DigiLit Sunday: Mentors

Margaret Simon has me thinking about mentors today. Find more thoughts on mentors @ Reflections on the Teche.


I swim with a masters group a few mornings a week. There are plenty of mentors in the pool. Some are age group record holders. Many were college athletes. There’s even a former Olympian. They are experts in the work. While these athletes are inspirational to watch, if all I had were their example, I’d probably give up. A mentor is more than a model of proficiency. A mentor needs to reach to a place of ability and understanding in the student. That’s where the coach comes in: taking me where I am and showing me what I can try.

I’ve learned a lot about teaching by paying attention to my reactions to workouts. When do I push myself? When do I want to give up?

Translating my experience in the pool to my readers and writers in the classroom, I reach for mentors with these ideas in mind:

  1. See the student in the work. By noticing and naming what a student does like the mentor, I invite the student into the club.
  2. Break the mentor down. By looking closely at one or two things the student could approach, I keep it simple and replicable.
  3. Step away from the student. By giving lots of room to practice, I let the student try and try.
  4. Reflect. By asking, what went well?  Celebrate the approximations.
  5. Repeat  #1-4

Mentors and coaches are guides. They provide road maps. They inspire and invite us in. As we try, we see more and continue to try. That’s the cycle we want our students to feel. It’s a cycle that builds on itself.

I’ve been lucky to find mentors who make me want to try. To mimic and morph, look back with new understanding, and try again.

My mentors’ words resonate in me, and I hope, shape my actions and decisions in the classroom.Listed below are some of the biggies.
A warning to readers and my apologies to the referenced  mentors —
These aren’t exact quotes. I’ve paraphrased the words that live in me.

Teach the writer, not the writing. — Lucy Calkins
The student is the curriculum. — Mary Howard
You learn to write by writing about something that matters to you. — Ralph Fletcher
Find the gems in student writing. — Katherine Bomer
What do you notice? What do you wonder? — Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse
Nonfiction lets us learn more; fiction lets us be more. — Kylene Beers
Reading is the inhale, writing is the exhale. — Lester Laminack
To keep our students reading, we have to let them. — Donalyn Miller
We teach to engagement, not mastery. — Cornelius Minor
Teach one thing. — Shana Frazin
What could you try? — Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris
Model, model, model. — Fran McVeigh
I’m not good at this, YET. — Peter Johnston
Every child can learn. — Chris Cassidy