Intergenerational Co-Mentoring Project

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Intergenerational Co-Mentoring Project

Zoey Peacock Jones, senior BFA Student, The New School; aspiring clown, actor, and teaching artist, and Jean E. Taylor, teaching artist; Director, Lincoln Center Education; Professor, The New School

Jean Taylor (left) and Zoey Peacock Jones, playfully exploring theatrical clown activities.

Teaching artists, educators, and mentors frequently say they have learned as much from their students as they hope their students have learned from them. This is an understandable perspective coming from professionals who are dedicated to teaching and lifelong learning.

In our Intergenerational Co-Mentoring pilot project, the two of us added intentionality to the equation. What if we created a structure that dissolved the hierarchy between us and focused on our distributed wisdom? What if we consciously explored, from the beginning of our co-mentoring, how our lived experiences, although very different in length, offered equally valuable insights?  What if we borrowed a principle from our shared love for the artistic discipline of theatrical clown, and adopted the position that we were both experts and that we both knew nothing, simultaneously? This dichotomy balances the resilience of the expert with the vulnerability of the newcomer. Our clowns know how to negotiate the movement from one to the other and back again.

These “What If” questions proved essential to our process. They propelled us towards new ideas, positive risks, and fresh contexts for creative expression. As of this writing, we are eagerly moving towards the culmination of two academic and artistic projects: an accepted thesis proposal that includes a Guidebook on Intergenerational Co-Mentoring and a performance gathering entitled “The Office of Kindness (Great Small Moments).”

How did we arrive at this point? We happily offer some essentials of our Intergenerational Co-Mentoring process (see the accompanying chart and the question series below), in hopes that you and a colleague may find this model useful. At the core of our work is the belief that the issues facing all of us require intergenerational wisdom and perspective, ultimately giving rise to new patterns and innovative solutions. Our artistic practice serves as our primary resource.

In the fall of 2020, we began our co-mentorship journey. We connected because of our shared curiosities: clowning, teaching artistry, and the work of the late Dr. Maxine Greene, longtime Philosopher-in-Residence at Lincoln Center Education. Our co-mentorship grew from these concepts.

At the start of our work together, we felt it was important to create a structure for our interactions. We piloted the idea of mentorship “tracks” based on our shared curiosities and common goals for the mentorship. We also crafted guiding questions and desired outcomes as a way to guide the work we were about to embark upon. We believed that having two external witnesses or observers would help us be accountable and reflective throughout the process. We met with our two external collaborators intermittently and will continue to do so as we approach our culminating projects. Their feedback has added to our understanding of the possibilities of co-mentorship and our conversations have resulted in additional co-mentoring projects sprouting up on leadership committees and between artists and educators. The concept seems to be spreading!

Our Guiding Questions

  1. What can transpire when intergenerational co-mentors investigate art making, philosophy, and teaching artistry together?
  2. What is learned, unlearned, and relearned?  How does each mentor serve as a conduit to generational thinking?
  3. In what ways can two things exist equally in the same space?

Our Initial Desired Outcomes

  1. A collaborative creative project
  2. Tangible knowledge gained by each from the other sharing perspectives
  3. Becoming confident in a new area of knowledge presented by the other

Surprises and Realized Outcomes

Zoey: In addition to tangible outcomes, such as beginning to perform clown shows around the city and attending the same clown school Jean did, I have also experienced qualitative benefits from the co-mentoring. My confidence as an artist and thinker has improved immeasurably, just by the way my voice is valued in the relationship. I can confidently say that I am versed in new areas of knowledge, such as the philosophy of Maxine Greene and new approaches to clown. In turn, I feel confident that I have given the same gift to Jean.

Jean: I have had the opportunity to look at my life’s work from new perspectives. The interconnectedness of philosophy, teaching artistry, and clown was something I thought I held inside me, a secret of sorts. Zoey has reflected back to me how interwoven they are in my approach to teaching, learning, and art making. The co-mentoring process has been about seeing possibilities, considering new contexts, and addressing current relevance. The learning is in the present, immediate, not a dissemination of knowledge previously gained, but an ongoing application of long-held loves and beliefs to the challenges of the current world. As Zoey advised me, “I think you should follow what gives you joy.”

Mentorship Tracks

While the creation of the initial tracks gave us a springboard to go from, the structure of the mentorship shifted in response to new opportunities and questions. We found that the tracks ebbed and flowed according to what was topical in our lives. For example, during the semester, we spent much more time working on courses together, rather than on our shared artistic piece. We learned to adjust which track had the focus, based on what we had the capacity for.

We believe intergenerational co-mentoring offers opportunities for personal growth and collective impact.

In closing, we invite you to consider these questions and perhaps embark on your own co-mentoring journey:

  • Do you have an interest in intergenerational thinking?
  • Is there someone in your life who is already a mentor? Could a shift in intention transform the relationship into co-mentorship?
  • Are you curious about the insights that emerge when you allow yourself to be the expert and the newcomer simultaneously?

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