Mentor

Be That Person

I was at a volleyball tournament this weekend.  All of our schools were competing.  In one particular match, our team lost by two in two close games.  I was frustrated for them, and I was annoyed by the loud cheering of the opposing parents.  I was annoyed.  How dare they cheer when our team was having a rough time.  Are you kidding Heather?  Of course they are cheering.  Our parents are cheering too.  Everyone deserves a cheer section.  Every kid needs a champion.

I took a breath, cheered both teams for a battle well fought, and reflected on the people who’ve cheered for me over the years.  I’ve been lucky.  My kids have been lucky.  Family and friends and teachers and coaches have encouraged us and celebrated with us and pushed us to persevere.  We all need someone in our corner, someone on our side.

Someone I care about ran his first marathon yesterday.  An incredible accomplishment. He planned and trained and prepared and ran.  And it was not easy.  He is an amazing athlete, but it did not go the way he envisioned.  By mile 18 he had hit a rough patch.  He had to slow down; he was in pain; and he thought seriously about withdrawing.  But in that moment, he had someone in his corner.  He wrote later about how this friend knew what to say to encourage him, to support him, and to help him find the inner strength to finish.  He had a champion in that moment who made all the difference.

I’ve heard story after story about athletes who were at their breaking point when a coach or a teammate or a parent stepped in to provide the words needed to help them persevere.  And those moments are more moving than the most amazing victories.

In every school in every town in every state, teachers do that for students every day.  They sit by them as they work out the hardest problems.  They pull them in after school to review and review until it makes sense.  In the past week, I’ve been at a celebration for students who scored over 30 on their ACT and seen the same level of celebration for students at any score who worked for a 3 point jump.  Every kid needs a champion.

This week I’d challenge you to look for the opportunities to be the person who walks alongside a friend and provides the support to help them overcome an obstacle.  I’d challenge you to be the coach or the teacher who helps a child know that someone is in their corner.  And I’d challenge you to be the parent who cheers and celebrates in victory and defeat.  Everyone deserves a cheer section.  Every kid needs a champion.

Comfortably Uncomfortable 

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I felt safe in my classroom.  I knew I was a good teacher.  I had spent years and years improving my skill.  Then one day we got a new principal who challenged my thinking and my understanding of what it meant to be an instructional leader.  He encouraged me to go back to school, to learn new skills, and to try a new job.  I was nervous, but it was an exciting nervous.

That uncomfortable feeling you get when you try something new is exhilarating.

I was asked recently to describe my most important mentors, those people who really made an impact on who I am and what I do.  It was a fun conversation.  I love reflecting on the many people who have taken the time to nurture me, to teach me, to challenge me. The people who have made the most significant impact on my life did not allow me to stay safe.  They pushed me and challenged me to grow.

The best coaches listen and seek to understand you.  They take the time to learn who you are and what you believe.  They know your strengths and your abilities.

The best coaches support and encourage you.  They are there for you when you need them the most.  They give of their time and their attention, and they make sure you know that you matter.

The best coaches help you organize your thoughts and set priorities.  They encourage you to develop action plans to achieve more than you ever knew was possible.

And they challenge you.  The best coaches do not simply accept what you say or what you believe.  They are willing to engage in debate and discussion and push your thinking.

The best coaches, the best mentors, help you feel comfortably uncomfortable.  It is in that space where you are forced to think about things in a new way, to try something you have never done before, where you grow the most.  Loving, caring support is valuable,  but the best mentors, the ones who make the most lasting impact, move you beyond who you are to who you were meant to be.

This week seek to identify those people in your life who have been willing to challenge you.  Thank them!

And watch for the people in your life for whom you could be doing the same!

 

 

 

 

Imagine Something of Everyone

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I was overcome with pride this week as I watched elementary students working during Genius Hour in one of our schools.  Those boys and girls are passionate about saving endangered species and Mine Craft and teaching dogs tricks.  They lit up when they talked about what they were researching and what they cared most about right now.  And I watched their teachers empower each and every one of them.

Then I got online and found a video that some of our high school students made called Mean Tweets about cyber-bullying. It is remarkable.  They are taking tangible, powerful action to address a very real concern for young people.  They saw a problem, and they took steps to address it.  And I watched as their superintendent and their teachers and their administrators shared the video on social media, empowering them even further.

“Sometimes it’s the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one imagines.” Alan Turing

When I first heard this quote, I was sure it would end up in a blog.  I was sure it would be a retelling of the many people who have accomplished great things despite this or that.  I thought it would be about the people who overcame great challenges to rise in their fields or achieve great success.  But in the end, as I rolled the quote around and around in my head, it is not about that at all.  Because in the end, I do not agree with the quote.

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Deeper examination of the people who have achieved great things in spite of overwhelming obstacles will always reveal someone who believed in them.  There was a parent who told them that they were smart.  There was a friend who read their stories or looked at their drawings and appreciated them.  There was a teacher.  So many times there was a teacher.  Someone looked at them and saw what I like to call the sparkle, that inner glow that shines when they dance or run or sing or solve math problems.  Someone told them that they sparkle, and that someone ignited a flame…even if it was just once in passing long ago and the flame stayed hidden deep down inside.

I cannot, will not, live in a world where there are people that no one imagines anything of. I cannot, will not, allow anyone to go through life with no one believing in them.  I want to imagine something of EVERYONE.  I want us all to imagine something of everyone.

In my profession, this is not a nice to have trait, it is a have to have trait.

Every day children walk into our schools and spend their days with people who should imagine something of them.  Teachers are entrusted with the care and nurturing of minds and hearts and souls.  It is our job to see the sparkle, to know our students so well that we can help identify their passions and encourage them.  It is our job to do this for EVERY student in our classrooms, even the ones who are angry or quiet or difficult to like at times.  In fact, it is our job to find it most in those students.  We have the opportunity, the gift, to be the person who imagined something of the next great artist, the doctor who cures cancer, the President.  It is our job to imagine something of these future parents, neighbors, colleagues.

Reflect on the people who saw something in you.  Thank them.

Then look around for the people whose sparkle you should be seeing.  Reach out to them. Encourage them.  Nurture that sparkle.  Do not allow a single person to go through life with no one imaging something of them.

Imagine something of everyone.

 

Whose wings are you seeing?

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“What of my future self is in me right now?”  (Radiolab- Season 12- Episode 4- Black Box)

Did you know that if you peeled back the skin of a caterpillar, you’d see all of the elements of a butterfly already formed and waiting to emerge?   A colleague of mine attended a staff development session recently in which an important question was posed:  “Who saw your wings before you did?”

As you might imagine, this question generated considerable conversation.  Mentors take many forms, but we can almost all identify key people who came into our lives and saw something in us that we had not yet seen in ourselves.

I would never have imagined the professional journey I have taken without the encouragement of family, friends and colleagues who believed in me.  My parents raised me to believe that there was nothing I should not try…that I had within me the capacity to achieve great things.   My husband supported me through degree after degree, always reassuring me when I was in doubt.

Leadership within and beyond the classroom would not have been possible without the wisdom of the mentors who led by example and reached out to give me opportunities to grow.  One in particular changed the trajectory of my life. There are no words to thank him adequately.  He saw my wings before I could have imagined I had them.  All of this has been fun, but I’ve had to reflect on what I have done to be that same mentor for others.  Whose wings have I seen?  What have I been doing to reach out to others and to help them see their gifts, their strengths, their possibilities?

Look

Look carefully at the people in your life.  Identify someone who might need encouragement to take on a new challenge. Reach out.  Sometimes all it takes is for someone to let you know they believe in you.  Our schools are filled with talented, passionate people who may need inspiration to take on leadership roles.

Listen

Listen to the people with whom you spend time.  It can be easy to work or even to live with people without really listening to their ideas, their thoughts, their dreams.  Sometimes all it takes is for someone to listen to inspire you to take action.  Effective leaders are approachable.  No matter how brief the interaction, be present, really listen.

Learn

Learn what the people in your life do well.  Spend time exploring the strengths of your team.  No one set of skills leads to success, and it frequently takes a mentor to help you see how your unique combination of strengths can be leveraged to make you the most effective.

There is a powerful, affirming feeling that comes from being mentored.  Few experience success without a series of people who made it possible.  A grounded leader though is focused not on themselves but on the people they can nurture.

So whose wings are you seeing?