To Dr. Eduardo Arias, with deep respect and admiration.

A mentor is an exceptional individual who, through dedication and passion for his profession, successfully awakens a genuine desire to achieve excellence in us; modeling apprentices like a sculptor by way of example. The art of teaching is innate in him or her.

The mentors everyone wishes they had, nurture creativity, firmly remarking its own importance, for it provides dynamism to thought, and vitality to execution. They constantly urge us to find innovative ways to overcome difficulties. They do not limit knowledge to mere texts, for the greatest discoveries and inventions have been achieved by deliberating beyond text lines.

They invite you to reflect, perfecting their art through this act of introspection. They make an imprint, and encourage learning from mistakes, for they too are great mentors. They find success and failures within their planning by using a retrospective analysis of their actions, refining them for the benefit of progress.

They are self-critical, demanding, and perfectionist, for these qualities have led them and their disciples to reach state of the art.

The mentors everyone wishes they had, are attentive to the words of their students, considering their points of view. They find enriching contributions in each of their words, taking them as baselines for discussions that reinforce the competencies developed, also reflecting on how to respond to natural or simulated learning scenarios. They understand the importance of both the learning process and the benefits of cultivating this relationship.

They know when to remain silent, allowing their apprentices to learn to connect thoughts and considerations, and they patiently wait for them to find the answers. They share their own experiences as apprentices demonstrate their progress, and they know when to reward them by empowering them in their decision-making processes. Their own suspicion forces one to rethink what is being done, resulting in a modified approach to solving a problem.

They recognize the importance of theoretical knowledge for developing criteria, but always encourage practice, which leads to mastery. For example, they show how committed work and study lead to excellence.

They defend the universality of knowledge, conceiving it as free and within reach of anyone who decides to conquer it. They are detached and teach their art as it was once taught. They are not apprehensive about what they have learned along the way and can reveal every last detail and secret of their experience.

They are flexible. They allow improvisation over their education canvas, passing the wheel and providing company along the way, always attentive to the call of their pupils. A mentor knows how to draw a vast collection of skills wherewith to initiate their apprentices in the art. They trust the imparted criteria and allow the opportunity to use different approaches to reach the same goal. They encourage conflict resolution with the means at hand.

The mentors everyone wishes they had, empower their students’ skills and abilities. They keep their expectations high and inspire them to do better. Their demands increase following their students’ progress.

They respect individuality, acknowledge their scholars’ strengths and weaknesses, their individual work methods, their ways of responding to advice, and the diversity of their motivational needs.

They are an ethical role model. They inspire trust and respect, always available for advice and support.

The mentors everyone wishes they had, help you grow both professionally and personally.

Epilogue: The Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition

In the field of education, the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition explains how students acquire skills through formal instruction and practice. Brothers Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus proposed the model in 1980 in an 18-page report embodying their influential research at the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Operations Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

The original model proposes that a student goes through five distinct stages: novice, competent, proficient, expert and master.

The novice is a student who follows the sequence of steps as they are delivered, without context, with no sense of responsibility beyond following a set of rules.

Competence is achieved when the student develops organizing principles to quickly access particular sequences of steps relevant to a given mission; thus, competence distinguishes itself by active decision-making in choosing a course of action in a given situation.

Proficiency is achieved when the student is able to incorporate his or her intuition into decision making and devises his or her own steps in given scenarios. Progression is, thus, from rigid adherence to rules to an intuitive model of reasoning based on tacit knowledge.

The five stages of skill acquisition can be summarized in the table below:

NoviceFollows specific rules in specific circumstances.
CompetentIntegrates contextual elements to applying rules; some degree of understanding and integration of their application is necessary. Handles a large volume of information and experience, which determines the need for organization and prioritization, following a mental framework of general guidelines.
ProficientAt this stage, the individual feels emotionally committed to the achievement and becomes more actively involved in the task, transitioning from rule-based decision-making to a particular action’s voluntary and conscious choice.
ExpertThe individual can recognize situational patterns without decomposing them into primary elements; in other words, it generates a multidimensional approach without carrying out a deliberate process, intuition.
MasterUnderstands what is happening at a deeper level and responds spontaneously and flexibly to complex situations. At this stage, understanding the problem and decision making is done without analysis, planning and discussion. The expert simply responds to the circumstances that determine it.

Figure 1.- Skill acquisition stages according to the Dreyfus model.

By Theodorakys Marín Fermín, MD QATAR.
Communications Committee, Young Professionals Task Force

Translation by María Teresa Toro.

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