Inclusion Is A Habit Of Mind:
Field Research Into Mentor
by Raymond J. Degenais, Ed. D
- One of the many situations to which the mentoring experience can be applied is that of the inclusion of teachers new to a teaching/learning situation. In 1988, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy berthed the first Summer 'AD'Venture Program. The Academy is the state supported residential school for students in grades 10-12 who are talented and/or gifted in science and mathemat ics. The Summer 'AD'Ventures Program began as a discipline-centered summer enrichment program for students in grades 9-12 from school systems across Illinois.
On-going development has led to a 1992 version for grades 7-10 displaying an interdisciplinary curriculum which is concept-centered, thematically based and organized in an apprentice investigator approach. Furthermore, the initiative has evolved into a premier professional development program for the participating faculty and residential counselors.
The popularity of the 1991 program among the student participants and the enthusiastic response on the part of the faculty and residential counselors prompted the consideration of program expansion. The 1992 Summer 'AD'Ventures Program saw five new staff members join the veteran faculty. This group was comprised of former residential counselors and highly honored veteran teachers from Illinois school systems. While coming from different backgrounds, they all had one thing in common. None were familiar or comfortable with the role of a Summer 'AD'Ventures faculty member. During the summer of 1992 these people were introduced and welcomed into the culture of the Summer 'AD'Ventures Program. This was accomplished by matching the new staff members (NSMs) with the situation and the veteran Summer 'AD'Ventures faculty members who would act as significant professional colleagues (SPCs), or mentors, to them.
The Mentoring Model of Professional Development (Dagenais, 1990), used to match the NSMs to the mentoring experience, incorporated affective dimension characteristics including the SPCs willingness to listen and share, the SPCs ability to act as a role model and accept NSMs mistakes and the warmth and caring exhibited by the SPC. Physical dimension characteristics covered work location proximity to the SPC, time spent with the SPC, the time allowed, and the supplies and equipment necessary for the completion of the work. Technical dimension characteristics included congruence of subject matter interest, difficulty level of the material, entry level at which the NSM began the project, SPC's knowledge of the subject matter, and the amount of influence the SPC commands in the field.
Veteran SPCs were identified by a committee which aligned the personal characteristics of the SPCs and the characteristics of the situation to the needs of the NSMs. The NSMs and the SPCs took part in an orientation
session which introduced them to the following success dimensions of the experience which spanned career functions, psychososial functions and project functions.
Both the NSMs and the SPCs were asked to submit descriptions of the inclusion experience at the conclusion of the 1992 program. The following excerpts reveal some interesting insights:
"From the very beginning of the program, the [NSMs] were made to feel that they were a part of it. The [NSMs] were very open-minded and willing to take risks. One of the most amazing things about the mentoring program was the high comfort level that we quickly developed with each other." SPC-JS
"[My SPC] and I worked in close proximity which eased my first hours of natural apprehension. Our common interest and knowledge of teaching math made our conversations often center around this subject...our conversations strayed from Summer 'AD'Ventures to my own professional development, which was much appreciated." NSM-JB
"My opinions were valued, my teaching contributions were welcomed, and I felt that I played an important role in the success of the program. While [SPC] did an excellent job in orienting me to the philosophies and
structure of the program, and assisted me with the flexible nature of the scheduling format, I found myself spending valuable time with each and every staff member." NSM-TM
The inclusion effort was considered successful because it favorably satisfied a majority of the characteristics defining a successful mentoring experience. The NSMs appear ready to function as full Summer 'AD'Ventures faculty members. They have also indicated a desire to continue their participation in this endeavor. Their skills, talent and knowledge will be put to use in the next cycle of the Summer 'AD'Ventures Program.
Plans are underway to expand the professional development component of the program as a result of this successful experiment. The 1993 program will include a Teacher's Workshop component. School systems will be invited to sponsor participant teams of teachers at the Summer 'AD'Ventures Teacher's Workshop. The Workshop will include a five day seminar held at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy during the last week of June 1993, and a 5 day student interactive field experience held during the second week of July, 1993. The seminar will induct the participants into the culture of the Summer 'AD'Ventures Program. The IMSA Integrative System Curriculum Model will provide the framework for discussions on contextual themes, problem-based instructional approaches and the application of student/teacher cooperative teaming. The Mentoring Model of Professional Development, as successfully applied to the inclusion of NSMs to the program, will be used as the process framework.
The field experience will allow workshop participants an opportunity to apply what has been discussed during the seminar week. Teacher workshop particpants will work with Summer 'AD'Ventures student participants during the first week of the student program.
Workshop participants will be able to take the skills and knowledge gained through this exper ience back to their school systems to share with their colleagues. Graduate credit for workshop participants is expected to be made available. With the research-based success concerning the inclusion of individuals new to a teaching/learning situation, there is every reason to expect the carry over of such change efforts to systems that have the habit of mind to operate as true learning organizations.
Dagenais, R.J. (1990) A Study of Selected Ability, Physical and Psychological Variables and the Achievement of a Successful Mentoring Experience. Ed.D. dissertation, Northern Illinois University, Ann Arbor: UMI, 1990.
For further information about the IMSA Summer'Ad'Ventures Program
and/or the Mentoring Model of Professional Development contact Dr.
Raymond J. Dagenais, Coordinator for Professional Development, Illinois
Math & Science Academy, 1500 West Sulllivan Road, Aurora, IL 60506-1000