When we see highly successful educational leaders, it is often a mystery how they got to where they are today. For many, their accomplishments may seem out of reach and even in some respects intimidating–particularly for new leaders as they are starting their journeys. However, it is critical to remember that each successful leader was “new” once too. Understanding their stories offers particular insight into the journey that new leaders may encounter and can provide useful guidance in terms of best practices to leverage in promoting leadership and change. While every leader is unique, in this two part entry, we hope to pull back the curtain on success and shine light on one aspect of leadership through the personal story of one of this website’s Distinguished Fellows and global education leader professor Bruce Barnett–the role of “mentorship” in supporting change.
Bruce Barnett opens up about his early career experience with one key mentor…
The most influential mentor in my higher education career is Dr. Leonard Burrello, who is currently at the University of South Florida. Leonard recruited me to apply for a vacant educational leadership faculty position at Indiana University in 1987–my first job in higher education. Moving across the country from California to Indiana not only was culture shock for our family, but also was an entirely new educational landscape for me to understand and maneuver. This is where Leonard’s mentorship was particularly helpful–he was extremely willing to involve me in various professional relationships and networks he had established across the state. For instance, he gathered superintendents he knew from Marion County (Indianapolis) to consider supporting a leadership preparation grant we submitted to the Danforth Foundation. Although none of these superintendents knew me or my background, with Leonard’s blessing, they agreed to participate and we were awarded the grant. In addition, he invited me to attend several Indiana School Leadership Council meetings around the state; as a result, I became involved in a district-level school improvement and visioning project.
Although I left Indiana University after three short years to work at the University of Northern Colorado, we have continued our professional mentoring relationship. On one hand, when I became a department chair for the first time, I sought his advice and counsel on how to work effectively with faculty, especially in facilitating program development. On the other hand, he has involved me in projects and programs he has developed around the country. Examples include reviewing and analyzing instructional video materials, providing feedback on professional development programs for superintendents, and reading book prospectuses and drafts of chapters.
What he is so adept at doing is allowing our mentoring relationship to evolve and mature. This evolution is precisely what the literature reveals about effective mentoring–the best mentors are those who begin by being more directive in providing professional guidance and support and overtime shift the relationship to collaboration, where both the mentor and mentee (me) have equal standing in their ideas and discussions. The other point is that good mentors see possibilities in others that they often cannot see. Even though I did not envision being a university faculty member, Leonard planted the seed not only by recruiting me for the job, but also by expanding my professional networks. I can honestly say I was very nervous and skeptical about my chances of being effective in the professoriate; however, with Leonard’s unwavering trust in me support to try new ventures, I have come to love this job.
From mentee to mentor, Bruce Barnett on supporting future educational leaders…
I have had the good fortune to serve as a mentor in formal programs and in informal ways. The three most prominent examples include mentoring doctoral students in the University Council for Educational Administrator’s Jackson Scholars’ program, mentoring a junior faculty member at my current institution, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and my work supporting junior faculty with the UCEA.
This is a formal mentoring program organized by UCEA which matches doctoral students of color with a university faculty member in another institution to help them navigate the expectations of their program and build their knowledge and skills in pursuing a career in higher education. The expectation is that these scholars will seek university faculty positions upon receiving their degrees. I have been assigned a doctoral graduate student annually since 2006.
My approach in working with these students is to: (a) build trust with them, (b) determine their research interests during their doctoral program and their professional aspirations, (c) provide advice and assistance aimed at their needs, and (d) maintain lines of communication. Typically, we are formally assigned students for two years; some of them finish their degrees in this time period, while others take longer to graduate. Besides meeting at the annual UCEA Convention each fall, I contact with them throughout the year. Usually this is through email messages and Skype conversations.
Early in the relationship, I strive to get to know their professional background and what they are interested in researching in order to determine how I might best serve them. Often this results in suggesting other scholars in the field whose work they might find useful, reacting to their ideas for the dissertation, and offering to read drafts of papers to provide feedback. As our relationship develops, I focus on what they can do to prepare to become a future faculty member. We often discuss the need to seek important experiences, such as serving as a teaching assistant, expanding course papers to present at professional conferences, and submitting these papers to journals. As they begin preparing application materials for jobs, we discuss how to present their curriculum vita, develop effective cover letters, and prepare for job interviews and site visits. I offer to review students’ vita and cover letters, providing feedback on ways to improve these documents before they are submitted.
I also have kept in contact with several Jackson Scholars once they have taken faculty positions in universities. We often meet at the annual UCEA Convention to discuss their experiences, suggest ways to strengthen and focus their research endeavors, and recommend others in the field whose work complements their studies. It is a pleasure to watch these young scholars making their way in the profession and fondly reminds me of how Leonard was mentoring me at this stage of my career over 30 years ago.
Dr. Julia Mahfouz, a 2015-17 Jackson Scholar, and Assistant Professor at the University of Idaho college of Education, Health and Human Sciences, department of Leadership and Counseling shares her experiences with Dr. Barnett’s mentorship:
“I was blessed with the selection of my mentor. Dr. Barnett is an excellent listener – he listened carefully and mindfully to what I know, what I am looking for from this mentoring relationship and what he thought is needed for me to know as I embark on applying for jobs and being in academia. The best part is that he didn’t assume and asked questions for clarifications. He spent hours guiding me through the process of applying; he read my cover letters and helped me see the options I may have. His mentorship didn’t stop by the end of my graduate years; he continued guiding me through the processes as I moved to academia as an assistant professor.
He is my one person I could meet with and know that I am not judged or blamed for what I think or how I think. Now, I try to mirror the values of Barbara Jackson. Ubuntu— ‘I am because you are and you are because I am’ a motto followed by the Jackson Scholar network which builds that strong sense of direction in which one is grateful for all the mentoring that is happening within this space and is ready to pay it forward.”
Junior faculty mentorship at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA):
Our department has an informal mentoring program, one where junior faculty can select another faculty member to mentor them. Several years ago, I realized one of our new faculty members, Dr. Nathern Okilwa had not selected anyone to mentor him, so I approached him to see if he would like to work with me in developing his research and publication record. Because of his interest in conducting international studies, I invited him to participate in the International School Leadership Development Network (ISLDN), a UCEA-sponsored project I helped to create and co-direct. I also said we could begin to contribute to the network by gathering data in a local high-need school that has experienced increased student achievement for the past 20 years under the leadership of four principals (to learn more about this project, see a previous blog here).
Through this involvement, he has been the lead author/presenter for one book chapter (in press), two peer-reviewed journal articles, and five national and international conference presentations, focusing on the empirical research we conducted at the local high-need elementary school. I also have collaborated with him to co-author two peer-reviewed articles and one conference paper dealing with my research interests on international preparation programs for school leaders and mentoring experiences of assistant principals.
Dr. Nathern S. A. Okilwa, an Associate Professor at UTSA’s College of Education & Human Development, department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies shares his experiences with Dr. Barnett’s mentorship:
“When we attend professional conferences or district meetings, Bruce is very intentional about introducing me to people thus helping me build critical networks. Bruce mentors by example be it scholarly or service projects. He takes his commitments seriously and follows through to completion.
In addition, our relationship spans outside of the work environment – we’ve attended ball games together, with our families and he has supported me on some home improvement projects as well. I’m really fortunate this mentor-mentee relationship has evolved into this special relationship.”
Mentoring junior faculty for University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA):
Over the past few years, I have been involved in activities with UCEA aimed at providing mentoring support for junior faculty who are seeking promotion and tenure. For example, for almost a decade we have been hosting a “speed-dating” mentorship event in which audience members meet with small groups of faculty mentors and then rotate to another group about every 8-10 minutes. In addition, a group of senior UCEA faculty members has been creating other opportunities for junior faculty to learn about the promotion and tenure process. Under the leadership of former UCEA President, María Luisa González, this group has organized forums at the Convention and developed the UCEA Retention, Tenure, and Promotion Guidebook published by UCEA. I co-authored a chapter on preparing for promotion to full professor with my long-time mentor, Leonard Burrello. Since its publication in 2017, chapter contributors share their insights during a Convention session. The group is now proposing a half-day workshop for deans, department chairs, and faculty on important ways of supporting faculty to achieve tenure and promotion. Our hope is to deliver the inaugural workshop in November 2019 during a Convention pre-session.
We thank Dr. Barnett and his colleagues for shedding light on some of the ways that mentorship contributed to their success as education leaders. In part 2 of this series “Global Education Leadership: Mentoring for Change” we will learn more from Dr. Barnett regarding the role and value of mentorship for education leaders at different parts of their careers as well as what this looks like within different countries and cultural contexts. Make sure to stay tuned and we welcome you to share your mentor and mentee experiences with us at: this website.
Maxie and Paula
Meet Bruce Barnett: