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1) Mentoring philosophy
The notion of mentoring comes from the Indo-European root men (i.e., “to think”), and the term “mentor” appears to be an agent noun of mentos, which translates as "intent, purpose" (Online etymology dictionary). Thus, I assume mentoring unfolds in collaborative relationships that compel all involved in thinking critically for learning with a particular purpose. I approach mentoring from a sociocultural perspective that stresses the social origins of learning. Indeed, mentoring takes place in the contexts of participation in meaningful scholarly activities that develop the scholarly skills doctoral students will need as future members of the academy. I also assume student learning is mediated by their prior knowledge and experiences. For this reason, I invest in understanding what students bring to learning situations and environments—i.e., their theories, knowledge, past experiences, understandings, and misunderstandings of education and its power as the quintessential social mobility tool. I also benefit and learn from my students for they bring a wealth of professional insights, experiences, and visions of educational futures for all learners.
My scholarship is concerned with enhancing educational opportunities for all learners in schools, particularly for children and youth that live at the intersections of multiple forms of difference—e.g., poor students with behavioral disorders, ethnic minority English learners with learning disabilities. I recruit students interested in this problem. To me, mentoring is not only about acquiring the latest knowledge and skills to build technical expertise on this topic. Mentoring is also about challenging students to understand the historical nature of educational (in)equities. Thus, I mentor students to develop an interdisciplinary stance that requires the use of at least two strategies. First, it requires consideration of the temporal trajectories of educational inequities and of the ways in which these historical legacies are sedimented in current educational policy, research, and practices. Second, this stance calls for the use of theoretical premises and methodological tools from various disciplines that afford insights into the complexities of educational opportunities.
An important aspect of my mentoring philosophy is the systematic attention to the cultural capital my students need to succeed in the academy. I make deliberate efforts to expose them to insights and knowledge required to navigate the life of faculty members. This is a critical tool for academics, especially if they are members of underrepresented groups.
My mentoring philosophy is also founded on the notion of respect. I have a deep respect for what my students stand for, what they have learned and produced through their professional practices. I also respect the fact that my students’ learning trajectories vary substantially depending on myriad factors. Some of them hit the ground running, whereas others need more time to find a voice in the academy and flourish as scholars. Grounding my mentoring work on respect allows me to nurture what they might need and leverage their assets and strengths. At the end, the result is the same, they become scholars committed to produce knowledge and practices that forge what Kris Gutierrez describes as equitable social futures for all learners, but particularly for the most vulnerable individuals.
Finally, my mentoring relationships with students do not end upon graduation. I tell my students we create life-long relationships in doctoral programs. They become members of an ever-growing family of scholars working with the same purpose. I consistently benefit from their subsequent work since my scholarship is refined and informed by their contributions.
2) How my philosophy is operationalized in my work with doctoral students
Consistent with a sociocultural perspective, I use the notion of apprenticeship system to organize learning environments in which my doctoral students participate throughout their tenure at ASU. My goal is to have them participate in the practices of established scholars—i.e., think theoretically, understand through a critical prism the grand challenges of our field, create alternative formulations of the questions that guide inquiries in our field, use proficiently theories and methods in research endeavors, use strategically communication resources to disseminate the insights of our work to multiple audiences. Their participation in these activities must be intense, sustained over time, and full of occasions for productive feedback.
I rely on two main strategies to organize my students’ participation in our apprenticeship system. First, they work as assistants on research, teaching, technical assistance, and/or professional development projects. These initiatives focus on problems of practice related to addressing educational inequities. Some students join ongoing projects, others participate in the creation and implementation of new ones. They obtain experiences designing, implementing, and/or evaluating projects. Students participate in the collection and analysis of evidence and dissemination of results. I encourage them to pursue writing of particular aspects of these projects, either individually or in teams and/or write with me. Thirty nine percent of my 112 publications are co-authored with students or former students/mentees. Some students use components of my projects to pilot ideas for their own research. These projects require regularly scheduled team meetings where students learn the habits of mind of scholars and practice collaborative, problem solving, and other technical skills. Dissemination of knowledge to multiple audiences—practitioners, policy stakeholders, researchers—is a key task of our projects. For instance, we identify annual themes germane to educational equity that permeate our publications and products. Students lead many of these activities. For example, students edit a blog that is distributed to thousands of practitioners around the country. They identify and communicate with blog authors, serve as editors, and publish the blog. Other students serve as editors on a video commentary series with experts from around the country. They find the scholars that will be featured, shape the interview questions, conduct and edit the interviews, and release them through social media. Other students have been my editorial assistants for two publications I edit, an international peer-reviewed journal (published by Taylor & Francis) and a book series published by Teachers College Press. I am involved in all of these activities to scaffold their performance.
The second strategy is a research group that meets for two hours every other week. I have led this group for the 10 years I have taught at ASU. The purpose of the group is to nurture and advance students’ research agendas. I require my advisees to participate, but students from other programs have joined us. Junior faculty also participate in this community. We have created an interdisciplinary research group focused on educational equity that has included representation from education, applied linguistics, justice studies, English, women and gender studies, Native American studies, speech and language disorders, among others. As a means to develop their scholar identities, I ask participants to write twice every year a 50-word statement that describes their research agenda. I encourage them to review similar statements crafted by established scholars around the world that are working in the same domain of inquiry. We devote considerable time to analyze these statements from various angles—e.g., clarity of writing for multiple audiences, limit interest areas to two or three, address problems of social significance.
Our meetings focus on two aspects. First, we discuss for one hour a group member’s work that is distributed in advance. The author asks in advance for feedback/help on 1-2 specific issues that typically revolve around theoretical, methodological, or writing questions. This practice allows students to create and advance a scholarly agenda and “grow a thick skin” when receiving critiques of their scholarly work. The second hour is devoted to careful readings of key sources on educational equity scholarship. I make visible my analytical skills and reading and writing habits when discussing these works. I situate these discussions in the “grand conversations” taking place in education and challenge them to craft alternative perspectives through their own work. We also use the second hour to discuss how to succeed in the academy. We assign teams to research topics and facilitate discussions with the group. We cover a range of topics—e.g., how to maintain a productive career while striving for balance, securing funding for your research, how to use course assignments to write papers that can be presented at conferences and written for publication, the importance and costs of doing thorough journal reviews, preparing CVs and job interviews. The group has inter-generational representation (1st through 4th+ year), and junior faculty from ASU. We occasionally involve some of my former students teaching at other universities. These experiences are supplemented by participation in other ASU development resources such as the PFF program.
3) How my philosophy translates into my doctoral graduates’ accomplishments.
Participation in the apprenticeship system I described above has important consequences for my doctoral graduates. First, they leave ASU with an understanding of the academy as a social enterprise. Networking and collaboration are at the crux of successful scholarly careers. Thus, we remain in close communication for support and collaborative purposes. Sometimes I offer feedback on a paper or grant proposal, other times we co-author manuscripts, or offer advice on career decisions. Second, they use effectively the tools and resources they acquire at ASU. Former students stay in touch with one another, write together, and obtain funding for their own work. For instance, my former student Kathleen King Thorius obtained shortly after graduation a multi-million dollar grant to lead a regional Equity Assistance Center at Indiana. Aydin Bal obtained a substantial grant to study educational inequities in Wisconsin schools. Amanda Sullivan received an early career award from the American Psychological Association. My former students assume early in their careers leadership roles at national professional organizations such as the American Educational Research Association and the American Anthropological Association. These accomplishments suggest my doctoral graduates are thriving and broadening our community of scholars committed to produce work that will contribute to the fulfillment of education’s promise as an instrument of social equality.