National Mentoring Month

The Secret to Mentoring

Our middle school students are learning about self-direction and self-management, facing challenges head on, and finding success – both inside and outside of the classroom. Distinctive Schools teachers and leaders recognize how mentoring is beneficial for both their students and their practice, “Being a mentor has impacted my practice, it has given me a whole new insight into learning from a student lens.” says Rachael Beucher, Assistant Director of CICS Prairie, “Mentoring has changed the way I hold students accountable in my class.”

Did you know that January is National Mentoring Month? We asked Distinctive leaders to nominate mentors who have made an impact on the teaching and learning in their schools. We’re excited to celebrate the impact of these mentors, and share a few keys for implementing a mentoring program in your classroom.

“You have to build trust and a strong relationship with students before anything else. Most of my beginning sessions don’t focus on academics as I get to know the students better. They need to know that, as their mentor, they can come to you about anything, not just schoolwork,” shared Frank Cademartori, music teacher at CICS Irving Park. Mentoring has allowed students to see a new side to Mr. Cademartori, “It’s totally different from my job as an enrichment teacher, and has allowed me to connect with students in a new and meaningful way. It allows them to see that I am more than the content that I teach.” 

Building trust is an important component to mentoring. “It takes time to set a solid foundation of trust. Authenticity, transparency, and consistency in my actions helps students to identify who I am as an educator and mentor,” shared Le’Ka’le Darden, sixth grade science teacher at CICS Bucktown. “Starting the year with questions about who they are, what's important to them, and what support they think they will need allows me to learn more about them as well.” 

When asked about her approach to mentoring, Traci McCullough, eighth grade teacher at CICS Bucktown, shared “My strategy is to help my students help themselves. I help them to build on their strengths, so they gain self-confidence to chase the challenge.” Being a mentor has impacted Traci’s classroom and the way she teaches; the relationships built through mentoring time deepens her understanding of student learning. It has changed the way Traci communicates with her students and families, and made it easier to assist students in meaningful goal setting. 

If you are considering a mentoring practice for your classroom, we have three keys to help you get started: 

  1. Start small. Building relationships by taking a few intentional minutes with your students each week has incredible benefits. Students love having a specific person they can talk to and trust at school, and when they feel safe and cared for, it leads to increased attendance and academic performance. The amount you gain is exponentially more than what you put in!
  2. Be patient and understand that mentoring is a process. It takes time to get to know your students. A great entry point in your conversation is to focus on goals that students set for themselves. Once you've identified personal goals, you can strategize with them to meet their goals, identify their strengths and areas of growth, and build a foundation of trust. With time and trust, you can start to peel back the layers and help them identify areas outside of school that might affect their performance. Once you're both ready, you can begin to dive into some social-emotional work that will not only help them academically, but in their life outside of school as well.
  3. Focus on your students as individuals and problem solvers. Mentoring helps to satisfy so many needs that learners have today. In addition to the incredible insights you can gain as a teacher, meeting student needs for academic and social-emotional learning allows you to help students grow in immeasurable ways. Your role is not to solve problems for your students; mentors equip students with the tools they need, and remind students of the tools they already have to problem solve. By focusing on individual needs and problem solving, mentors help students to become more self-directed and successful in their education and beyond.

Self-direction, self-awareness, self-management – they’re qualities that so many adults struggle with, and so deeply embedded on the path to success. These complex and individualized concepts can be difficult to teach, but as a network committed to the value of student voice and self-directed learning, we recognize that students need someone in their corner to help students navigate.