Mind to Mind, Hand to Hand

The Fall 2011 CUNY SI Mini-Conference is both a beginning and an end. This is the first CUNY-wide peer academic learning conference open to all CUNY programs and participants of which I’m aware, and it also marks the end of Lehman’s Title V Grant for Supplemental Instruction & Technology, 2006-2011, which I have been directing for the past two years.

Supplemental Instruction (SI) is a methodology that was new to me by name but not approach in 2007 when Lehman hired me to start an SI program in gateway courses in math, business, and science courses. The group study strategies and emphasis on faculty-student collaboration were familiar to me from my own teaching in inner-city schools and urban universities and colleges. The opportunities for students to receive training and supervision in teaching and learning from each other were new.

In the past five years, Lehman’s Title V Grant has afforded me a rare combination of resources, people, and ideas that have come together in what we now brand the STAR Mentoring & Coaching Program. STAR Mentors and Coaches use traditional SI strategies and approaches inherited from the UMKC (University of Missouri at Kansas City) SI model, informed by a pedagogical model, the Lehman STAR, that brings together project management dynamics with academic roles. Mentors also use the Resiliency Principles (stability, capacity, flexibility, and community) in supervising their STAR Coaches and helping to sustain the delicate balance of faculty, students, and coaches in confronting and mastering historically difficult coursework.

Through the development of the STAR Mentoring & Coaching Program, my thinking about the connections between teaching, learning, service, and project management has been transformed. Students WANT to learn, more often than not, and they want to be in charge of their learning. There is a fear and inexperience in being self-directed for many of us that stops us from taking on the risks of learning, and this is one place that peer coaching and mentoring can make an enormous difference. Peer coaching engenders trust of self and others. Learning with peers, being in a “safe” yet intellectually risky environment, and having the time to practice new skills and knowledge: these are gifts of nurturing independence that are also examples of “tough compassion” we can offer students and each other in our academic lives.

This fall’s SI Mini-Conference will showcase a wide range of practices in peer-led and peer-assisted learning from both CUNY and non-CUNY colleges and universities. SI is about connecting: “Mind to Mind, Hand to Hand” gives us the chance to make stronger and deeper connections between what we believe and what we do.

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