Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 21, No. 2, 195–218, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
In this article, the authors draw on a community of practice perspective to examine and understand the complex and r /> emerging nature of an informal peer mentoring community composed of beginning education faculty members from different institutions.
The authors' engagement in this peer mentoring community is examined through reflections on their experiences and their collective narratives. They drew upon the tenets of narrative inquiry to inform their process and method.
The data include audio-taped recordings of discussions that occurred during summer writing retreats (e.g. storytelling), online reflections of our experiences, field notes, emails, and other artifacts.
Community of practice, as a framework, provides a lens for examining the role of participation in learning and identity development through the narratives of Female Researchers in Education, Networking, and Dialogue (FRiENDs) group, which includes six beginning science and mathematics education female faculty members, in their 30s through 50s.
The FRiENDs group drew on existing relationships and built new ones to create a mentoring community that provides space and support for each member’s individual and professional development.
The authors' involvement in the FRiENDs group provides a space for them to discuss issues related to their jobs and to collaboratively engage in research-related practices, such as framing research problems, analyzing data, and writing papers.
As the participants in the FRiENDs' community have spent more time together, they have begun to recognize the individual expertise that each member brings to the group. This diversity of experience has allowed each member to learn new analysis techniques and new theories, or to simply gain new perspectives on their current work.
Their individual knowledge has been enriched by the knowledge gained from participation in the group. In some cases, that knowledge has created new research interests or reframed their current work in new contexts.
The strength of this model is that it functions outside of institutional boundaries. Because accountability is to other members, not to an external entity, group members decide how and what they are accountable to.
In the FRiENDs group, there is accountability to the group for individual progress. At the same time, the group has understanding of the myriad demands for members’ time and attention. When a member is unable to meet a goal, there may be personal discomfort for that person, but there is no chastening from the group. Instead, there is dialogue of support to help the member frame a more reasonable goal or reorder priorities to make meeting the goal possible.
Through participation in the group, the authors have created opportunities to learn from one another about their professional roles as academics. They have diverged from a more traditional mentoring role to a more dialogic and responsive manner of learning from other members of the group. Through participation, each of them has been exposed to different ways of working and thinking.
The nature and practice of the group are determined by the members of the group, with no required structure and are based on their emerging needs. What the group does or becomes is determined by the purpose and expectations members themselves create.
The authors' participation in the FRiENDs group has developed to provide collaboration and collegiality and to allow for interweaving the personal and professional to meet their current yet changing needs. The FRiENDs community supports members in research, writing, and other professional endeavors as education faculty. The strength of communities of practice lies in the social relationships and interactions that are generated through the work of the group.
The authors conclude that the goal in this paper is to describe an alternative form of mentoring based on a community of practice. The structure of the group is influenced dually by the individuals in the group and the external circumstances. As faculty members become more diverse, alternative methods of mentoring are needed to support smooth transitions for new faculty and to support existing faculty as they undergo transitions later in their careers. Informal peer mentoring communities like FRiENDs can play an important role in the mentoring of diverse faculty through multiple transitions.