A few years ago, I was asked to be part of an innovation team made up of the Holy Family elementary principals and a few teacher representatives from each school. As a team, we were tasked with asking each other the hard questions. What exactly is our vision at the elementary level? What does our future look like? What would entice a parent to send their greatest gift to one of our schools? Are we doing enough to reach each child’s ability?
After many hours of collaboration and debate, we started discussing the possibility of implementing personalized learning in partnership with Summit Learning at the elementary level. We looked carefully at the core components: projects, self-direction time, and mentoring. At the time, I was in my sixth year of teaching and stubbornly thought, “Mentoring is something I already do a great job of, right?” Wrong.
I realized exactly how off-base I was during my very first mentoring session. I now had ten sacred minutes of uninterrupted, protected time where I could sit down one-on-one with a student. For some reason, I had never been able to make that work in all my previous years of teaching.
Mentoring sessions are a consistent time to talk about both achievements and areas of growth. Goals are no longer something we have to hurry through just to make sure each student has set one. We now have structures in place to help them create goals that are both challenging and attainable.
A typical mentoring session starts with the student sharing something they would like to celebrate. Maybe they passed a content assessment because they learned how to take effective notes. They could have achieved a higher score on a cognitive skill for a recent project because they took time to revise their checkpoint. It could be as simple as their team winning a basketball game that week. Nothing is too small to celebrate. Next, we start discussing areas of growth that are often tied to the 16 Habits of Success. When students start recognizing the little adjustments they need to make in their everyday routine, they usually have big results. The last thing we talk about is goal setting. This is done collaboratively with the mentor in order to help students organize their study process and accomplish tasks in a timely manner.
The best part about mentoring? Students are making real connections and developing relationships with an adult at school. I can honestly say, mentoring has become my favorite part of the school day. I get to know my mentees on a deeper level because once we develop that relationship and respect for each other, students start to open up. When this happens, mentors and mentees begin to count on each other. Students feel supported and mentors understand more fully where a student is coming from.
I think the most interesting part of it all is that mentoring doesn’t just happen in that weekly session. I find myself seeking out my mentees during the day because I know what their goals are and I want to see where they are in their learning journey. Students will sometimes seek out their mentor when they’ve reached a goal, but also when they’ve stumbled because they’re starting to understand that failure is a learning opportunity and they might need a little extra support before taking that next step to try again.
I remember one mentoring session that took place mid-school year. My mentee and I were discussing the list of habits and I asked him about attachment. This habit has to do with having a connection with an adult that cares about them. Of course, he mentioned his parents right away and just as I was ready to move on, he stopped me and said, “well you too Ms. Schmitt.” As I sat there trying not to cry in front of this 5th-grade boy, I realized that maybe, just maybe, it’s essential for teachers to have these mentoring sessions, too!
Contributed by Rachel Schmitt ‘07
St. Columbkille Elementary