“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.” — Denzel Washington
Athena, the first mentor?
Whenever I am asked, and I am asked often, why I became a teacher/educator. The answer is always on the tip of my tongue and always the same. Over the course of my life, I have had the extreme good fortune to be mentored and advised by incredible teachers, coaches, friends, and colleagues. As a result, I have always been of the opinion that one needs to return the favour. To give back. To pay it forward. Another part of the answer is that it doesn’t get any better than being part of the becoming process of an individual.
Of course, people give back what they received in many ways and not everyone who has great mentors along the way follows a path similar to the one travelled by their mentor. They coach, or they get involved in community activities that provide their mentees with advice and real-world examples to emulate or try for themselves. You don’t need to go into education to be a mentor, but in my case, it was what suited me best.
“In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care. You don’t have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don’t need to know what is the chemical makeup of chemistry, or of blood or water. Know what you know and care about the person, care about what you know, and care about the person you’re sharing with.” — Maya Angelou
So, what exactly is mentorship?
There are multiple definitions to be found. Most describe the original meaning, taken from Athena’s role in The Odyssey by Homer which describes an experienced and trusted advisor. More fully, one who mentors is a trusted counsellor, guide, or coach. And in terms of the objective of mentorship, it is seen as a critical aspect in the personal development of an individual. Mentorship is a supportive relationship between individuals – a learner or mentee and the more experienced mentor who offers understanding, knowledge, advice, and guidance.
Each of the three Independent schools where I have worked had some form of a mentor or advisory program. While at these schools, I either started or enhanced the programs to ensure students received the best mentoring possible. However, it is important to understand that just as all mentorships are not created equal, neither are all mentors. Randomly assigning mentors to students does have its benefits and is certainly better than no mentor program. And yet, truly effective mentoring occurs when there is a bond between the two individuals. That can, of course, grow over time in an assignment situation. I have seen with my own children that a mentorship bond between a high school coach at the local public school was every bit as positive and sometimes even more so than the formalized and planned mentorship provided at most private schools. This just underscores my belief that it comes down to the two individuals and a meeting of minds… which isn’t always easy when one of those minds is housed in the body of a hormonal teenager. In my opinion, a great mentor is a great mentor assigned or not. They will meet the mentee where they are intellectually and developmentally and assist and nurture their protégé.
Although it might seem obvious, there are so many benefits that come from a successful mentorship. They include, but are not limited to the following:
● Enriched perspectives relating to an area of interest or passion
● Improved critical and creative thinking skills
● Transmission of values, ethics, and attitudes
● Authentic, real-world connections
● Psychosocial and emotional support
● Augmented communication, study, and personal skills
● Discovery of resources beyond school
● Encouragement and guidance for self-directed learning
● Respect for expertise
● Increased self-awareness
● Relationship-building experience
● Enhanced understanding of pathways to possibility and high achievement
● Access to practical advice, encouragement, and support
● Increased social and academic confidence
● Increased decision-making skills
● Enhanced strategies for dealing with both personal and academic issues
Of course, there are also a number of benefits enjoyed by the mentor. In my case, that means helping individuals in the moment, but also keeping in touch and watching who they become. Over the course of 30 plus years in education, I have watched wallflowers become actors, armchair athletes become professionals, debaters become seasoned trial lawyers… and everything on either end and in between. And the satisfaction I get is knowing that somewhere along the way a conversation or a piece of advice connected and help guide the individuals along their path of becoming. And, even more gratifying perhaps, is hearing how they are actively mentoring someone else. What goes around truly comes around.
If you feel your child could benefit from a mentor-mentee relationship, get in touch and we can chat. I may not be the right person for your child, but I can certainly assist in the process.
“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” — Steven Spielberg