I’ve been thinking about mentors lately. At the outset of every school year I stress the importance of building relationships around the school. Relationships need to be nurtured with students, colleagues, parents, and so on. In particular I stress the imperative that students must feel cared for and guided by their teachers, and valued by their classmates. This is essential. I want every student to feel that there is an adult in their world that they can seek out for a conversation, for advice, for a moment of listening. I don’t often use the word mentor when I think about these relationships.
Building relationships and being a good listener are foundational to mentoring but mentorship is far more.
It’s not about friendship. Mentors teach. Whether it is through role modeling, offering advice, or challenging one’s beliefs and thinking it is about teaching and learning. It is about being pushed to consider alternatives or future directions. From learning a specific skill to mapping out future choices, mentors engage in significant and potentially life changing experiences for their mentees. While that sounds pretty “heady” and serious, it’s not something that happens overnight or without an amount of relationship building to begin with.
I’ve been thinking about mentors as I watch my two sons, both in their 20’s, navigate their worlds. My oldest son graduated from college, took a low paying volunteer type job with AmericCorps and ended up working in an office surrounded by interesting people. He ended up working closely with an individual who grew into his mentor. Over the course of the year, he made several significant life changing decisions which resulted in a graduate program and has impacted the direction of his life. Without the relationship with this individual, there is no doubt that his life would have moved in other directions. The impact is significant. As a parent of a 21 or 22 year old at the time, the significance of this other adult in my son’s life took me on an introspective journey. Up until then, I knew the teachers, coaches, and other adults who were important in his life. But, as a 22 year old, surrounded by adults in his place of work, 12 time zones away, he was building his life. Finding a mentor. Growing older.
A similar experience this past summer occurred. I visited my youngest son, now 21 at the university labs (he’s a Biology major) at which he was working. I met the oldest he was surrounded by. He too is growing older, finding mentors, seeking and receiving advice, making decisions. The foundation of his previous mentors and teachers were apparent.
Mentors offer wisdom and wisdom is a highly valued commodity, often in short supply.
Teachers are in roles on a regular basis to serve as mentors. It is an awesome responsibility. One must act with a high degree of integrity and trustworthiness. Knowing the right questions to ask while offering advice when it’s timely. Helping guide an individual towards a decision as they struggle with alternatives and seeking the right path. Mentors matter. Mentors change life directions.
Two important mentors in my life were particularly important during vulnerable moments. One was a college professor during a period of 20-something questioning and another was a good friend and colleague in my first professional teaching role. Both helped shape my thinking and decision making!
Learning how to find a mentor is a skill that young people need to learn. At almost every major decision time in one’s life, you need to have someone to talk to. Figuring out who those people are in your life as you leave the cocoon of high school and build your own individual life and world is important.