Faculty Mentor Competence: The Three Ears of the Faculty Mentor

July 3, 2023

by David Woolverton, Kairos Affiliate Professor


Last week, we began looking at some of the tools, best practices, and creative and relevant skills that faculty mentors need in order to facilitate each student’s educational journey. Specifically, we focused on “The Art of Asking Questions,” one of the main Indicators of Faculty Mentor Competence.

Today’s post looks at the second Indicator—Active Listening—in a blog I’m entitling, “The Three Ears of the Faculty Mentor.”

Yes, you read that right—three ears.

When we engage in mentoring, the skills of active listening work hand-in-hand with the art of asking questions. The Indicator of Active Listening has a primary target. The best faculty mentor:

Demonstrates active listening skills by identifying the underlying emotions, themes, questions, and key insights that are present in a conversation.

Curiosity, which we learned last week was the centerpiece of asking great questions, only engages the mentoring process when it is coupled with the full attention that comes with active listening. To do so, faculty mentors use all three of their ears.

In any mentoring conversation, faculty mentors use . . .

1) One ear to listen to the student

  • what they’re saying with their words (auditory)
  • what they’re saying with the body language (kinesthetic)
  • what they’re saying with their tone, with their emotions (emotive)
  • what are the overarching themes being presented?

2) One ear to listen to the Holy Spirit

  • what the Spirit may be saying to the faculty mentor within the conversation
  • what the Spirit may be saying to the student—for example, are there any “a-ha moments,” when a new awareness seems to dawn on the student?
  • what the Spirit may be saying to or through the mentor team
  • what questions does the conversation raise for the faculty mentor? Student? Mentor team?
  • what key insights or “next steps” are emerging from the conversation?

3) One ear to listen to the Kairos process

  • If everything is useful for the student’s discipleship and growth, how might the student use the basis of this conversation to pursue their learning goals? (For example, a student shares that she is having a difficult time with her school assignments because she’s been busy preparing a six-part presentation for her marketing firm on how to gain a global perspective on the use of their product. Instead of simply acknowledging her exhaustion, the faculty mentor might suggest that the six-part presentation could be adapted as an assignment for one of her learning outcomes.)
  • how is the student reaching their targets for each outcome?
  • how is the student’s work within their program maintaining the educational integrity of a Bachelors, Masters, or Doctoral degree (i.e., are the assignments showing the appropriate level of quality, research, integration of learning materials, etc.)?

All three ears are vitally important. Faculty mentors certainly have a responsibility to the student as, together, they craft a fully customizable educational track that meets the student’s vocational goals. At the same time, faculty mentors also are responsible for representing Kairos University’s educational integrity. Both elements are part of the framework that faculty mentors bring into the student’s process.

To exercise all three of our ears, faculty mentors need to engage fully the skills of active listening.

Active listening requires that:

We’re present in the moment. Faculty mentors are busy people too. It’s so easy for us to want to multi-task when we’re having our sessions with our students—especially when our meetings are on Zoom or FaceTime. It’s important for us to silence our phones, close or minimize the other items on our desktop, and give our undivided attention to the student and their mentor team. One of the easiest, but critically important ways we can show our full presence while on Zoom is to keep our video on. When our video is on, they can see us as much as we can see them. There is an accountability—and a gift of respect—connected to being fully present.

We’re creating an environment of safety, compassion, and honesty. Faculty mentors set the stage for active listening by first engaging the “environmental factors” of the meeting. Even on Zoom, we may acknowledge body language, we may see facial expressions, and we may ask about what we see: “Jane, you keep rubbing your temples. Are you feeling okay?” “Bobby, I hear the frustration in what you’re saying. Can you help me to understand what’s going on?” Then, we challenge ourselves not to interrupt while the other person is speaking. Often our interruptions are to finish another person’s sentence, or to usurp the conversation based on our opinions, or to prevent the other person from saying what’s on their mind, regardless of what it may be. When we interrupt another person, typically it is because of our own anxiety, arrogance, or presumption, or reflects our own discomfort with what is being shared. Our interruptions always say more about us than about the other person—and what those interruptions communicate quite often is disrespect. When necessary, of course, the faculty mentor certainly can set boundaries on conversations—interrupting others who are being rude or demeaning, asking for clarification, and the like. But generally, we strive to create a safe place for the student’s learning.

We’re giving appropriate and encouraging feedback that shows we’ve heard the student. Before addressing the topic and continuing the conversation, faculty mentors seek to let the student know that they heard what was shared—not in “parroting fashion,” but in genuine, integrated listening. It might sound something like this:

Instead of: “Joe, what I hear you saying is that you’re really getting a lot out of your church history course. Is that what you said?”

We Might Ask: “Joe, I think it’s great that you’re excited about what you’re learning in church history. What’s one thing that really impacted you?”

We’re summarizing what we’ve heard at the end of the session and including a summary of “next steps” that were decided. Ultimately, the faculty mentor summarizes the encounter to let the student (and the mentor team) know that they’ve been heard, that they have accountability (also part of active listening), and that everyone’s on the same page for what happens between this session and the next: “Okay, so Janelle, thank you for all the work you put into this Outcome. It was exciting to hear you share the different parts of your adapted assignment. Your PowerPoint presentation was so strong—I wouldn’t mind using that in one of my own leadership meetings! I agree with you that you’re ready for your master assessment—and based on their interactions with you tonight, it sounds like your other mentors agree too. Do you feel ready to set a date for that assessment and talk through what that assessment will look like?”

One of the greatest expressions of Christ-centered love that we can offer another person is our full attention and a genuine listening ear (or three). Empathy and respect require that we slow down our pace enough to truly hear one another—interacting with what is brought to the table of discussion. When we trust that God never wastes anything, then every conversation has the potential to be part of the discipling process for the student—and for the faculty mentor (and mentor team). Paying attention to one another opens all participants up to what God may be doing within the transformative mentoring relationship.

To value another person is to listen to them, to let them know that they have been really heard. In our context, active listening does not presume agreement. Rather it assumes that the other person is engaging in a learning process and we’re there to help them do so.

Next week, we will look at yet another essential skill for the Faculty Mentor—Observing.

all stories