Monday, April 30, 2012

Mentors - Paying it Forward

We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.
Winston Churchill

     One of the really exciting aspects of being an educator has been the willingness of others to serve as mentors. A mentor is defined as someone who imparts wisdom to, and shares knowledge with, a less experienced colleague. A good mentor has the ability to listen. My colleague and friend, Ainsley Rose, says a mentor "asks questions that allow a person to arrive at answers rather than be told." That requires a strong capacity to recall detail and build on previously shared conversations. Many times the mentor role also expands to one of friend.

     As I have moved through my thirty years as an educator I have had the good fortune of being helped by some incredible teachers. As I added consulting and writing to my experience this has expanded even further and I feel so fortunate that folks like Wayne Hulley, Rick DuFour, Larry Ainsworth, and Rick Curwin have seen fit to offer their insights. Even as I write those names out I have to pinch myself to ensure I'm not just delusional.

     Sometimes the role of mentor is for an extended period of time. Wayne Hulley offered his insights to me for the first time almost two decades ago and remains to this day the single most significant educator and colleague in my career. Other times, the mentor appears when you open yourself up to the experience. I'll admit to being intimidated by Rick DuFour the first few times I had the opportunity to present alongside him. Not because of anything he did but because of the high quality and impact of the work he does. Yet, when I first approached him with a question he was so generous in time and spirit that I now count him as a trusted advisor when I need some deeper insights. Similarly, Larry Ainsworth and I connected at an event in Corner Brook and I was thrilled that he stayed for my keynote address. That he wanted to talk further at dinner that night and has subsequently guided me in my own professional growth has been a real blessing. Finally. mentors may come into your life over a shared belief. Rick Curwin is someone I've admired and quoted in my writing and presentations for a while. Technology allowed for him to see some of my work and reach out with some positive feedback. We have exchanged books and a commitment to stay connected.

     So, why share all of this with readers of this blog? I feel a debt to those who have aided my growth and think the best way to pay it forward is to offer the same assistance to colleagues and novice educators. Let me be clear - I don't consider myself to be in the league of those folks I've identified above. I also don't think it's necessary if the intent is to offer the best I can. I have been thrilled in recent presentations in Prince George, Ottawa, and Vancouver to have former students who are now educators come up and chat with me and stay connected after the event. It may not amount to what I have received but it is, and will continue to be, my pledge to add value to our profession and work towards paying down that debt of gratitude. I know I have many outstanding colleagues who, in doing the same, would ensure the high quality of education we are accustomed to, will carry on.

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