I have been thinking quite a bit over the last 6 months about mentorship – that process whereby individuals, usually well experienced in a job or a profession, choose to come alongside someone with significantly less experience. The purpose of mentorship seems to be to share the “tricks of the trade” with the “rookie” and help them navigate the intricate aspects of the job.
I prefer to think of mentorship as an investment of time, energy and a certain amount of personal sacrifice to share life lessons with another individual, with the ultimate purpose of not only helping someone become more proficient in their job but to enhance the profession as a whole – to build individual expertise which enriches the vocation…
I have been blessed enough to have a few adult mentors in my life who have had significant impacts in a professional capacity. Each of these individuals have helped to guide me into the educator I am today. I’d like to take a few moments to acknowledge each of them publicly.
My very first mentor would have to be my mom. She was an incredible teacher who never had a Bachelor of Education degree but who would have made an outstanding professional educator. She achieved a Grade 10 education – quite an accomplishment for someone of her generation as she was born in 1915! My earliest “professional” memories of my mom come from her involvement as a Sunday School teacher and Bible Club leader. Her classroom management skills were second to none. Even the most difficult child would settle down with a “look” from my mom. That “look” was not would you think. With one look, my mom had the ability to let any individual know that they mattered – that they were important- that they were significant to her – that they were loved. She differentiated instruction long before that term became popular. My mom’s greatest teaching tool was love – love of the individual, love of their individuality, love of their ideas, love of their creativity…. People mattered. Individuals mattered. My mom, as my mentor, taught me that learning is all about positive relationships. Every person mattered and my mom lived that up to her last breath.
My mom passed away at the beginning of August, 2016 at the age of one hundred and one. Her decline was sudden and came at us like a lightning bolt. One day she was fine. The next, the doctor was recommending that the family be called to her bedside for the final vigil. While it was excruciating for us as a family to watch her linger for eight days, I am convinced that she held on so everyone who needed time to say goodbye would have that opportunity. For eight days, we watched as individual after individual came to visit – to share with the family how my mom, the teacher, had impacted their lives. Each and every one talked about how my mom made them feel loved, wanted, accepted. She cared for anyone and everyone, regardless of their job, their financial status, their bouts of mental challenges, their addictions…. In short, she convinced everyone that they mattered. I learned that from her and I took on that challenge myself. I want every individual with whom I work to know that their opinions matter, that their learning matters…. that THEY matter as a human being first, an educator second.
The second individual who had such a profound impact on me professionally is Janet Rubas. Janet is currently retired and our paths cross occasionally. I first met Janet “on paper”, rather than face to face. When I came back into teaching after having taken some time away from the profession to spend time with my young children, I had the privilege of supply teaching in Janet’s classroom. I loved getting the call to go to Ms. Rubas’ class. I would walk in, read the supply plans and learn so much just from the instructions she left. I loved seeing how her students accepted personal responsibility for their own learning. I knew that when I went into Janet’s class, I would be privileged to truly see learning taking place. I felt immersed in the conversations, felt a partner in the learning. Janet always put her students first and I often gained more insight into student needs by reading the little side notes that she wrote to help a supply teacher like myself understand the student. Those tidbits of information shared enough to let me know what the student needed me to do to help him/her succeed that day. Janet taught me to listen to student voice, to listen, to take the time to truly learn and understand the individual. Janet taught me that teaching was about relationships, individuality, co-learning.
Janet also took the time to learn about me. Our paths crossed more frequently, once I became a contract teacher and she became a Junior Consultant. Janet saw something that I didn’t. Janet recognized that I had a passion for curriculum. As I gained more experience in the Junior Division, Janet often contacted me to help her with curriculum writing and project teams at the Board level. Janet encouraged my spark that was beginning to ignite my passion for technology integration by recommending me to sit on a pilot project for the Ontario Curriculum Planner – the precursor to the Ontario Educator Resource Bank that we have today. Janet chose me to participate in a curriculum review when the Common Curriculum came into being. She had me on the team for a Board project called “Kids Creating Curriculum” where I gained valuable experience and insight into co-planning with students.
Janet taught me to know my audience, that it was essential to take the time to truly listen to students and to learn alongside them. These principles continue to guide my work today. Janet instilled confidence in me and encouraged me to take risks, to meet challenges head on, and help me build the solid knowledge of curriculum and curriculum integration. Not a week goes by that I don’t think of her as I continue to develop my skills with technology and curriculum integration.
The third and final mentor whom I would like to recognize publicly through this blog is a woman from Hamilton Wentworth named Lynn. She was my team leader the summer I went to Ottawa to mark the Grade 3 Math EQAO.
ASIDE: Now, I am not going to get into the debate as to the pros and cons of large scale standardized testing. That is not the point of this blog. I will say, however, that I applied to the marking team because I wanted to learn more about teaching Math. It wasn’t about the marking. It was more about learning what the students needed to know so I could support them better. I have to say that I did truly learn so much more than what I had expected and for that I feel blessed to have had that experience.
Lynn was amazing. I don’t remember her last name but I can vividly remember the woman who stood in front of us for 10 days. She was vibrant, positive, encouraging, approachable. She was “in charge” but did not abuse the power of that position. Lynn mentored me in ways that, I’m certain, she never even realized.
Lynn taught me about professional judgment and trust. Lynn taught me about the delicate balance between the demands of the job and personal well-being. Lynn was an advocate for self-care, long before the present emphasis on personal wellness. We had an enormous responsibility and an incredible amount of work to do. We all knew it. Lynn allowed us to be ourselves. She demanded excellence and very clearly laid out our responsibilities as a marking team. BUT…. she also recognized that our group was made up of very creative people who would not do well sitting for hours on end, staring at student booklets. She allowed us to self-regulate – to maintain the integrity of the task but advocated for our needs. Our break times were when WE needed them. We were spontaneous. We were driven. Lynn recognized this and maintained the structure necessary for us to do our best. When all was literally said and done, we achieved excellence individually and corporately.
From Lynn, I learned the value of a leadership style that allows a group of people to share a common vision, but acknowledges that individuals may have their own ways of getting to the end goal. Tacit knowledge….true collaboration…. respect for individuality…. the power of a shared vision…
So…. as the world took time yesterday to acknowledge International Woman’s Day, I take this time to acknowledge a few of the women who were, and continue to be, powerful women in my life. I thank them, I remember them, I recognize their impact.
To my colleagues: I challenge you to remember and publicly acknowledge your mentors. I also challenge you to BE a positive mentor – make a positive difference, mentor someone else…make the world a better place for having you in it.