Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How to be an effective mentor/coach

Last night I attended a seminar on 'How to be an effective mentor/coach', which was being presented by Mike Shalloway. Mike has been a coach for more than 10 years, and has lots of valuable insights on the subject.

He starts by talking about our biases in teaching - how we think somebody is smart if that person easily grasps what we are trying to teach. And if somebody does not understands or takes too long, then we tend to feel that the person is stupid. 'Different people have different styles of learning', says Mike. If somebody is having difficulty in following us, it usually means our style is wrong for him.

Just because we have more knowledge and experience than people we are coaching, doesn’t make us smarter. Our students could be smarter than us in other domains. The idea is to accept that we are not giving them any knowledge. That knowledge is already there, hidden. 'You just need to evoke that knowledge in them', Mike says. Make them experience it for themselves because they won’t understand or learn it if they just believe you. 'Its actually a journey together', somebody suggests from the audience.

So where does one start about evoking that knowledge? Mike gives an example from a game of Pick Up Sticks. He says, to win, one should always start by picking up the top most stick. 'After you pick the top stick, a most amazing thing happens', he exclaims. The difficult sticks that were at the bottom of the pile now become the easy top sticks. In our journey together, we need to look hard to find a place where we can both start from. A common knowledge, the simplest concept, the top stick. With our knowledge and experience we can then steer them in right direction and reach the end together. We might learn something new in the process ourselves. 'I always get deeper understanding of the subject when I am teaching it', Mike tells us.

So what is the biggest motivation for the job? 'A deep commitment to the success of the person you are coaching', he answers.