January is National Mentoring Month, and the mentorship programs at LEAD Public Schools are worth celebrating. We spoke with a few educators at LEAD Southeast Middle and LEAD Cameron who have seen the benefits of mentoring first-hand in their schools.
At LEAD Southeast Middle School, newly hired teachers – regardless of their experience – are given a mentor. The purpose of this relationship between mentor and mentee is to help with school-based questions and expectations, as well as advice on specific teacher moves to better manage the classroom and improve instruction.
Mentoring is not only beneficial for teachers—students also reap positive results from this intentional structure. “The impact of mentoring on students is visibly apparent,” said Joshua Cairns, a teacher and mentor at LEAD Southeast Middle. “Students are able to see their teacher being live-coached and see the culture of error we are creating in action; teachers are learning right alongside our scholars, which upholds what we have been teaching since the start of the school year: it’s okay to make mistakes!” Cairns started teaching at LEAD Southeast Middle last year and was assigned a mentor of his own, so he has seen both sides of the mutually beneficial mentoring relationship.
Mentors and mentees at LEAD Southeast Middle have a bi-weekly check-in to ask questions and express areas of growth and areas of strength. “We follow up on what we have been working on and where we are going and how to get there,” said Cairns. “This is a template that is quick and concise so we can get back to doing what really matters: changing the lives of the new generation.”
At LEAD, ensuring both students and educators feel like part of our family is critically important to our mission. “Mentoring is important because it leaves the mentee feeling secure,” added Cairns. “We want LSEM to be a safe place to grow and learn. Those that do not feel comfortable making mistakes or asking questions are not places where I want to be. So that is why I mentor and why I choose to work for LEAD Public Schools. It is a great place to work, grow, and feel successful (even in times of failure).”
At LEAD Cameron, the mentorship program – which has been in place for several years – picks up the most momentum during Summer CamU, which takes place at the end of July through early August prior to the first day of school. There are protected sessions, meetings, and lunches during CamU that foster connection, relationship building, and collaboration between educators. During this time, mentor pairings are assigned and sample agendas are shared to guide mentors with talking points in preparation for the start of the school year.
Abby Upperman, LEAD Cameron’s assistant principal of instruction, says the structure of the mentorship program has been informed by specific feedback from teachers. Beyond Summer CamU, there are several informal touchpoints between mentors and mentees throughout the first quarter of the year. “I usually tip mentors off to reach out to their mentees and provide some suggestions for what to check in on,” said Upperman. “I also encourage mentors to develop that rapport with mentees to allow for authentic and transparent communication and support.”
As the year progresses, the program essentially runs itself and becomes more authentic and natural. Mentees know who their mentor is and feel comfortable to reach out to them as an ongoing support throughout the year. “The program waterfalls and loses ‘structure’ as the year progresses, so as to create space for organic support between mentors/mentees,” added Upperman. This is an intentional aspect of the program based on feedback from years past.
Mentorship at LEAD Cameron provides a sense of connection and belonging for new and returning staff members. “It provides an avenue for some returning staff members to engage in a leadership opportunity (as mentors), and supports new staff members by connecting them with a specific teammate that can be their ‘go-to’ person for questions (and a model of professionalism),” said Upperman.
As our schools enter a new semester, mentoring remains crucial to creating a sense of community and support on campus. Teachers at both LEAD Southeast Middle and LEAD Cameron have a structure in place to troubleshoot classroom issues, ask for advice, and simply feel heard. This benefits both educators and students as teachers pick up momentum and support student growth throughout the rest of the school year.