Mentoring and Modeling: What Architects can Learn from Montessori

Both role-model and tutor, mentorship is an awesome task.  We all want a mentor, and certainly flatter ourselves that it would be great to mentor someone else.  But what does that really mean?  Having sent my daughter to Montessori school, one definition I would offer is the concept of re-teaching.  According to the precepts of is founder, Maria Montessori, teachers are guides and classrooms are set up with children at three different grade levels.  Children master a skill by having it introduced by the teacher an then re-teaching it to their peers.  Passing on their newly-acquired knowledge enables the child-teacher to learn as much as the one receiving the lesson by reinforcing the previously learned concepts.  What a beautiful thought: to teach is to learn.  Through learning comes mastery, through mastery comes confidence, and through confidence comes leadership.  And so it is with mentoring.

We are all learners

Whether apprentice or master, we never stop learning.  Implicit in this is the idea that everyone has something to teach.  Even that intern. By drawing out the knowledge of the person you are mentoring, you help them to better understand themselves, what they know, and what matters to them. This allows you to coach them in pursuing activities and professional roles that will lead to their fulfillment.  It also allows the mentor to get a better understanding of his or her own professional values, and to question established ways of doing thing by asking “why.” Learning is a lifelong mission of acquiring knowledge and categorizing it in a way that makes sense and is useful to us. Growth and change are requirements for relevance.

Mentoring is not a relay race 

So often, we view mentoring purely as knowledge sharing, a ritual passing of the baton from one generation of architects to another.  That assumes that the mentor has all of the knowledge and power and that their career path is the “right” one.  It also assumes that our profession is static and that knowledge handed down will always have value. Especially in today’s culture, career paths are highly individual.  Mentors should be guides, asking questions not imposing rules. 

Mentoring is multi-directional

There is a common myth that mentoring requires a level of experience or specialized knowledge.  At some fuzzily defined point, we “cross over” from being mentored to mentoring.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Why do you think there are so many executive career coaches?  We all need an outside party to help us view ourselves from 35,000 feet and take stock.  Someone to challenge us and help us set new goals.  We grow by teaching others, learning from them and seeking out new knowledge and paths for ourselves.  No matter where you are in your career path, you should seek out mentorship.  The AIA has some valuable resources on its website for helping you make professional development and learning a key part of your firm’s culture.

In your career path, who has inspired you?  Who can you work with today to get that kick in the pants to keep on growing?  Who can you reach out to, drawing out both their passion and purpose and your own?  Please share your experiences both as a mentor and being mentored.

1 comment:

  1. Angela,
    I always enjoy following your thoughts and areas of interest. Your current topic is one I am most interested in and have attempted to tackle some of the questions you raise. Over the past 2 years I have worked as an AIA Director for the Charlotte Chapter here in North Carolina with particular interest and focus on the mentoring process. We found the traditional mentoring model lacking in many aspects and seemed ineffective in many ways. Your article touches on some of these shortcomings. The traditional model was, in many ways, one-directional, a hit or miss in the pairing process, had a limited knowledge base, lacked flexibility, knowledge disbursement was limited to a 1:1 ratio and the success of the process was always based on full participation of the 2 parties.
    To compensate for the shortfalls we were experiencing with this model we investigated and implemented a Group Model which we call Mentoring Exchange. The model works like this; a group is composed of 5 – 8 individuals, the group is stratified according to knowledge / age, the composition is typically 2 - 4 architecture students, one Associate AIA member (unregistered /intern), one YAF , (young architects forum – up to 10 years of professional experience) one professional, (10 plus years) and, when available, one Fellow – FAIA. This new venture capitalizes on a broader knowledge base and helps make for a more informal setting and exchange of ideas rather than the traditional educational mode that mentoring has more recently been associated with. The advantages of this collective include; a multi-directional social interaction which allows for various levels of participation, the group can shrink or grow slightly and still maintain viability, it utilizes the less formal dynamic of the group vs the individual one-on-one model, it contains a multi-knowledge platform with different levels of experience, it generates a variety of ideas and thoughts vs a single precept, it can provide opportunities for ‘break-outs’ when 1:1 learning is appropriate and valuable, and it leverages the senior knowledge professionals to more than one outlet.
    While my daughter too is enrolled in a Montessori program, (and my son before her), I had never drawn the correlations of our Mentoring Exchange program and Maria’s formulation for learning. As you acknowledge, the Montessori classroom is composed of 3 grade levels or ‘stratified knowledge’ where the more experienced students can assist the younger learners and share their experience in small group settings as they often do.
    Our experiment with the Mentoring Exchange is in its second year and has grown from it’s older one-on-one model with a handful of participants to 60 participants last year, to over 100 currently enrolled with more joining us each day. For those who might be interested in exploring the concept further, our AIA Charlotte website, , is still evolving but has some great information you might find useful.
    The research is out there to support the benefits of this education model, sometimes referred to as group learning or collaborative learning. It’s obviously in its early stages of development in our little experiment but the results thus far have been most encouraging.

    Tim Eckmair, AIA / NCARB /LEED AP
    Design Principal - HDR


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