I am about to finish up my first year as the Director of our Professional Learning team. This has been a big shift from being a leader in an organization to a leader who now has supervisory duties and gets referred to as the boss. I have learned a lot this year and it’s been fun, challenging, isolating, rewarding and pushed me in so many new ways.
As I reflect on this year, I can’t help but see the impact of people that have helped support and push me along the way. Because much of my career has been focused on mentoring teachers and leaders, I am cognizant about being on the other side, being mentored. I recognize that the impact that certain individuals have had on me personally is due to strong relationships, regular access and connections, their immense expertise, and high expectations of me.
Relationships-The relationships with each of my mentors is different but at the core, I know that they care about me, my work and are committed to helping me achieve my goals. These relationships are foundational and if I didn’t think that they cared about me, I wouldn’t be as open to their feedback.
Access– To build trust you need to have regular contact to develop the relationship. You never know when you will come up against challenges or need to talk through something. It’s important to have regular access and open lines of communication between mentors and mentees. Ongoing, regular conversations create powerful opportunities for mentors to see patterns, highlight strengths and expose some areas of growth.
Expertise- I can talk about my day or share experiences with friends and family which is helpful. However, there is a difference in talking to someone who has a different level of expertise to understand my challenges or unearth root causes to help me solve problems. Beyond having a strong relationship with someone, I appreciate time with my mentors that have distinct expertise and help me get to where I want to be.
High Expectations- When I was studying the relationships between mentors and mentees for my dissertation, I found a lot of “buddy mentoring”, where people focus on making the mentor feel good but aren’t pushing thinking or helping them to get better. It feels good to tell people they are doing great and praise efforts and I have mentors who do this. I appreciate this and it builds my confidence but I crave critical feedback that really pushes my thinking and makes me better. I know I have so much to learn and am so thankful to have mentors that can do this even though at times it can can be hard to hear.
Being mentored is not always easy, and it shouldn’t be if it’s about growth. Many times we think of a mentor being there to support but the best mentors push too. This requires strong relationships that are rooted in trust to confront imperfections, challenges and mistakes that you have made, sometimes repeatedly. Being a mentor takes time and commitment and I am truly grateful for those in my life. Thank you to all the mentors who have taken the time to help others along their path and kudos to those who have opened themselves up to being mentored. I only hope some day I have the opportunity to be the type of mentor for someone else that I have been fortunate that have.