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Helping Educators Thrive while Teaching Online, so They Can Help Students Develop Their Potentials and Promote Resilience and Lifelong Learning in Their Communities

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Strategic Educational Leader and Coach

#63: Benefits of Mentoring Online Students [Podcast]

#63: Benefits of Mentoring Online Students [Podcast]

This content originally appeared on APUEdge.com

Teachers are always seeking better ways to connect with their students, especially in the online classroom. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the value of mentoring students and why it can be helpful to think of students as customers. Learn how forming a mentoring relationship can help teachers connect better with students, improve student learning, and also bring greater satisfaction to the teacher.

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

In today’s episode we’re going to look at mentoring online students in higher education. This is a hot topic right now because everyone wants to connect better with their students. And here on the Online Teaching Lounge, connecting with our students and working with them much better than we have in the past is one of our primary objectives.

At the university where I teach and work, we have a focus on student success, and we want to have students-first programs. So it makes sense that we would want to also include a mentoring approach. This is something some of my faculty have explored, and other leaders across the institution. So I’m going to share some thoughts with you today about mentoring online students.

Choosing to be a Leader

As an instructor or an online educator, you may not be in a leadership role at your institution. But you can lead from any seat that you’re in. As a leader in the classroom, you can try things out that may work for you, and share them with colleagues. You might be able to get an IRB request and do a little research on what you find, and share it with the bigger community as well.

And of course, there’s the practitioner report. You can just notice what’s going on and prepare a practical presentation to share with others, or write up an article on that. There are so many ways you can have an experience with mentoring and share it with other people.

When we think about ourselves as online educators, perhaps we get into some routines or patterns that don’t bring us as much satisfaction and joy as they once did. Mentoring our students can be something that freshens that up and helps us connect much more deeply with the people we’re teaching.

There’s a story in a book called “Lead From Any Seat” by Andrei Anca, and in this book, he shares a story called The Parable of the Coffee Bean, and he has an unknown author listed there. But the story is like this. And I’m going to read it directly from the book, “Lead From Any Seat.”

“A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were hard for her. She didn’t know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed that when one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. And in the first pot she placed carrots. In the second one, she placed eggs. And in the last pot, she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word.

In about 20 minutes. She turned off the burners. She took the carrots out of the water and placed them in a bowl. She then pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. She then ladled the coffee into a bowl. Turning to her daughter. She asked, ‘Tell me what you see.’ ‘Carrots, eggs and coffee,’ the daughter replied.

The mother, brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noticed that they were softened. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After peeling off the soft shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled and she tasted the rich aroma.

The daughter then asked, ‘What’s the point mother?’ Her mother explained that with each of these objects, they had all faced the same adversity, the boiling water, but each of them reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. After being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But after being exposed to the boiling water, the inside became hardened.

The ground coffee beans however, they were unique. After they were placed in the boiling water, they had changed the water. ‘Which are you?’ she asked the daughter. When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?”

Now let’s take this to our online teaching. Each of us enters the profession of teaching as educators, and we have goals and we have things we’d like to accomplish there. Things happen, jobs are difficult. We can’t reach some of our students. We have success with others. Many things occur during our teaching career. And as we’re teaching, we transform in one of these three ways.

Just as we transform in one of these three ways, our students also approach their experience with us in either an approachable manner, soft and ready to be taught. A resistant manner, perhaps they don’t want to take the course and they’re taking it because it’s a required class. Or maybe they come in with mixed feelings. And they can have an impact on others as well.

Through mentoring, we can have that difference, like the ground coffee beans.

Changing Your Perspective

When we think about students, an interesting thing is that many of us think about them as these people that need to be taught, need to be molded, need to learn the ropes in some way, either in the subject matter or in the field.

Either way, it would be an interesting flip to see the student instead as a customer. If we were a business in education, instead of looking at ourselves as simply an educational entity, thinking about your student as your customer gives you a whole different perspective on the way you approach the people who come to learn from you. A student wants to learn, of course, but a customer wants value from what they’re getting.

If we were to make an impact on our students that’s much more significant than simply giving feedback and conversation in the online classroom, we can think about our students in a way that we see them quite differently.

Again, in the book, “Lead From Any Seat,” the author tells us that the first step in making an impact is to change the way we think about other people. One way we can think about our students as customers will be to see through their experience. We need to understand what they need, what they really want in life and in their education.

Essentially, the idea is if we’re going to be successful mentoring students and really helping them in what they’re learning, we need to see their point of view. We need to be able to understand their perspective, and we also need to see through their eyes. This is sometimes called an outward mindset from others. It could be called many things. It could be taking on a new perspective. It could be servant leadership.

But either way, when we take the focus off ourselves, our workload, and our approach to teaching, and we put the focus instead on the person we’re teaching, and seeing through their experience and their eyes, we have a totally different experience working with them in our course.

Understanding the Value of Mentoring

You might be asking yourself at this point, what is mentoring? What is that in higher education? And what is that in online education? I can’t answer all of those questions in today’s brief podcast, but I will start with the idea that mentoring is about giving a relationship to someone else, connecting with them, and working with them for their own development. This could be personal development, professional development, growth in a specific area.

Through the mentoring relationship, we connect with other people and we share our expertise. We might provide guidance and examples about how they can repeat our success, or success of others in the field.

Or more generally, it could be about academic success. What does it take, for example, to be a great student? If we think about the things our students come into our classroom wanting to know specifically from us, this can turn us towards a mentoring approach. It can help us think a lot more about what kind of mentoring we would give our students.

Now, even if there is not a formal mentoring program in place, we can always take a mentoring approach to the way we teach our courses. For example, in the comments we might use in a discussion, we can mentor students by talking through the ideas with them, giving critical questions to help them think more deeply about how to apply these concepts in real life. And we can ask them about how they might use the ideas in their professional world, now and in the future.

If we’re mentoring them in a subject matter where they’re going to major in it, like, for example, if you’re a communication faculty member and you’re teaching students majoring in communication who intend to go into that field, you might bring in relevant career examples. Scenarios and situations to prompt their deeper thinking about that. And then you can ask students how that might apply to what they’re seeking to obtain in the future.

Group mentoring is also possible if you have live calls or group discussions. You might try some kind of group approach to mentoring where you share different scenarios about the professional world, and have students chat with you and toss around the ideas about how they might prepare, or how they could apply the concepts you’ve shared.

Whether you’re mentoring someone in their academic skills or the academic ability to survive the online class, generally, or perhaps you’re mentoring them in becoming someone who moves into that professional area, students really need a sense of their identity. And by the word identity, I mean they need to be able to see themselves as a scholar or student in the academic space.

Students also need to be able to imagine themselves in that career when they’re finished with their degree. Something difficult for a lot of people who go into a new field is feeling like they are legitimate or prepared in that field.

For example, there have been a lot of studies done about the field of education. And people who major in something to become a teacher later often struggle seeing themselves as an educator. There’s a lot of imposter syndrome that can happen for folks when they start teaching for the first time.

And just an extension of that, I remember my first year as a teacher, 25 years ago, when I walked into that classroom and I didn’t have any faculty or supervising teachers with me. I was extremely nervous every day. Sometimes I called my mentor teacher that had done work with me the previous year, and I asked for guidance and feedback. I looked for some kind of insight to help me feel more like the official educator that I wanted to be.

Things we can say and do with our students can help them imagine themselves in that profession, and create a professional identity for themselves in their minds, and in reality, as well.

As we wrap up this brief discussion about mentoring, I’d like to encourage you to look at your students and find out what they really want from their experience with you. Even if they post in a discussion during week one what they’d like to get out of the class, many times these statements are brief or even superficial.

As you start to see them engage and think about who they really are, where they’re coming from, and what their experience is with the subject matter, you might be able to see beyond those comments into a greater depth of who those students would like to be in the future.

And as you see through their eyes, you might have some insights about small things you can do to connect with them through a mentoring style and a mentoring approach, until you’re able to give a little bit more in the future where you might create some ideas around some kind of more formal mentoring experience with your students.

You can also give them some feedback when they give you assignments, that is more focused on who they’re becoming in that academic area, and more mentoring-focused as well. And in the long term, something might occur to you that you can do to give a little bit more mentoring to your students, again, even if there is no formal program.

There were some faculty that I worked with, and they took a mentoring approach to a course. And we found that the brief and small changes they made actually had these students re-enroll in courses at a higher rate, just because the faculty took a unique approach or approached it through a mentoring lens.

When you approach your teaching as a mentor and not just as a teacher, you’re going to find a little bit of a difference in your results as well. I encourage you to think about this in your online teaching this coming week, and I wish you all the best in your teaching.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

#34: Developing Leadership in Online Higher Education

#34: Developing Leadership in Online Higher Education

This content appeared first at Online Learning Tips.Com

Educators should always be thinking of ways to develop and enhance their own leadership skills. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen presents strategies for leadership development including improving communication skills, finding new ways to collaborate, understanding how to develop a strategic plan, finding a mentor, and much more.

Read the Transcript:

Speaker 1 (00:01):

APU. American Public University is proud to present Online Teaching Lounge.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This is episode number 34, Developing Leadership in Online Higher Education. This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the podcast today, and thank you for joining me for this chat about developing leadership in online higher education. Some of us think that people are just born natural leaders. In fact, this is a really common belief. This is called the trait-based leadership model, and of course, this is a theory from the 1700 and 1800s. It’s very old and outdated.

Since then, many leadership theories have come along and primary in those theories is the skills-based leadership theory. Under the skills-based leadership theory, we believe that the skills needed to be an effective leader can actually be taught. Some of these are technical skills; some of these are conceptual skills.

Now, when we have skills-based leadership in place or training to help people grow in this way, that really means that anyone can aspire to become a leader, can learn what it takes to become a leader, and can really fulfill their dream or desire to move up in an organization if they want to.

Now, if you’ve been teaching for very long, chances are you have some fantastic ideas you could share with other people. An initial way to become a leader is, of course, simply share your knowledge with others in your profession.

You could, for example, present at professional conferences. You could write blog articles or write journal articles. Or if mentorships exist in your organization, you could do some professional mentoring and help others who are newer to the profession or where you have special expertise in your skillset and they don’t.

There are lots of opportunities to gain more leadership experience, but this idea of learning skills and gaining conceptual understandings that will help you succeed as a leader, it’s so important and critical to a true leadership development pathway.

Brian Eastwood wrote a blog called Eight Essential Traits for Effective Leadership in Higher Education earlier this year, and he shares that there are some specific skills that you need to succeed as a leader in higher education.

Now today, of course, we’re talking primarily about online higher education. In online higher education, there’s also the need to be connected, significantly connected, to the people that you’re working with. This can be very difficult, but strategies, again, can be learned to make it happen.

Leaders Need Financial Acumen

Regardless of the type of higher education you’re engaged in, the number one skill that Brian has written in this article is that you need financial acumen. The idea is that at some point in your leadership journey, the more you rise in the ranks of leadership at a university, the more you’re going to need to know how to get donors, how to use fundraising, how to do budgeting, how to fund research, capital projects, and maybe even how to be involved in student financial aid.

Now, I’ll tell you, I’ve been in higher education for 14 or 15 years at this point, and I’ve been a leader for the past six or so years. I’ve been a faculty director, where I lead a faculty team and I coach them on teaching excellence. I have never once in that position needed to have financial acumen. However, if I were in a different role, that would be the case and I would have budgets and I would need to do that.

The first thing to think about is: what kind of leadership position you might be looking at and what kind of degree of financial acumen would be required in that kind of position?

The Importance of Collaboration

The second point from Brian’s article is collaboration. Collaboration is critical. In higher education we have so many subject matter experts and people have varying experiences, backgrounds, and expertise. Collaborating with those people involved is going to really help your leadership to succeed. Learning how to collaborate now with peers is the best type of preparation.

Collaborating with stakeholders will also be critical in a leadership role, and as you collaborate across the institution with other schools, other departments, with your faculty, and with other people in the leadership team, collaboration skills will be critical for your success.

Focus on Building New Leaders

Building new leaders is the third skill mentioned, and building new leaders means that you continue to foster people in your organization who can continue to move up in leadership themselves.

When I first became a faculty director six or so years ago, I did not really envision doing that role. I was happy to teach and I was happy to do what I was doing, but someone else in a faculty director role kind of adopted me in a mentor fashion. That person called me and coached me on setting my sights high and developing more leadership and having a long-term objective.

Pretty soon I was very interested in working with a large team with helping other faculty members and with coaching them. Even if you’re not right now thinking about leadership, this is something that could be on the horizon for you. And thinking about how to build other people’s leadership potential would be a great way to think about a leadership role yourself.

Value of Communication

The fourth tip shared in the article is communication. Now, there are five steps to good communication listed here and I’m just going to read them to you:

  • start with what’s most important,
  • set expectations up front about what you need,
  • actively listen and take body language into account,
  • provide constructive and specific feedback, and
  • address concerns immediately, and if possible, in person.

Of course, when you’re working online, leading or teaching online, it’s very difficult to address problems in person, and sometimes we can’t really see anyone’s body language because we’re communicating by telephone. Or maybe we’re on a virtual conference and they’re not showing themselves on video.

There are a lot of things we need to adapt and plan around, but, overall, listening is one of the most important things we can ever do in good communication. Understanding that we don’t need all of the answers immediately and can go ahead and think about it, come back with good examples and good answers, those are going to be critical skills. To not feel overly pressured to say something right now, and to listen carefully and really connect with those people who are speaking you.

Creating a Strategic Plan

Skill number five is strategic planning. Now, strategic planning is a phrase that may sound like a very complex and challenging process. Basically, strategic planning means you’re using data and evidence to think about the present situation, review the past, and project into the future.

You might be making a timeline of steps, you might be setting goals for short term—six months, one year—all the way up to 10 years or 20 years down the road.

You’re going to consult some of the stakeholders like your faculty members, maybe you’ll talk to some students about their experience. You’ll also coordinate with other departments and create a plan for the future.

A lot of data is going to help you in this regard, so you want to learn how to read reports and data of various kinds and also ask about these things, especially if you’re currently in a teaching role but you’d like to gain more experience to advance further.

The kinds of data that people look at in online education, especially regarding student performance, might start with enrollment numbers and the demographics:

·     What type of students are interested in this program?

·     What is the composition of our faculty team?

·     Do we need more perspectives or diversity there?

·     We might look at drop and withdrawal data to determine how we can help our learners better succeed.

·     We can look at course and program outcomes.

There’s literally a hundred different things we can look at when we are strategic planning, and all of that data is going to influence your planning and help you work together with other people to create plans and lead your department and your programs and your students into success.

Develop Skills for Change Management

The sixth area suggested is the skills for change management. Now, change is a constant, especially today in online education. Things that used to work might totally be outdated and much more engagement is now needed.

Regardless of the institution you’re currently teaching with, change in higher education can be incredibly slow, but it can also come quickly and happen constantly over time. Basically, as in life, change is inevitable in pretty much any role you’re in. If you’re aware of good change management strategies, this is going to help you achieve change when you’re working with teams.

One of the most important things to think about when you are conducting some change management is to collaborate with the people involved to determine how it’s going to impact them, and to actually hear them. Listen to them. Let them have a voice. Ask for feedback from students, from faculty. And take them all into consideration when you’re making decisions.

The more you can do that, the better off you’re going to be when you’re planning the steps for strategic growth over time, and you’re going to have a better chance of communicating effectively when you’ve already primed the pump by talking to people and listening to them.

Be Committed to Diversity

The seventh skill is commitment to diversity. Now, committing to diversity not just talks about your student body and recruiting students from all different types of groups, but also your faculty. You want faculty that reflect the student body, but also reflect a lot of diversity that simply exists in the world.

You want lots of inputs, lots of backgrounds, lots of levels of expertise, various races, cultures, and genders. We want to include everyone who is qualified to be there and can share something of benefit to our students. We’re really going to get a lot of great perspective from diverse groups. This can be part of your hiring practices, it can be considered in terms of where you’re recruiting and also your long-term planning.

Feed Your Intellectual Curiosity

Then lastly, this is intellectual curiosity. Of course, a lot of us got into higher education because we love to learn, or maybe we had great learning experiences ourselves when we were in our younger educational years. Many of us can list several instructors we had that really made a difference in our lives.

If you’re intellectually curious, that’s a bonus. If you’ve stopped learning for a while and need to rekindle the flame, it doesn’t take much to really get your fire burning again. You could try a new discipline, take a class, learn something new, get into a study group, a book club. You could create a club with a student group, and that might even be more exciting because you’re helping the learners who are students right now continue to grow in your area.

Focus on Leadership Skill Development

Be thinking about how you might improve in your educational leadership skills, not just in these eight areas, but also in creative ways that appeal to you. You can develop the skills to become a great leader and thinking about continuing to be more of a leader in the future is always a good thing.

Now, I was at a workshop just recently called Cultivating Leaders: If You Build It, They Will Come. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about how Stephanie Hinshaw, the Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Natalie Pelham, the Senior Director of Training and Development, from the American College of Education, run some of their leadership preparation.

Some of the things that these ladies were sharing with us was that they have some very specific initiatives in their organization that intentionally grow future leaders. That way, faculty members who are interested in growth for the future, further development, and future leadership roles, have a chance to talk about leadership ideas, develop ideas, explore them, and consciously grow their leadership skills.

Consider Forming a Leadership Growth Book Club

One of the best things that they shared in their workshop, and one that I really liked, was this idea of having a book club. They had a book club that was focused on breaking away from the day-to-day normal teaching duties and committee work. It focused intentionally on growing the leadership practice. Putting time toward the book club, as a university, also gives the participants the idea that developing their leadership skills is very important.

The tone of the book club shared in this workshop was an open, inquisitive one, allowing people to answer questions about lessons learned in a book and apply it to their lives. And then they held it on a flexible basis. The advice given was that a quarterly book club works best and then you rotate the book as you go. This was a safe environment to discuss their leadership thoughts, lessons, concerns, and practice the ideas and be intentional about developing leadership as human beings, not just an afterthought.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m very familiar with the idea that some people believe leaders are born. That’s the older, archaic idea that I mentioned before of trait-based leadership. Of course, it helps if you have traits that naturally lead to leadership, but everyone can learn leadership skills.

There are so many ways to do this. In the book club method, you might consider some of these books recommended, Leaders Eat LastBring Your Human to WorkDare to LeadThe Leader You Want to BeGive and TakeExtreme OwnershipThe Culture CodeStart With Why, and Small Acts of Leadership.

In addition to this list that was shared by the team I attended their workshop for, I would add to that a book called Positive Academic Leadership. It has a lot of great ideas about how you can lead with a positive tone, even when times are difficult and we need to really dive into some troubling situations so we can still be optimistic at appropriate times and help motivate our team.

Develop a Mentoring Program

Another idea is to create mentors. Now, mentoring is a beneficial practice across an organization. In fact, it’s known that 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer employee mentoring programs and 76% of employees think mentors are important, but only 37% have one.

If you don’t have a mentor and you’re thinking you want to grow the leadership skills, find someone in your academic community who can serve as a mentor for you. And consider offering your services as a mentor to someone else younger in your field or less experienced.

The more we give our services to others, the more those come back to us. Really, as we build our leadership through one-on-one relationships and reciprocal mentorship and things like that, we’re going to have a lot more confidence. Of course we’re going to grow our skills, and best of all, we’re going to keep growing future leaders throughout the organization.

Now, you would never want to find yourself in a situation where a critical leader at your institution is no longer able to come to work and must immediately be replaced, but no one seems prepared to take that role. That does happen, believe it or not. Sometimes a person becomes seriously ill, someone might pass away, for some unforeseen reason someone resigns abruptly, or maybe there’s even an accident.

I’ve seen all of those things happen in organizations, but also in my faculty team. In my case, we merely just need to get a new instructor to finish teaching a course. But what if that is one of the leaders in your organization?

There’s someone that will need to step into that leadership role to keep it going. As we continue to nurture future leaders in higher education, we’ll have a lot more success with that, there’ll be a more positive energy because people continue to grow, and we ourselves will continue to think about our leadership skills all the time because we want to live what we expect others to learn.

Thank you for being with me today for thinking about cultivating leadership. I hope you’ll consider some of these ideas, and of course, check out the links in the transcript for this podcast to all of the books mentioned. And also the link to the original presentation that was shared for some additional ideas and strategies, and of course if you’d like to contact those presenters from the American College of Education.

I, myself, just want to attest to the fact that when we’re talking specifically about leadership, I personally am always thinking about growing my leadership, focusing on certain aspects, setting goals, rotating through them, and reflecting on my practice. I truly believe that the more we think about growing leaders and helping others along the way, the more we’re going to continue growing ourselves.

All right. Well, thank you again for being here. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week and your leadership development over the next year to come.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit Bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.