Reframing mentor disposition & holistic development to promote inclusive student partnerships in near-peer mentoring

Chan, C. K. Y., & Luo, J. (2022). Towards an inclusive student partnership: Rethinking mentors’ disposition and holistic competency development in near-peer mentoring. Teaching in Higher Education, 27(7), 874–891.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • The “Students as partners” concept has recently become popular in higher education.
    • It encourages student involvement in influencing learning and teaching.
  • While peer mentoring is an excellent approach to establishing student partnerships (e.g. co-researchers or teaching assistants) and strengthening students’ holistic competencies*, there is concern that it is simultaneously exclusive.
    • For instance, teachers can choose mentors based on specific criteria.
  • This paper examines the experiences of three mentors with self-perceived dispositions that don’t align with ideal standards to understand a) how ill-fitting dispositions influence mentoring practices and b) if mentors could establish any holistic competencies.
  • It also introduces an inclusive conceptual model.
    • It argues that peer mentoring is an opportunity for everyone, regardless of deposition, to become legitimate partners in higher education and participate in the learning community.
  • Peer mentorship is an excellent way for mentors to improve themselves in various ways (e.g. boost mentoring, leadership & confidence skills, as well as strengthen one’s understanding of others).
  • Developing an in-depth understanding of disposition within the context of mentoring is essential.
  • Expanding the eligibility of mentors contributes to more equitable learning opportunities for all in higher education.

* =   This refers to positive attitudes & values (respect and consideration) and universal skills (teamwork, communication, and problem-solving) for student development. 

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

While recent years have seen increasing initiatives to engage students as partners in higher education, some students tend to be privileged yet others are excluded based on certain selection standards. This paper situates near-peer mentoring within the ‘students as partners’ context, and investigates the mentoring experience of 3 student mentors whose self-perceived dispositions seemed ‘unfitting’ to the ‘ideal’ mentor standards in research and practices. These three cases presented how mentors’ mentoring practices were influenced by their dispositions, and identified a growth pattern in holistic competencies which could in return benefit these student mentors’ future development. A conceptual model has been designed to capture the potential relationship between mentoring, mentor dispositions and holistic competency development. Both theoretical and practical implications have been made to increase inclusive participation and to provide equitable learning opportunities for more students in higher education.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

These cases presented how individual mentors perceived their mentoring experience and identified a growth pattern in holistic competencies shaped by their self-perceived dispositions. The results challenged previous ‘ideal’ dispositions of mentors by demonstrating that ‘unfitting’ mentors, who are often excluded in peer mentoring (e.g. Shrestha et al. 2009), could also benefit from and contribute to the mentoring. The discussion first discusses 3 mentors’ complicated mentoring experience influenced by their dispositions, and then relates the findings to expanding student participation in peer mentoring.

Three cases: mentors’ dispositions, mentoring practices, and holistic competencies

According to the ‘ideal’ mentor research that values empathy (Terrion and Leonard 2007) and mentor’s expertise to provide guidance for mentees (Colvin and Ashman 2010), Lily, due to her scarce social experience and overprotective upbringing, may not fall into the ‘ideal’ mentor category. However, the mutually satisfactory mentorship was to some extent influenced by Lily’s dispositions, forming a filter through which she decided how to guide and respond to her mentees. As well documented in teacher education literatures, the instructor’s dispositions are key components to successful teaching practices and student learning (Thornton 2006; Wake and Bunn 2016). Lily’s rather ‘idealistic’ disposition surprisingly became a helpful cause to her mentoring practices (e.g. being aware of her lack of world experience, Lily mentioned that she did not judge her mentees’ easily). Being well protected, Lily’s mentoring approach also appeared to be less aggressive and didactic (e.g. listened with patience). It was in this disposition-filtered mentoring that she learnt to understand others better, as other ‘fitting’ mentors do in the literature (Hughes, Boyd, and Dykstra 2010). The opportunity to mentor also provides possibilities for mentors to reflect on their dispositions (Beltman and Schaeben 2012) – as in Lily’s case, she had an acute perception of her lack of social awareness when she needed to guide and respond to a group of mentees (e.g. when she could not help resolve mentees’ issues, she started to reflect on her life trajectory).

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