Beauty (& Humility) of Mentorship

Colleagues are a wonderful thing – but mentors, that’s where the real work gets done.

Junot Diaz

I recently became involved in our local teacher association’s mentorship program. What an empowering and humbling experience! After nearly twenty-six years in education, it was time. Time to offer my colleagues something that I acknowledged was missing during most of my career: a seasoned, compassionate, and caring colleague that has a genuine interest in professional success. I am proud to be a part of a very smaller (but mighty!) group of seasoned educators willing to offer their wisdom, experience, time, and passion to help make the most important profession in the world even better.

The mentorship program kicked off with a wonderful retreat where it was revealed that the demand for teacher-mentors is profound; program mentees outnumber mentors by a three to one ratio. Interestingly, after nearly twelve weeks into the school year the demands of support for newly-anointed and early-career educators continues to gain momentum. In order to meet the demand, several mentors have been asked to take on three mentees for the duration of the school year.

What does teacher-mentorship actually look like? A brief Google search offers literally hundreds of mentorship gurus classifying the different definitions, relationships, and purposes for mentorship. here are the 3C’s of mentorship (i.e., clarity, communication, and commitment); the four pillars of mentorship (i.e., trust, respect, expectation, and communication); the ABC’s of mentors; and don’t forget about the seven roles of a mentor (i.e., teacher, sponsor, agent, advisor, role model, coach, and confidante).

To help ease the onslaught of ‘mentor overwhelm’ our local teacher’s association published a simple and straightforward guide that has allowed many of us to quickly settle into our role and to understand how we might best serve our mentees. Ultimately, entering into a mentorship of any kind must always come from the passionate desire to support an individual along their chosen path towards professional self-direction and self-actualization as an educator.

Very decidedly, I chose to utilize my developing coach approach with its specific skills and mindset to foster and develop a supportive relationship with each mentee. The International Coaching Federation describes coaching as “partnering with an [individual] in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” The coach approach is the adoption of some coaching techniques in conversations where these skills may be appropriate or useful. The most successful coaching technique: listening. And it’s a lot more difficult than it sounds, too!

Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and push in the right direction.

John Crawford Crosby

I have gained immense value from the recent professional conversations with each of my colleague-mentees. And to be honest, I am quite loathe to offer any unsolicited advice; very conscious to maintain an 80/20 listening/talking ratio (e.g. the mentee does the vast majority of the talking and sharing) in our conversations. I have come to view my role as that of the witness; to ask questions and, as a I mentioned, do the majority of the listening. A small reminder on the inside of my forearm is barely noticeable, and yet very effective, WAIT: Why Am I Talking? This purposefully, mindful approach frees up the mentor to simply listen (to hold space for the mentee); puts ownership on the mentee to decide what gets our attention in our discussion; maintains a future-forward focus for the conversation; and outlines or frames a shared approach to problem-solving, accountability, and related actionable steps.

I am so proud of this program and the potential that it could (will?) have to help stem the rising tide of teacher shortages in our province, and specifically, within our very small, rural school district. Grassroot mentorship programs are definitely one tool among many that educational leaders and bureaucrats must begin to support to combat the growing combination of poor teacher recruitment programs, poor collective agreements–both provincial and local (including no provisions for class size and composition), increasing curricular expectations placed on teachers, and the growing population of students with complex behaviours that are attending schools.

The demand for teacher-mentors will surge as the success (and beauty) of this program gains more traction within our district. In my desire to support this program, I reached out and invited four colleagues that I deeply respect and asked them to consider joining the mentoring program. I judge that each of these experienced public educators offer a unique, heart-led approach to learning and teaching. Disappointingly, I received two “sorry, but I can’t” (without explanations); one colleague shared about their lack of time to commit; and the last of the invited has yet to reply. However, I am still excited by the massive potential of the teacher-mentorship program within our district.

Congratulations and appreciations to the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and local heroes/colleagues at the Nelson and District Teachers’ Association for sponsoring and organization the second year of this indispensable professional development program. And thank you for allowing me the opportunity to participate and give back to a career that has given me so much.


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