Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mentoring Unicorns

 Our district has a mentor program, requiring that all new teachers complete a detailed induction training over the course of a year, including partnering with an experienced teacher in the district to help guide them through the intricacies of the day to day operations of the district that simply wouldn't come up in the course of a week-long summer training or after school meetings throughout the year.  I've been a mentor three times, and enjoyed the spoils of the associated "stipend" for the services provided, (less than $1.50 a day, after taxes)  but that pales in comparison to the relationships I've formed with the three ladies, and what I've learned from them in the process. 
I'd encourage any teacher, regardless of their mentor-mentee relationship status, to stay alert, eyes opened, and realize the personal benefit of connecting with other teachers.

The Te@chthought Blog Challenge for today comes from one of the moderators, Justine Hughes.  If you aren't following Justine, follow her @cossie29, or visit her blog here.

  What is one way you could mentor / support a colleague this year and share your knowledge?

The biggest takeaway from my triple-mentorship experience is that I went into the relationships figuring I had wisdom to impart, and left with phenomenal friendships, and even more phenomenal teaching skills.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when I see posts from new (er) teachers (for anyone teaching less than 10 or 15 years, in my humble opinion), labeling themselves master teachers.  Good Lord.  I've been teaching so much longer, and I know that if I were to adopt that term, I'd cease to learn myself.  

Because how can anyone be a master at something that is always changing?

Thankfully, I can report that I haven't been a paid mentor this year, as the only other Teacher of the Gifted in our district, Sarah, appears to be sticking around.  Both of my previous unicorn mentees have moved on - one to be a stay at home mommy, blissfully enriching the life of just one future world-changer and his friends, and the other to the 7th grade science lab, where she will one day prove that the horns of unicorns truly have magical powers.

This may sound like a selfish thing to say -- but mentorship begins at home.  If you haven't been specifically assigned someone to mentor, consider forming a relationship with someone who is not at all like you.  Perhaps it's someone who teaches a different subject or grade level.  Perhaps it's a teacher with a skill-set entirely different from yours that will offer a perspective to education that may be challenging to the comfort zone where you live.  In most cases, I don't believe you can force such a relationship;  rather, it is a happy-accident sort of discovery.  

The cries of "WHO HAS THE TIME?" to actively seek out more work to do are audible.  The nay-sayers aren't realizing the richness of skills that can develop by employing the Habits of Mind with colleagues.  As I consider the mentoring relationships I've unintentionally developed this year, I think about the many lessons that I've learned having taken the time to recognize the shared values.  Here are a few brilliant ideas I've received in what could be considered "mentoring" relationships:

  • Keep a list near your desk and record dates, times, and participants in professional discussions that occur in your room.  You'll be surprised how often you collaborate or seek the advice of others, and have documentation for Domain 4 when it comes time for your year-end observation.

  • Connect with someone in your building who blogs.  There are three of us (that I know of) at our high school, and we read and support each other, often extending the conversations, sharing resources, or commiserating. If you aren't following blogs of educators similar to you, you are overlooking a significant benefit to both your mental health and career.
  • Read what others are reading.  Send a link to an article you think is worthy of sharing --but avoid spamming the entire school with the information.  (Heck, I know one person who prints articles of significance and posts them in the faculty bathroom!  - NO, it isn't me.)
  • Create a "TeacherTalk" bulletin board to share ideas.  Okay, I actually did this one.  And I'm woefully behind in contributing to it.  Our new high school has two rooms with photocopiers on each floor, which have naked bulletin boards.  Teachers spend a ridiculous amount of time standing in front of copiers, praying they won't break down vigilantly reassuring them as they churn out dozens, or hundreds, of papers.  As people in my department have found cool checklists or teacher ideas, we've shared them with each other by posting them somewhere that they might actually be read.  (Formative Assessment Ideas, 20% time, etc.) 
Okay, so maybe I'm an overachiever, and listed more than Justine intended in her original post for today.  But thanks to the mentor/mentee relationships in which I participate, I can honestly say that I am not a master teacher.  Nor do I hope to ever be.  

For me, somehow, claiming that title would mean that I cease to be a learner.

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