Pick a Mentor – It Will Change Your Life

By Katie Goddard
We all want to be known. It’s a very simple idea, yet it’s a desire inherent in all of us. In the world of academia, good grades are often our priority.
But what about the person and their end goal for themselves? How do we get the best out of students and get their buy-in so they become self-directed learners who want to carve their own path to success?
I fully believe that mentorship holds the key.
As a teacher at Summit Public Schools, I feel lucky because mentoring is implicit in my job description. Our personalized learning model places a lot of emphasis on mentorship, and my weekly schedule builds in time every day to build relationships with my students and mentees.
All of our students check in with their mentor on a daily basis, then on Fridays everyone from the same mentor group comes together. That means I get to spend 10 minutes with the group at the end of the day Monday through Thursday, and the majority of my day on Friday–both on an individual and group basis–to support them with whatever they need inside and outside of school.
Our mentorship program is ultimately about empowering students to drive their learning by determining for themselves how they learn best, by setting goals and developing habits of success, and by truly listening to them and trying to understand who they are as a person versus “going through the motions” of the school environment alone. They are building the skill of connecting their long-term aspirations directly to their daily decisions, actions and behaviors.

Of course, doing well academically remains important, but students need much more to realize and reach their full potential in the short- and long-term; they need to understand the “how to” of being successful in school, career, college and life. This includes building critical habits of success such as self-awareness, drive, coping with failure, curiosity and empathy. This set of skills will take students far beyond the classroom, college lecture theatre or any workplace and help set them up for life.
Creating a sense of belonging in a student is a game-changer, and results from our organizational surveys show that ‘Relationships with Teachers’ is the category that is consistently rated strongest among our students.
Parents agree too. In the fall of 2015, we ran a survey where we asked all parents to choose all of the reasons they keep their student(s) in Summit School. The number one reason chosen was the mentoring program–88% of parents referenced it in their response, and 98% of families knew who their student’s mentor is and how to contact them.
If a student truly feels that they belong to that school’s community, they will be so much more willing to push through challenges, ask for help when they get stuck or open up about both the positives and the negatives going on in their lives. We need to make a conscious effort to create an environment where kids feel safe and comfortable in sharing their growth and development with us. Mentoring is the key to make this free exchange of ideas possible.
If you’re a student who’s curious about how mentoring could change your educational experience, here are a few answers to FAQs that might help you:

Where do I start?

Start by seeking out a mentor. Sometimes this can happen naturally, but if it doesn’t, don’t wait. Actively seek to find that person. You could look for someone whom you think you could connect with and then make the effort to get to know him or her. Start the conversation by talking about goals and aspirations: What careers are you interested in? What are your thoughts on college? What do you struggle with in school? You’d be surprised at the difference this insight can make to your life.

How exactly does a mentor make a difference?

It just feels good to have someone who will truly help you be your best self. The process of mentoring is not always pretty. Sometimes you might feel stressed or upset about a decision you made or just simply overwhelmed. But it is really empowering to know that you and your mentor are working towards the same end goal of you achieving the goals you set for yourself.
Another important aspect is the consistency. Over time, I have come to learn so much through our mentorship interactions and by spending time together. Time invested goes a long way toward figuring out what you want/need in order to get to where you want to be.

What should you expect from a mentor?

You should aim for implicit trust. Trust in the fact that they will work with you to help you overcome any struggles, whether that be inside or outside of school. They should help with the nitty-gritty of devising study plans, setting goals and completing projects. Your relationship should be full of clear communication, patience, motivational pep talks, setting and achieving goals, honesty and lots of fun moments, smiles and tears – the works.

How can you tell if your mentorship is helping?

If you’re meeting the goals you set for yourself, and if you feel like you belong in the school community, then it’s working. Like anything in life, you’ll know when something feels right. I’m not saying it happens overnight, but if you’re open to working with someone to help you reach your goals, then the rest comes with time and effort.
I went into teaching because I wanted to educate the whole student. That means learning about who each student is, what they are interested in and what they see for themselves. Enter a mentoring relationship to be known and supported, and watch the transformation.
About “GenDIY”
eduInnovation and Getting Smart have partnered with The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation to produce a thought leadership campaign called Generation Do-It-Yourself (GenDIY)– how young people are hacking a pathway to a career they love – on The Huffington Post and GettingSmart.com. This campaign about reimagining secondary and postsecondary education and career skills will explore the new generation building a global economy and experiences that are impact driven and entrepreneurial. For more on GenDIY:

Summit Public Schools is a nonprofit organization that provides high-quality public school options to communities in California and Washington. Follow them on Twitter, @summitps.

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Getting Smart loves its varied and ranging staff of guest contributors. From edleaders, educators and students to business leaders, tech experts and researchers we are committed to finding diverse voices that highlight the cutting edge of learning.

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