but it's not sort of rigid about the time. You can email. You can phone. And there's a variety of ways in which you can keep in contact and keep working.
So thanks very much for sharing your experiences of being a mentor and a mentee. There's a lot of similarities there between being an AL and a student, and the same sort of developing relationship. And it's really good to know that having a mentor was really supportive for Vicki in her first couple of years as an associate lecturer.
End transcript
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Activity 2

Think about any experiences you have had in other settings regarding being mentored or being a mentor.

What aspects of mentoring worked well for you?

What would you describe as the essential qualities of a successful mentoring relationship?

Having watched all three videos of Mary and Vicky discussing the relationship between the mentor and the mentee, do their experiences resonate with the essential qualities of a successful mentoring relationship you described above?

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6.2.2 For the mentor

6.3 Continual professional development