Faculty Mentor Competence: Deconstructing the Myths of the Faculty Mentor

June 19, 2023

by David Woolverton, Kairos Affiliate Professor


Kairos University has been a pioneer in competency based theological education (CBTE). Recently, Kairos’ Greg Henson partnered with Aaron Einfeld, Director of Lifelong Learning at Calvin Seminary, to facilitate a workshop with a group of faculty, administrators, and partners engaged in the Empower program at Calvin Seminary. The goal of this workshop was to cultivate a list of outcomes and indicators of proficiency for faculty mentors using experiences and insights gleaned from Kairos, Calvin, and several other schools engaged in the work of CBTE.

Over the next six weeks, I will be taking each of those Indicators, along with their individual targets, and applying them to our educational context. We want you to see first-hand not only the importance of the faculty mentor role in the student’s education but also the level of competency that is built around the role.

For many of us in the faculty mentor role, that may have meant that our methods of education needed to adjust to accommodate the shifting cultures and the diverse learning needs of our students. At the same time, our goals for equipping our students to be high-capacity leaders for God needed to remain strong. That’s where the list of Indicators comes into play.

Before we share those Indicators of Faculty Mentor Competence, however, today’s article focuses on three primary “myths” about faculty mentoring that must be deconstructed.

Myth #1: Anyone Can Be a Faculty Mentor
While it is true that anyone can be a mentor (if they have a student to follow them), it takes a special person to be a faculty mentor at Kairos. For the sake of our students, as well as for the gospel that we represent, we want people of solid, Christ-centered character, who are competent at equipping students to engage their own learning processes, able to provoke theological inquiry and integration, and who are willing to hold both the student and themselves accountable to the content of the high standard of education Kairos is known for.

For Kairos, the greatest gift a faculty mentor can give to a student is themselves—their time, their attention, their focus, their prayers, their love, their care, their boundaries, their experience, their feedback, their encouragement, and their faith and life integrity.

Mentoring is based on life experiences, for sure. But the best mentors allow their constellation of life experiences to give them a deep, abiding patience as they walk among their student’s questions, explanations, doubts, deliberations, reactions, and musings. In many cases, the faculty mentor has been where the student is now. But faculty mentors need to remember that this primarily is the student’s journey, not their own.

Being a faculty mentor first requires preparation—not just from their life experiences, but by their commitment to what God may be birthing in the student’s life and vocation. A faculty mentor’s focus is not simply “how do I fit these meetings into my schedule” (although we understand the practical nature of the hybrid roles we lead), but “how do I establish an intentional rhythm that fosters a meaningful mentoring relationship.”

That rhythm includes:

  • Praying—for our students, for their discernment, for our ability to hear and see what they are facing into. Together, we remember it’s all about Jesus first, and that the “work” of spiritual formation is an internal process nurtured by the Holy Spirit.
  • Encouraging—regularly checking in on our students to see how they’re doing, to let them know that we care.
  • Creating accountability—regularly reviewing uploaded student assignments; sending them a reminder email a week before the scheduled mentor team meeting (at least until they take ownership of that process); coaching them, as needed, on best practices for running those meetings; getting to know the denominational expectations that will be imposed on the student so that we can ensure a positive educational experience for them; and assessing the learning that each student experiences on their path.
  • Listening—for common themes from those connections to discern what we may need to research, learn, or get help to deal with, or for the broader issues that may be resolved through bringing multiple students together for peer interactions.

For example, I schedule that rhythm—putting reminders on my calendar, and blocking times each week, as needed, for any of the above.

Myth #2: Mentoring is Teaching
While some faculty mentors, in fact, are professional educators—whether professors at Kairos or at other learning institutions—by definition, faculty mentors are not meant to be creating didactic experiences for their students. Rather, faculty mentors have a rather unique equipping role.

A faculty mentor’s primary tasks include (but are not limited to):

  • Facilitating and assessing a student’s fully customizable learning process within each of the outcomes in their degree program.
  • Asking the appropriate questions that keep the flow of discernment and accountability moving the student forward in progress.
  • Equipping the student’s mentor team in understanding their role, how to follow and engage the student’s progress via Pathwright, and how to ask questions that assist the student in navigating their educational process within their vocational context.
  • Facilitating a student’s master assessment and the reflection process it entails as the student and mentors discern proficiency in each of the learning outcomes.
  • Representing the student to the Kairos network, and representing the Kairos network to the student and the student’s mentor team.

For those of us who are wired to teach (professionally or in other contexts), we may need to deconstruct our traditional understanding of our role in order to (re-)construct our new understanding as a faculty mentor. Mentor team meetings are not classrooms, per se, and our role is not to educate our students in the traditional sense. Instead, in the context of mentoring, we may be asking more questions than answering them, guiding thoughts rather than defending ours, and providing resources and creative ideas for alternative or adapted assignments that will equip the student to thrive in their vocational context.

Myth #3: Mentoring is Student-Driven
So, this myth is deceptive. Yes, the best mentoring is done when the student asks all the questions, drives their educational process, and takes responsibility for their learning goals, studies, schedule, and mentor team. But not all students know how to do so; and not all students will have the tools, knowledge base, temperament, or skills to be able to—at least, initially. In other words, students may not know what they don’t know.

So, faculty mentors help to create a pathway for the students to be equipped for their journey. Initial modeling establishes and reinforces long-term effectiveness.

Mentoring is a transitional process rather than a transactional one. Certainly, faculty mentors transact their role on behalf of Kairos University. However, with respect to the student, faculty mentors create a safe place for the Holy Spirit to transition the student along the journey of their discipleship from where they are now to where God is bringing them next. Their educational journey is one of the vehicles that the Spirit uses to do so.

Over the next five weeks, we will look at the top five Indicators of Faculty Mentor Competence—Asking, Listening, Observing, Documenting, and Sharing Assessment Feedback. With each post, you’ll get a “behind-the-scenes” glimpse at what our network of faculty mentors does to facilitate each student’s educational experience at Kairos.

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