“I love you dearly and my wish for you is to know your own strength, your own worth and your own potential, regardless of what the world throws your way. “
These were the words left on a handwritten bookmark by a truly remarkable human being when I left my previous school to start a new chapter in my career. There are those who have been lucky enough to leave their footprints on the moon, mark their territory on undiscovered wonders and cemented their names (literally) into history… But for most of us, we have all encountered experiences with ordinary people who have simply and unforgetably left everlasting footprints on our hearts. For me, this person is not just a now dear friend but she began as a colleague and will forever be one of my biggest teachers and cheerleaders. She is, in every sense of the word, a mentor.
By definition, a mentor is an experienced and trusted adviser. This usually means someone more experienced taking on the role of “bird under my wing” leader to a much younger, more inexperienced subordinate. Yet, in my past experiences, some of the many mentors I have had in my career while older and more experienced, yes, never ever for one second viewed me as subordinate to them. In fact, they were focused on seeing my potential and were intent on making me a self-believer. They identified my strengths and helped me channel them in ways that benefitted both of us. They afforded me opportunities to be both student and teacher, and in so doing, opened my eyes to the value of collaboration and collective voice when it comes to teaching. No one ever knows everything and no one is ever too old to learn.
As teachers, we are so often caught up in the role of being a good role model and mentor to our students that we often forget the value of mentoring one another. As kids, we all have recollections of that one teacher, that one coach or that one team mate who pushed you to reach for the stars and believe that with hard work, anything is possible. It is because of those people that we are inspired to be that to someone else, namely our students who we see and interact with on the daily. Yet, if we really think about it, as adults in the work environment, who is there doing the same thing for us?As I’ve so often said, we can’t pour from an empty cup….. But somehow, we keep trying to.
If we’re really honest, how many times do we as teaching professionals really check in on one another – not just to clarify a deadline or to borrow a board marker, but really mentally tap in to where we are all at?
For me, true mentorship is about much more than just an expert teaching the more inexperienced. It is an opportunity to build up, help restore and grow a sense of self confidence and self worth that desperately needs tending to. It is easy for us as teachers to selflessly give so much of ourselves to our students that we feel we have nothing left for our our own families let alone for each other. But I would like to encourage us all to try reaching out to our teaching communities if even only in the smallest ways at first. Tap in to each other, converse not just about the politics of the school and the many complaints you may have, but about the points of strength in each other…. The encouraging words one may need to hear at that moment, or a positive email to say “I saw you”.
I could really go on and on about the specifics of mentoring, the different types of mentoring, the dos and don’t of mentoring but that’s not really where I wanted to go with this post. At the end of the day, an effective mentorship relationship is based on human connection and mutual respect for one another – emphasis on connection. No matter what stage you are at in your teaching career, no matter who you are… The fact of the matter is that life at moment is pretty damn hard and that is something we can all connect with. Forget about skills and expertise for a moment and simply just reach out and check in. Humanize things a little and ease up on each other’s expectations. Goodness knows how much that is needed right now!