Bridgette Fincher- Masters in Educational Technology and Leadership. 2006

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Action Research Project


Music in the Mentoring

Music is a trigger, no doubt about it. Buoys a mood, brings on tears, or the warm phantom arms of love. I was circumnavigating my apartment complex the other day, ostensibly to work off a little chub but more to just get out of the house. I had the Indigo Girls running through the headphone and I was really thinking about the whole concept of mentors. How did I find mine? What was the draw? What did I learn and how? What makes mentoring different from other forms of interaction? I wasn’t listening, I was thinking. But the lyrics insisted. “There's more than one answer to these questions pointing me in crooked line. The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.”  I stopped. For there, in the words of the song lay… mentoring.  

"Closer I Am To Fine" 

I'm trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
The best thing you've ever done for me
is to help me take my life less seriously
it's only life after all

It’s all about social relationships, construction of knowledge and sharing of expertise driven by a mutually recognized need and attraction for an ongoing one-to-one relationship. Mentors nurture a novice individual by serving in various capacities to help develop that person both professionally and personally.  The emotional aspects of the pairing are the struts for the cerebral construction of knowledge needed. The mentor and mentee balance reciprocity while exploring “the negotiated character of meaning, and about the concerned (engaged and dilemma-driven) nature of learning activity for the people involved.” (Lave and Winger.1991) Each step of the way, what needs to be addressed, and how, is renegotiated according to the evolving roles in the relationship. In mentoring, nothing is static. Both tango through the logistics of helping the novice learn how to participate within a given community of practice, so that, upon the final dip and release of the mentor, he or she can take on the role of expert themselves. 

Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it, I'm crawling on your shore

Mentors come in all shapes and forms, if one leaves a space open for them. For me, life percolates like a funky telenovela. Characters come and go. Some stay the whole run, others a season, and a few drop in to add drama for an episode or two. Regardless, my mentors made a fundamental, lasting, first order shift in both my attitude and actions.  Mentors cropped up as a function of my job, sometimes they evolved because of a friendship. “Fit” was, and is, important. Trust and respect, on both sides, has to be firmly in place for anything to happen. Warts and worries are not shared with those a person stiff arms out of reach. Being open, honest and extremely real about themselves as people is pivotal in establishing reciprocity. A good dose of humor, and a deeply rooted sense of integrity, goes far in making sure that the process is a safe one for both parties.  Interestingly, a degree of objectiveness and ability to take the long view helps a person be a mentor, somewhat analogous to a plate of bacon and eggs. In making the breakfast, the chicken/ mentor, is clearly involved. However, the porcine mentee is more than committed! This slight remove allows the mentor to see options beyond what is visible to the novice both intellectually and emotionally. “I’ve learned that whenever I tie things up with my feelings, I lose my objectivity and my edge when it comes to problem solving.” (Peddy. 2001) Being empathetic, compassionate, but realistic, mentor provides the appropriate mirror needed for helping a novice figure out possible steps that he or she may take.

I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper
And I was free.

There is talking the talk and there is walking the walk. The novice is attracted to learn from the mentor when seeing his or her practice in action. Through formal interactions, when the mentor knows he is being observed, but more poignantly from the extemporaneous situations when the veteran is unaware of the effects of what his actions, with a third party, models for the novice. The internalization of how actions correlate with the dialogue allows for better metal construction of what an expert is. It adds the needed veracity. “The apprentice’s ability to understand the master’s performance depends not on their possessing the same representation of it, or of the objects it entails, but rather than engaging in the action.” (Lave and Winger.1991) The mentor is there to help the mentee scaffold and construct closer approximations toward a given level of competence by allowing for more and more opportunities to engage in real and meaningful work and being observant to a plethora of attributes that surround the novice’s attempts. By discussing the expectations and norms currently agreed upon the community of practice and how they jibe with the approximation the mentee has attempted, sets the tone and path is set for the next run.

I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
To seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
Twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
I went in seeking clarity.

That is not to say everything is clear sailing. Often the whole process is fraught with moments of backtracking, doubt and outright frustration. Knowing how to weather these times and persevere is a key skill. If it is important, risks and mistakes are involved. My particular issues have been fretfully chewing on a problem until it has been splintered beyond recognition and getting a rather largish dose of hubris under control. Self knowledge of the good, the bad and the ugly brings reality to the relationship and to the process just as each step affords new challenges and successes. Buy using faith to move towards aspirations, the journey becomes pivotal and important for each.  

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.


  • Chandler, Christy. “Mentoring and Woman in Academia: Revaluating the Traditional Model.” NWSA Journal. Vol. 8.1996.98

  • Indigo Girls. “Closer I Am to Fine”. Becoming You. Sony. Audio CD. Los Angeles, CA. 2002 

  • Lave,Jean and Wenger, Etienne. Situated Learning-Legitimate Peripheral Participation.Cambridge University Press. 1991.

  • Peddy, Shirley.The Art of Mentoring: Lead, Follow and Get Out of the Way. Bullion Books. 2001.

  • Zachay, Lois. The Mentor's Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships. Jossey-Bass. 2000 

  • Wright, James, and Young, Clara. “Mentoring: The Components for Success.” Journal of Instructional Psychology. Vol. 28. George Uhlig Publisher, 2001:202



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