Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. We have personal mentors and professional mentors. Mentors that support us, encourage us, inspire us to push just a little bit harder or remind us to take a deep breath every now and then. Mentors are a cornerstone of being successful in any industry providing professionals with a concrete representation of what it means to be exceptional. Sometimes mentors are assigned when you start a new position, but sometimes a mentor takes form over time, more casually. These mentors, these relationships…the ones that evolve in natural circumstances often have the most powerful impact.
Or at least, that is what happened to me.
Starting as a new teacher twelve years ago, I was assigned a mentor to help me learn the ropes, stay organized, and to answer the questions that I did not even know I had. She was a teammate of mine and I adored and respected her. But my real mentor was not the person (whom I adored) that was assigned to me. My real mentor, and ideal of what it looked like to be a master teacher and professional, came from someone else. I first met her as a colleague. She was a teacher leader in my building, at another grade level….but everything she did, I admired.
And then, she became an administrator. My administrator. Also, my friend. Someone I trusted to bounce around ideas with, to share both personal and professional dilemmas with, and who I knew, would always be straight with me. My drive to achieve National Board of Professional Teaching Standards came in large part, because she believed in me. When I felt like I needed a professional change, from being a homeroom teacher to a resource teacher, she supported and encouraged me. Despite the fact that my transition meant leaving her school, her support for my professional growth never wavered.
Even when I was away for a year at another school, I knew that I could turn to her as a resource every day, any day.
A creative problem solver, my mentor was able to find a way for me to go back to “my school”–her school two years ago. Under her leadership I had the space to grow again, as a leader among a staff that I already knew and was comfortable with. Her latitude and flexibility allowed me to make things work in whatever way I could.
But the growth was not just professional. I competed in my first triathlon in large part because of her. I had the opportunity to take the time for my trip to Haiti because of her understanding my need for personal growth. And when it came time for me to ask for a leave of absence, to explore and pursue a new direction, her support and encouragement were the final straw that sealed my fate.
I learned so many things from my mentor. To strive for excellence while balancing the need to take care of me. To reflect and problem solve instead of sitting idle with a problem. To face things head on without guilt. To be poised and collaborative even when you rather strangle the other person across the table. To accept that there are certain battles that I will never win and will take away from the energy I could be spending somewhere else.
So today, as “good” as I was feeling about my transition out of teaching, as resolved as I was about this being the right decision…the last hug with my mentor put me over the edge. Granted, I know I am welcome back to visit, to substitute teach….and that this is not an ending….but somehow, that goodbye with the one person who more than most believed in me no matter what—my tears are still flowing.
As I write this I can hear her telling me that I am too wordy. She is right of course. But how does one take this sort of relationship that has been the catalyst for so much personal and professional growth and reflection, and encapsulate it into just a few words? I am left with the only thing that I can think of…. to say thank you. And to emphasize the power and importance of relationships in driving personal and professional success.
Thank you BG. Thank you so very much.