Dr. Linda S. Behar-Horenstein
UF Department of Educational Administration and Policy
2005-2006 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
I provide this essay in response and appreciation regarding my nomination for the dissertation advisor/mentoring award. In this essay, I describe my mentoring style and the ways that I work with graduate students.
I begin with the belief that, when provided with the right learning experiences, feedback and mentoring, students will attain their goals. Welcoming students to the learning environment, encouraging them to find their voice as emergent scholars, inviting their curiosity and holding them accountable for their learning and thinking are some of the characteristics that define how I craft my mentoring with students. Students are urged to read the literature, describe the current the body of research and then to identify the problems that necessitate inquiry.
Providing mentoring is a reciprocal relationship. I learn from my students just as they learn from me. While working with students I encourage them to find their voice, to discover their own potential as a novice researcher. I have been privileged to watch many graduate students develop into thoughtful and capable researchers. However, mentoring does not end with graduation. While talking with one of my students I suggested that her agency, the Northeastern Florida Educational Consortium (NEFEC), could benefit from on-site classroom observation and interviews to assess the impact of the Florida Reading Initiative and to understand the culture of these site-based schools. As a result we developed a mixed methods research design that has now been launched as a three-year study that will permit graduate students to do qualitative research and to learn how to become researchers.
I offer my formal course-teaching as another example of my mentoring style. My research course, EDA 7990 Research Design in Educational Administration, is gaining popularity among doctoral students. One primary goal of this course is to ensure that students write the first three chapters of their dissertation. This course has drawn students from Counselor Education, Educational Administration and Policy, the School of Teaching and Learning and the College of Health and Human Performance. As a general observation, most of the students who take this course defend and graduate within a year to 18 months after course completion. I facilitate students’ progress in several ways. For the first several weeks, I present conceptual material such as the guidelines for writing a dissertation proposal. Following one particular presentation on the alignment of epistemology, theoretical frameworks, methodology and methods, I invite each student to come to the board, write out her/his research problem, questions and then their epistemology, theoretical frameworks, methodology and methods. This process helps students begin to think about the relationship between theory and practice. When students make presentations to their peers, they are challenged to take ownership of their work. Additionally they must defend or justify the need for their research questions. This type of active learning increases their investment in learning, motivation and performance. Research in cognitive psychology has demonstrated that when students are asked to teach their peers, their own understanding of material deepens.
Another way I facilitate student success is by having them critique a dissertation using a rubric similar to that used by journal editors. This exercise helps students see and understand how a professional study is evaluated. It also deepens their understanding of research design, utility of methods, and allows them to identify attributes of the study that they might want to emulate. I always provide extensive written feedback on submitted work that can be used to guide the development of subsequent drafts.
To model my work as a researcher, I discuss my own initiatives to point out the design elements and to showcase the opportunities that students will have in the field. I also share the challenges and successes that I experienced when doing my own doctoral research. I also mentor students by encouraging them to make national presentations and to submit manuscripts for publication. I have co-authored 10 refereed articles with students. One of my students had her dissertation work accepted for publication as a book.
This past summer, the students enrolled in my research course, EDA 7990 Research Design in Educational Administration, honored me with a plaque to thank me for my support and guidance. One of the students who spoke on behalf of the class stated: “We always know that when we take one of your classes that you will give to us, but this time you gave and gave, and then you gave some more.”
In my classrooms I try to create a figurative collegial circle of learners by setting up the physical environment in a half-circle so that everyone can see one another. I quickly identify students’ preferred learning styles and try to interact with them in ways that honor their learning preferences while encourage them to strengthen less preferred styles. In my interactions in the classroom and in small groups, I stretch students to their growing edge. I hold students to rigorous standards of scholarship and hold them accountable to meeting those standards. In my experience, students generally rise to the occasion. They meet and even exceed my standards.
In the classes that I teach, I remain attentive to students’ nonverbal and verbal communications. If I see that a student looks puzzled or sense that students do not seem to understand an idea, I pause to check in. If my hunch is correct then I re-teach or explain the concept in another way.
To ensure the continuity of progress of the students that I chair, I provide extensive written feedback on drafts of students’ work in a timely manner. I also encourage students to set-up a timely face-to-face meeting to discuss their reactions, concerns, or questions about the feedback, and any changes in the plan of research that might be suggested. If that is not possible, we schedule a telephone conference. I am highly accessible to both the students that I chair and those for whom I am a committee member.
Currently I am chairing 13 dissertation committees and serve on 10 committees in and outside of the college. I have had and currently have the privilege to work with outstanding doctoral students. I truly enjoy the work that I do. Working with doctoral level students is a privilege and an honor. I care deeply for and about my students. I try to serve as role model by showing them how to conceptualize research design and by inspiring them to be the best they can be. I am proud to be playing a role in the development of the next cadre of scholars and academicians… it doesn’t get any better than this.
Several of my former and current students hold leadership positions in universities including Florida International University and Ball State. In the public schools, some of students serve as the Director of Curriculum for the Alachua County School Board, the Director of Curriculum for Citrus County and the Director of Personnel for the Alachua County School Board. Two former students are principals of Alachua County middle schools.