An initiative out of the School of Nursing in York University’s Faculty of Health has not only enhanced professional development during the pandemic, it also holds promise for post-pandemic learning and mentorship.
During the pandemic, a Faculty Professional Scholarship Committee in the School of Nursing created online mentoring circles – a novel, collaborative approach to mentoring and professional development that should be just as effective post-pandemic. The committee members behind this novel approach are: Ruth Robbio, assistant professor of teaching, School of Nursing; Teaching Commons Educational Developer Lisa Endersby, who works with the Faculty of Health; Claire Mallette, associate professor, School of Nursing; Simon Adam, assistant professor, School of Nursing; Archana Paul, assistant professor of teaching, School of Nursing; and Melanie Dauncey, clinical course director, School of Nursing.
Results from a Faculty Needs Assessment Survey conducted in January 2020 by the School of Nursing’s Faculty Professional Scholarship Committee identified the interest in a variety of faculty development topics, as well as a need for mentoring. While the committee, chaired by Robbio was making plans for in-person sessions, the pandemic struck and everyone at York University began working and teaching remotely. As a result, online mentoring circles were born, creating a collegial, safe way to bring people together.
“My doctoral thesis research focused on e-mentoring as a socialization strategy for new graduate nurse role transition and workplace adjustment; however, I found that, in academia, there are also gaps in mentoring because there aren’t always enough mentors to go around,” said Robbio. “The literature defines a mentoring circle as a collaborative approach that moves away from traditional dyadic mentoring models. Instead, a group of faculty members meet to mentor each other. People could let us know what they wanted to talk about, and this format allowed them to share multiple perspectives and experiences and solve problems collectively.”
The committee began offering mentoring circles in April 2020. They take place online and aren’t recorded. They are simply a place for people to get together informally to discuss topics of interest and share their perspectives and knowledge.
“While we’re in isolation, it has been a great way for people to come together and learn from each other,” Robbio said.
Since last April, the mentoring circles have addressed a variety of topics, a number of them designed to provide a comfort level during the move to remote course delivery:
- teaching large classes online;
- engaging students on Zoom;
- teaching using virtual simulation;
- testing online;
- online assessments;
- academic integrity online; and
- overcoming Zoom fatigue.
The committee conducted two faculty feedback surveys once the mentoring circles were underway to determine topics of interest for the Zoom gatherings and to see if participants were finding them helpful. The response was positive: participants found them to be accessible, dynamic and spontaneous.
In terms of mentoring new faculty, it definitely helps fill the gap that exists; however, there are also benefits for existing faculty from this innovative approach to faculty development.
“Even if faculty aren’t new to York, they may be new to online teaching, so these sessions are useful,” said Endersby.
“It connects you with people who will follow up and can also serve as a bridge to other areas of teaching and research scholarship,” said Robbio.
The mentoring circles take place quarterly, or more frequently, depending on interest and topics of concern. Robbio generally sends out slides in advance to give participants an overview of the mentoring circle talking points, but she noted, “The conversation is very flexible and can lead down a number of paths.” Robbio and Endersby generally attend and facilitate the conversation, as needed.
“Nursing faculty are faced with hectic schedules, and there are part-timers, too, so each of these is a discrete event and they can drop in and out,” Endersby said. “Ruth has been central for me in thinking about how faculty can learn from and with each other. Mentoring can often feel very top-down, but the mentoring circle is intentional in its approach, looking at how we can support each other and communally share ideas.”
Added Robbio, “People volunteer to be there. The stakes aren’t high and the circles inspire relational mentoring and a culture of mentoring.”
It’s not only the faculty who benefit, she noted. “When we become stronger facilitators, leaders and mentors, students benefit, too.”
Robbio, Endersby and their committee are delighted by the success of mentoring circles and are eager to share their experiences with other Faculties and departments.
“We wanted to consider the potential of faculty mentoring in a community of practice to promote a supportive work environment, facilitate successful integration of academic scholars, foster role modelling, assist with clarifying workplace expectations, advance relational mentoring and inspire a culture of mentoring,” Robbio said. “We would be delighted to help others create a similar structure.”
Professor Lillie Lum, associate director of the School of Nursing, added her seal of approval to their efforts.
“Ruth and Lisa are doing such a great job of promoting the mentoring circle and helping to promote collegial efforts,” Lum said. “Our thanks.”
By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer, Teaching and Learning