In their acclaimed recent book, Leadership Through Mentoring, Phyllis A. Gimbel and Peter Gow explain how critical mentoring is in leadership development for new Academic Leaders. Gimbel and Gow describe the benefits of a structured mentorship program, not only for new leaders, but for their mentors and the entire community.
After reading the book, I’m convinced that a structured mentoring program is essential for new leaders! At the same time, I began thinking about another kind of support leaders (new and seasoned) need. Mentoring isn’t quite the right word for a phenomenon I’ve been observing over the past few years, and even more notably during recent times. One phrase I’ve heard repeatedly during the pandemic is, “It’s like starting all over again.” When it’s everyone’s first time navigating an experience, the roles of advice-giver and recipient are a little different.
Here at One Schoolhouse, we’ve been seeing the connections Academic Leaders are forming with their colleagues in other independent schools, connections that I’m going to refer to as peership. Peership isn’t a term in wide use in education, but it’s a pretty well-developed concept in other areas. In peership, there’s no hierarchy to the connection. There’s instead a recognition that the most supportive group for an individual might be others going through similar experiences who have similar vantage points.
Educators foster this type of bond frequently in our students as we group and regroup them in ways intended to help them grow. Study groups, collaborative learning, clubs, dorms, and teams all provide structures of support. We even use the terms peers or peer groups frequently. Academic Leaders also build structures for support for faculty in school as well. Whether it’s within a department or a grade-level team, or even a PLC, there are often peer networks for teachers on campus. But what about those whose roles on campus mean there’s a limited peer group? That’s more complicated, but no less important, and we’ve been inspired to see Academic Leaders build their peership networks as they support teaching and learning.
We’ve watched as you, Academic Leaders, built each other up during previously unimagined challenges. You’ve shared and received resources in our meetups, on the listserv, and in chats during webinars. What you (and we) may not have realized while it was happening is that you are engaging in just the kind of movement that lasts well beyond the immediate need. Last week, Liz and I reminded you that you are highly competent and accomplished professionals, even when you feel like you’re still “just figuring it out.” We are fortunate that our perspective gives us the advantage of seeing across myriad schools and individuals, and it’s important to recognize your efforts in making peership happen.
Michelle Friedman, an executive coach who specializes in helping businesses develop cohort structures to support employees going through transitions, believes that the need for peer support should not be overlooked. When employees are facing somewhat distinctive circumstances, they fare better when they realize that they are not alone. Describing one cohort for individuals re-entering the workforce, Friedman said, “The participants feel like they are going from zero to 100 miles per hour. The typical participant has been home-based for 4, 6, 10 years, and then one day she’s on the 7am train to her new job.” She continued, “No one else in her life is going through this except the other people in her cohort. The cohort plays a critical role by providing peer support, a place where vulnerability can be expressed and shared, and a forum for exchanging advice on personal and professional challenges.”
As we head into the new year with all the trepidation it deserves, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has contributed to my peership group and to honor those who have so generously contributed their peership to the Academic Leaders community.
You can learn more about mentoring during our webinar this Wednesday, January 19, register or see the recording on our site here.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)