How to: Mentoring and the Character Dimension of Knowing

March 14, 2022

by David Williams, President, Taylor Seminary


Last week, we reminded ourselves that, at Kairos, we believe knowing to be an integrative act that includes a content dimension, a character dimension, and a craft dimension. We also took a little time to think through mentoring for the content dimension. This week, we are turning our attention to what we call “character” and knowing. We are going to try and be clear about what this dimension is and how one might mentor for character.

Mentoring and Character

Scripture shows us “knowing” is an intimate process that deeply connects the knower with what is known. Unlike approaches to education that hide, ignore, or deny this dimension of knowing, we embrace it and believe it’s essential in any educational journey. We believe that knowledge is achieved only when, and to the extent that, one’s personhood is impacted by what is known. Knowing, as we see it, is neither just about the learner nor about what is being learned—the “great thing” as Parker Palmer calls it. Rather, knowledge emerges from the engagement of the learner with the “great thing.”

Such knowledge transforms the knower into what is known as that which is known takes roots in the life of the learner; as, again, in the words of Parker Palmer, the “small” story of the learner finds its place in the “big” story of the great thing; and the “big” story of the great thing finds its place in the “small” story of the learner. We call this dimension of knowing, the character dimension. Assessing this dimension of another’s life is fraught with difficulty, and the invitation to speak into one’s life is a privilege that should never be taken lightly. It should always be embraced with the utmost humility and care.

But calling what we do here the “character” dimension of knowing can mislead us a bit as to what we are doing in each outcome assessment. There is the temptation to abstract this notion of “character” from the particular outcome and to generalize it into assessing whether the student is a “good person” or not. This often takes the form of asking whether they display the fruit of the Spirit, embody the beatitudes, or a host of other Biblical criteria/evidence of being a good person. Of course, we want our students to display these qualities. We also believe that the journey of embodying true knowledge will be a journey toward good character in this sense and that each outcome for which each student strives to display proficiency can contribute to that. But this is not what we are assessing in each outcome assessment we do. This kind of assessment is what we do in the Christian Spirituality outcome, not in each outcome’s master assessment.

Rather, in the character dimension of the master assessment, the mentor team is assessing how well the student has integrated the content learned in that outcome into their personhood, their way of being in the world.

Assessing the level of proficiency asks questions like: how well did the student integrate this content into who they are as a person? How has it come to impact their life as a faithful follower of Jesus? Do they regularly and consistently show the impact of this content in their life with others? Is their integration something that is worthy of imitation or worthy of commendation? Are there areas of the student’s life that need to display this outcome better? Has the learner been appropriately transformed in pursuit of the outcome? How has the journey of this outcome changed the learner? These are the kinds of questions that direct our character assessment of the outcome.

Obviously, personal integration and transformation are closely related to good character. Both are essential in the journey toward being the people Jesus calls us to be and being able to flourish in our vocational context. But what we are assessing in the character dimension of the master assessment needs to be specific to each outcome if the student is going to be a person who flourishes in their context. The assessment of this proficiency, as with that of content proficiency, requires the insight and perspective of each member of the mentor team.

Next week, we will turn our attention to the third and final dimension of the integrative act: craft. We will focus our attention on mentoring for the craft dimension of knowing.

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