Why Mentoring Matters

Why Mentoring Matters

We all probably have a story of a person who we might call a mentor. That is, a person who took the time to give helpful advice, served as the role model of the teacher we aspired to be, or encouraged us through a tough time until we came out stronger and more knowledgeable in the end. This is professional development with ‘staying power.’

Peggy Haack

“Mentoring thrives when we create the kinds of work environments that allow teachers to grow on the job into lifelong learners.” -Peggy Haack, WECA Outreach Coordinator, and mentor.

Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in creating more formalized mentoring relationships.  The key word here is “relationships.” The real learning happens when there is a trusting relationship between a learning teacher and a mentor.  Programs experience success and at the same time discover a new pathway of leadership for teachers when they match those willing to serve as mentors to those who are less experienced or skillful.  Other programs choose to work with mentors from outside of their programs.  For both models, an investment of time is required to build a relationship between a learning teacher and a skilled mentor.

I believe that there are three powerful parallels between our work with children and the success of mentoring as a way to grow teacher competence.

First is the concept of relationships. We know this to be the key to unlocking curiosity and an eagerness to learn in children.  It’s the same for adults.  If we trust that someone really cares about who we are, what we think and how we learn, then we aim to please!

Second is the concept of developmentally appropriate practice.  We know from our work with children that if we take the time to figure out just where the child is on the learning curve, we can craft a plan suited to him or her.  We figure out the next step and build upon small successes so the challenges don’t seem overwhelming. Mentoring embodies this “one-to-one” approach.

The third parallel is the concept of reflective practice.  Our work with children teaches us to question why and to seek answers. For example, “Why is this transition so difficult for the children and how can I change it?”  When it comes to professional development, often the learning teacher knows what she wants to change in her practice, but doesn’t know how or maybe even why.  Having a mentor to help sort through the questions and attune to the teacher’s goals may be exactly what it takes.  For the person who is also engaged in formal education, mentoring can be the bridge between taking what one learns in a classroom and through textbooks and actually putting that learning into practice – a process that requires a great deal of reflection.

Mentoring is about supporting teachers as learners through their everyday practice. Mentoring can intentionally implemented as part of a professional development plan.  Mentoring thrives when we create the kinds of work environments that allow teachers to grow on the job into lifelong learners.

Reflections on leadership from Ann Terrell: Are you a “shero?”

Ann McClain Terrell

Ann McClain Terrell

As early childhood educators, you lead children every day. Why not also lead your community in understanding the importance of your work? We asked Ann Terrell, director of Early Childhood Education for Milwaukee Public Schools,how she became a leader and advocate for all early educators.

Q: What is your definition of a leader? 

A leader is someone who can influence the decisions and actions of others. Leaders seek out opportunities to challenge the status quo, in a meaningful and productive way.  Good leaders also know when to follow. Here’s a quote I really like:

“Being a trailblazer doesn’t do any good if you let the “high weeds” grow back because no one followed you.”
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D. President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 

Q: What set of behaviors do you associate with leadership and what are ways in which early childhood educators can develop them?

  • Live with integrity and lead by example: create standards of excellence for others to follow. Establish guiding principles about how customers, constituents, colleagues should be treated.
  • Achieve small wins. According to Marian Wright Edelman, “we must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”
  • Inspire others to achieve all that they can be and build a great team. Recognize the contributions of others and celebrate accomplishments.
  • Learn all you can about your industry.  I still read every day about current early childhood research because I want to stay up to date on what’s happening in our field.
  • Be careful who you look up to. You will move in the direction of the people you associate with!

Q: Who or what was most influential for you as you developed your leadership skills?

It’s  really important in life to have mentors, who I also like to call “sheroes.” I’ve been lucky to have a number of sheroes in my life including:

  • Patricia Jane Small, my mother; Mamie Lee McClain, my maternal grandmother; Wilma Terrell, my paternal grandmother.
  •  Jackie Ross, former Director of Utopia Child Care Center.
  • Janet Hicklin, former Faculty MATC Early Childhood Associate Degree Program.
  • Jessye N. Adams, former South East Wisconsin Associate Chief of Day Care Licensing
  • Pat Franke, former South East Wisconsin Chief of Day Care Licensing
  • Barbara Bowman, former Director of Early Childhood Education for Chicago Public Schools and Co-Founder, Erikson Institute

Being a mentor is another facet of leadership and I’ve had the good fortune to know and to advise many talented women. “Weeds will never grow back”  as long as these women are in the field teaching, directing, supervising and leading! Joining a professional organization like WECA can be a key step in developing leadership skills. The year has just begun and growth opportunities await you.

Ann McClain Terrell  is a long time friend of WECA and served as its Executive Director. She is Director of Early Childhood Education for the Milwaukee Public Schools and has 40 years’ professional experience in the field of early childhood education. Ann was recently elected to the NAEYC Governing Board and will serve a four year term through 2017.