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The Power of a Mentor

Miranda and Karen

The idea of having someone walk beside you to show you the ropes, be there to celebrate your successes, and to support you when you need encouragement, with open and honest feedback to try again, is the most powerful learning experience one can ask for- real life and in real time. I’ve been fortunate enough during my teaching career to have several experiences such as these during my time in the classroom, and later, giving back as a school leader, being a mentor for my colleagues.

A mentor provides advice, suggestions, establishes goals and areas of improvement with the ‘mentee’ by listening, sharing, experiencing, reflecting and practicing. The ‘mentee’ being the person receiving the mentoring from the ‘knowledgeable other’. The mentor is seen as the expert to support the mentee as they collaborate to achieve success for the mentee, as the mentor shares their own professional experiences with the mentee.

Here’s my personal take: when I was a graduate, I had an incredibly generous colleague (a mentor) take me under her wing. With her by my side, I could implement literacy pedagogies, knowing she was there to guide me. I could trial new literacy strategies I’d read about, and I could then watch her model specific evidence-based approaches before I tried them out myself in my classroom following her lead. I felt seen, heard and supported and from this, my confidence soared. Not only did I FEEL like I knew what I was doing, but I KNEW what

I was doing! I thought, perhaps I’d be okay or good at all of this literacy ‘stuff’... or maybe even great!

What I’ve come to learn over the past 12 years in education, is that not all teachers are as fortunate as me to have worked with valuable, trustworthy, patient, respectful and knowledgeable leaders.

Miranda, my mentor described above, was a school leader. While she was ‘assigned’ to me as a graduate mentor, she didn’t do so begrudgingly, which I know can be the case. I say that without judgment, knowing first hand the pressures school leaders face. Back to Miranda -she was a mentor who took the time to sit with me to dialogue and plan my reading and writing lessons, who came in to observe me (when it was all so new and I had no idea what I was doing!), whom I watched as she modelled effective literacy lessons, who provided a safe space for us to debrief and reflect on my literacy practice. It was the empathy, the time and space to be heard, valued and seen which impacted me the most- as a person, and me as a Year 2 graduate teacher. Now, when I reflect on this time and when I share this success story with others, I often find myself saying ‘She taught me everything I know.’

What was the power of Miranda as my mentor? My literacy practice improved, I learnt what I needed to know in order to effectively teach reading and writing, and my students progressed in their learning.Granted, I was a grad, but the transformation that took place was invaluable.

Everything I learnt in the junior years, was mirrored during my time in the senior classes, thanks to Miranda’s modelling. The power of a mentor!

Years later, when I was teaching Year 6 (upper primary- my favourite!), I was tapped on the shoulder by my principal at the time to participate in a Literacy Coaching Program to build teacher capacity in upper primary and deliver consistency across the Year 6 year level. This was actually quite revelatory to me - a non-grad with a coach/mentor? But I was assigned a mentor, and we spent two years together improving my literacy practice (‘improving’ being the operative word here!) by planning, sharing relevant literacy pedagogies, providing me with quality evidence-based resources, strategies and approaches analysing student data modelling, observing, reflecting, sharing feedback and teaching me effective literacy practices. Karen was the name of my coach, and she worked with me (the mentee) for an hour a week during the literacy block (right there in the classroom, in real time!) and another hour was dedicated to the most fundamental part of coaching and mentoring- reflection time. This, to me, shows the power of coaching - professional and personal development never stops, there’s always room to grow!

What I didn’t know at the time, was that Karen (and Miranda, in hindsight) was actually an Instructional Coach, albeit, an Instructional Literacy Coach. And now, I’m thrilled to be an Instructional Literacy Coach too, sharing my expertise and experience to help others in this wonderful profession develop, learn and progress.

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