Table for 3: The Story Behind Dinner with Linda Darling-Hammond and Diane Ravitch

This past Wednesday I hatched an idea. Why not invite Linda Darling-Hammond and Diane Ravitch to dinner, two of my mentors, and the most notable and influential voices in education? Let me first start with the academic part of today’s blog post. Reddick and Vasquez Heilig (2012) discussed mentoring in the peer-reviewed paper Constellations a Promising Strategy?

Mentoring is defined as the process in which a senior, experienced person (the mentor) engages with a junior, less-experienced person (the mentee, or protégé) in order to foster the psychosocial development of the junior person (Kram, 1988). The term ‘mentor’ comes from the Greek epic The Odyssey, in which the hero Odysseus placed his son, Telemachus, in his old friend Mentor’s care when he left for war.

Social Exchange Theory. Social exchange theory is a concept developed by Homans (1958) that posited that humans engage in relationships that provide benefits (in terms of outcomes and satisfaction). Simply put, relationships that are costly but provide little or no benefits are unsustainable. Mentoring can be understood through a social exchange theoretical construct: both mentors and mentees/protégés must find mutual benefit and satisfaction for the relationship to continue. Often the benefits to mentees are well-documented and articulated, but mentor benefits are rarely explicated. Essentially, mentors have to experience some benefit from the mentoring dynamic as well for the relationship to be enduring and ultimately, successful.

Mentoring Networks. Though mentoring is often understood (and exemplified) in one-on-one settings (termed dyads), recent research on mentoring suggests that a more beneficial and enduring conceptualization is that of constellation mentoring (Johnson & Ridley, 2008). In constellation mentoring, the mentee is immersed in a network of supportive mentors that provide access to social and cultural capital. This contrasts traditional notions of mentor where a mentee is mentored by just one person. In this conception, the responsibilities of mentorship are distributed across several mentors, and the mentee reaps the benefit of having multiple perspectives to learn from and follow. Given the full schedules of successful individuals and their commitment to community service projects, we raise the significance of constellation approaches so that no single individual is excessively burdened with the sole responsibility of mentoring.

So last evening was an opportunity to sit at the fount of wisdom. What was said in the dinner exchange between Linda and Diane was “off-the-record.”

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I wish CBS, NBC, ABC, and FoxNews could have filmed, okay… we could skip FoxNews. It was a dinner that I won’t ever forget. I am very thankful to Linda and Diane for their wisdom. Linda believed in me while I was a graduate student at Stanford. I didn’t arrive at Stanford as the most acclaimed individual, but she “launched” my investigations by ALWAYS taking time for my dreams and hopes. She has been my madrina for more than a decade.

Diane is a new mentor. Only within the past two years have I joined her arm in arm for the fight for public education to stay public. It has been quite a ride. What she doesn’t know is that I have assigned her earlier work in my school reform class for years. Since 2010, I have added her two newest books to the curriculum of my course— Death and Life and Reign of Error provide an arc for her work. Thank you again Diane for the encouragement and advice to finish my book. It’s coming.

Diane and Linda are not the only colleagues from whom I have been fortunate to receive formal and informal mentorship. I am very thankful to all of faculty in my mentoring constellation during my academic journey. Thank you to Arnetha Ball, Linda Tillman, Michelle Young, Edmund Gordon Jr., Francisco Ramirez, Pedro Reyes, Angela Valenzuela, Linda McNeil, David Berliner and many more.

But we can’t only take. Currently, the educational research community is engaged in Philadelphia at the American Educational Research Association Conference (AERA). Despite the avalanche of responsibilities that I am facing, I spent the past two days paying it forward as a faculty mentor for new faculty and aspiring graduate students at the David L. Clark seminar and the William L. Boyd Seminar. In my address at the David L. Clark seminar, I was fortunate to welcome the attendees to the community of scholars. My challenge to you today is to pay it forward.

Again, yesterday was an evening I will never forget. Thank you “Lightning and Thunder.” I will let you guess which is which.

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Please blame Siri for any typos.

Reddick, R. & Vasquez Heilig, J. (2012). The current and dire state of African American male crime and education in the Central Southwest: Are mentoring constellations a promising strategy? Journal of African American Males in Education, 3(1), 29-46.




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