“Mentoring is a mutuality that requires more than meeting the right teacher: the teacher must meet the right student.” (Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life)
Each week, the members of 247 Learning Academy’s School Design Team meet by conference call to continue the work of supporting the Academy’s success. We talk about the school’s mission and core principles and work to make sure that the program and practices at the school are aligned with these educational values. The team has members all along the East Coast - from Miami Florida to Montreal Canada - and we are all professional educators. Combined, the five members of the School Design team have over 75 years of classroom and school administration experience. Most of us, like most of you reading this post, experienced school as a place where you go to “learn things” - to acquire knowledge. Teachers are responsible for delivering information and helping students develop skills to process information. The longer you stay in school, the more specialized this all becomes until you graduate, hopefully, with enough specialized knowledge to have some value out in the world.
When we developed and launched the 247 Learning Academy, we were motivated by the realization that the world was changing fast and current students need something very different from this traditional model of education. We believe that, in the not-too-distant future, education be much less about “learning things.” Instead, all of us, adults and children, will be accessing readily available information and learning what we need to know when we need to know it. People will constantly develop skills by doing the tasks at hand, often guided by experts who will have transferred their knowledge to learning platforms. We designed the Learning Academy to be a place where teachers are not handing down or transferring information to students, but guiding them to learn what they need to meet their goals and objectives. We call our teachers “Mentors” and their role in the Academy is to work with students to develop the mindset, skills, and discipline to be true lifelong learners.
The difference between “mentoring” and “teaching” was the topic of our last School Design team call. We were looking for examples from our personal lives where we mentored someone, or when we had a mentor, and we sought distinctions between the two words.
Here is what we came up with:
A mentor has a relationship with the person they are mentoring that is grounded in mutual respect with the goal of fostering the growth of the whole person. A mentor relationship is one of integrity, where integrity is about being whole and fully integrated.
A relationship with a mentor is collaborative. It is not adversarial or judgemental. Mentors encourage success and set high standards through their own conduct and achievement; mentors do not “grade” - they guide a person to understand their own performance and make plans for improvement.
A mentor doesn’t tell someone what to do or how to do it. Mentorship is about giving people the ability to make their own choices, so they can learn and grow as a consequence of their decisions and derive authentic life lessons from their actions.
Mentors are people in our lives who allows us to ask the question “why not?” They open doors by pointing us to the possibilities, and they are people who support us to move forward on our own goals and aspirations.
A relationship with a mentor helps us understand the “why” of learning. We often seek out mentors who are accomplished or experienced in an area we need or want to grow in. Even a great teacher will be unable to teach a student who has no desire or interest to learn; a mentor seeks to develop and build upon the intrinsic motivation to learn.
Mentorship requires a high degree of mutual trust. Learning requires pushing into the unknown, and mentors support us through, and encourage us to make, our own mistakes. Failing becomes part of the process of growing and learning; Mentors create a safe space to try new things and they provide context and perspective on what it really takes to achieve success.
The experience of having a good mentor will inspire a person to want to mentor others. Mentorship is about authentic and purpose-driven growth and learning. While many of the lessons taught in a traditional school setting may be disconnected from “real life,” by definition, mentors shepherd us through life’s real challenges and opportunities.
Without a doubt, many teachers find themselves in mentoring relationships with some of their students, and many mentors “teach” both skills and information. A fundamental belief of the people who created the 247 Learning Academy is that role of the adults is primarily one of mentorship. Our hope is to guide students to take full responsibility for their own learning. We seek to foster a growth mindset and enable students with the proper skills, tools, and discipline to learn what they need to know, when they need to know it. We engage students in authentic and challenging projects that will push them beyond what they currently know, and the adults and student work together to complete these projects. This is happening right now, every day, at the 247 Learning Academy. You can learn more about how we do this on our website, or contact the school to set up a visit and see for yourself.
By: David Arnstein, SR. VP of School Design