The 1998 movie Patch Adams is loosely based on the early struggles of Hunter Adams as he undertook training to become a physician in Virginia. Adams’ philosophical perspective regarding developing close relationships with his patients – particularly through the use of humor – was directly opposed to the distance that the clinical faculty demanded in the doctor-patient relationship. In one poignant scene from the film, Adams, portrayed by the late Robin Williams, is required to stand in front of the faculty for a hearing related to his fitness to continue studies and to provide care to the indigent people of rural Virginia. Adams passionately challenges the faculty to think about the importance of patient-first relationships in the healing process, and states, “That’s why, when you treat a disease, you win or you lose; but when you treat a person, I guarantee, you win no matter what the outcome.”
In the movie, and in real life, as well, Adams was able to gain re-entry into medical school and continue his work providing free medical service to the underserved in rural Appalachia. He later expanded his efforts into the global community, impacting the lives of the underserved from Africa to South America. His Gesundheit! Institute continues to thrive and grow under his watchful eye. Patch still employs humor as a medium to connect with others for their overall well-being.
As we jump headlong into a new year, we will also jump headlong into curriculum, instructional methodologies, behavioral expectations, intervention systems, data, and a host of other items that trend toward the clinical aspects of education. These things are important, and yes, we want you to use them to their fullest extent to inform and improve your practices and increase student achievement results. But please don’t let these clinical elements ever overshadow that fact that we are teaching people. I encourage you to smile, laugh, play, and have fun with your students. I encourage you to connect with them, their families, and your colleagues in meaningful ways, knowing that the relationships you develop will yield tremendous and lasting results. I guarantee, you win no matter what the outcome.
Teachers are known to be caring professionals. They give so much time and energy to caring for the needs of students, colleagues, family members, and friends at the expense of their own needs. Often times, they give so much to others that they are completely spent and burn out.
The best way to fight the burn is with a regular routine of revitalizing self-care. In their book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, authors Kristin Souers and Pete Hall identify the top four components of a self-care plan (pp. 196-197):
- Health. It makes good sense that we must meet our health needs to avoid burnout. Regular periods of exercise, proper nutrition, and regular times of rest help to keep our minds and bodies in optimum condition for managing the stresses of life.
- Love. Regularly spend time with family members and friend. Reward yourself with something special in order to rejuvenate your mind and spirit.
- Competence. Challenging yourself to learn something new will take you out of your comfort zone, but it will help you to grow. As you grow, you will feel a sense of pride in your accomplishments, and you can share your new experiences.
- Gratitude. Every day we all can find something for which to be grateful. Take a moment to write it down. Finding those silver linings can improve our moods and carry us through the day.
As you plan for next week, be intentional regarding your own self-care. Build into your schedule time to exercise, time to spend time with family members, and time to learn something new. Set aside a few moments daily to write down the things for which you are thankful. You will find it to be tremendously beneficial!
People who can self-acknowledge have the ability to value themselves, their feelings, and efforts. Students who have experienced trauma often have difficulty in this area and often rely on environmental feedback to determine value. As such, they need to be in environments that are positive and filled with encouragement.
In their book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, authors Kristin Souers and Pete Hall note the positive developments children experience when they receive praise from caring adults. Students increase their attachment, relationships, self-esteem, and positive social manners in praise-rich environments (p. 184).
In order for praise to be the most powerful and effective in contributing to the overall well being of children, it must be authentic. In her book Mindset, author and psychologist Carol Dweck recommends complimenting students on the things they can control. Dweck recommends the following guidelines for praise:
- Praise effort.
- Encourage resilience.
- Champion growth.
Creating a positive classroom culture of praise and encouragement requires tremendous forethought. As you plan for the week, think of ways you can incorporate authentic praise in your classroom. All of your students will benefit greatly, and so will you!
Let’s start the today with a quiz:
- Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
- Name the last three Heisman trophy winners.
- Name the last three winners of the Miss America pageant.
- Name five people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.
- Name the last five Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.
- Name the last four World Series winners.
How did you do? My guess is that you had trouble answering these questions. That’s okay. People generally don’t remember the headliners of yesterday, even though these are not second-rate achievers. Awards tarnish, achievements are forgotten, and accolades are buried with their owners.
Here’s another quiz:
- List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
- Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
- Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
- Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
- Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.
Did you find this to be easier? Probably so. The people who make a difference in your life are not those with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They simply are the ones who care the most and translate their caring into action. I encourage you to be that person – the one who cares the most – for each student in your classroom. In doing so, you’ll be helping someone and creating a special bond that will be enduring.
If you are a student of leadership or a fan of basketball, you may have heard of John Wooden. Wooden was a legendary college coach who guided the UCLA men’s basketball program to a record 10 NCAA National Championships. Because of his unprecedented success, people asked Wooden what made him and his teams so successful. He responded with the simple formula above. In Wooden’s mind, conditioning was the preparation necessary to finish the game as strong as it was started. Fundamentals focused on the basic skills that were vital for each player. (At the beginning of each season, Wooden taught his players the “right” way to put on socks. That’s how vital the basic skills were to him.) Unity represented the sacrificing of individual ego for the oneness of the team.
I believe the same simple formula that Wooden used throughout his entire coaching career can guide our teaching. Our conditioning entails being prepared for every minute of class, so that the very last minute of the very last class of the week is as productive as the first. Our fundamentals are those basic skills of instructional methods and assessment that are vital for each teacher. Unity reflects our ability to come together and work for the benefit of the students in the school. When we fully employ our conditioning, fundamentals, and unity, our students will succeed beyond our wildest imaginations, and we will be truly successful.
Educators, by and large, understand that students need to make connections and build relationships within the educational environment in order to enable achievement. As such, schools develop peer-to-peer groups and student-teacher mentor programs to facilitate relationship-building. The same need exists for teachers, especially those new to the profession. The 2003 National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) found that almost a third of new teachers leave the classroom after three years, and nearly 50% leave after five years (p. 26). Recent studies have indicated that approximately 20% of teachers leave the profession within the first three years (Johnson, Musial, Hall, & Gollnick, 2011). In a United States Department of Education survey of those who left in recent years, 49% of those leaving the profession cited job dissatisfaction or the desire to pursue another career (Archer, 1999).
To increase the chances of the new teacher remaining in the profession, he/she must make connections with other professionals and the community as a whole. Therefore it is imperative that schools and districts establish teacher mentor programs that meet the needs of those new to the profession. In order to be successful:
Mentors must be purposefully selected. Every school contains three types of teachers: superstars, backbones, and mediocres (Whitaker, Whitaker, & Lumpa, 2000). Your teacher mentors must come from the superstar ranks if you want your school to improve. While backbones are hard workers and likely to do good things in the classroom, they might not always exhibit qualities that should be replicated. New teachers are prone to imprinting, and what they observe their mentor doing they are likely to do. It is best for the school, students, and new teachers if they imprint exceptionally high levels of effectiveness and professionalism from the first day of their teaching career. Carefully select your best and most well respected teachers to be mentors.
Mentors must be trained. Even though your mentors will be selected from the very best teachers in your building or corporation, they will not know instantly how to be a good mentor. Your mentors must receive adequate training in order to be effective in their mentoring role. Their training must be specific in its approach to the mentoring process, focusing on communication and collaboration. Mentor training should also include an overview of novice teacher characteristics, discussion of mentor roles and responsibilities, guidelines for classroom visits, research on effective instruction, and a review of the stages of the mentor relationship (Heller & Sindelar, 1991). Mentors must be comfortable with the program agenda and have the opportunities to ask questions of the program leader. Mentors must have opportunities for collaboration with each other on a regular basis to keep themselves sharp and focused.
Mentoring programs must be deliberate. They cannot be left to happenstance. Mentor programs must be a scheduled priority for the school. They programs must be highly organized and led by highly qualified staff members. While a program may be led by an administrator, it is recommended that a respected teacher leader provide direction for the teacher mentor program. Teachers, both experienced and novice, are more likely to embrace and fully commit to a program run by “one of their own” as opposed to one run by administrators. The end result will be greater participation in the program by current faculty and new teachers, which ultimately will improve student achievement.
Mentoring programs must be research-based. There exists a wealth of research regarding mentoring programs and the content which they stress. Many states provide the programmatic direction, regulation, and funding necessary for the implementation and sustainability of new teacher mentor programs. Additionally, professional organizations and teachers associations provide resources for new teacher induction programs. A host of respected authors and researchers have written extensively on topics such as classroom management, instructional strategies, and assessment practices, all of which are needed by new professionals. By employing such sources, the mentor program will model effective practice and empower the new teacher to positively impact student achievement.
Mentoring programs must be a scheduled priority. Many schools offer one-day orientations for new faculty members and do very little thereafter. An effective mentoring program must be planned to allow for collaboration between the new teacher and the mentor on a regular basis. Schools that recognize this need for continued collaboration often allow professional release time for both the mentor and mentees on a monthly, per grading period, or semester basis. Mentors are required to create an agenda for the meeting time and keep minutes of issues discussed. The minutes are then returned to the mentor program director for review and archival. This type of release time emphasizes the importance of mentoring, meets the documentation standards for professional development, strengthens the mentor-mentee relationship, and ultimately strengthens the new teacher and the school.
To further strengthen the new teacher connection to the community, many schools provide release time for mentors and mentees to have meetings in local restaurants, in business/corporate settings, or at the local library. Business leaders often take time to address new teachers in these types of settings. Additionally, some schools provide guided tours of the district, so that new teachers see for themselves the social and cultural diversity that will feed into their classrooms. Teachers who have these kinds of first-hand experiences gain a better understanding of the community as a whole and increase the awareness of the significance of their role.
Principals with new teachers in the building frequently build the master schedule in such a way that it allows for common time – prep periods, lunches, etc. – for the mentor and mentee. While these times are informal, they give daily opportunities for mentor-mentee collaboration further strengthening and supporting the development of the new teacher.
Mentoring programs must be relevant. New teachers need to be strengthened by research-based best practices in classroom management, instructional strategies, and assessment, but that foundation will not be built upon if the new teacher is not educated regarding the practical matters of the school. While your veterans know where to park, which doors are unlocked, where to get supplies, how to run the copy machine, how to use the attendance system, grading system, lunch schedule, referral system, etc., your new teachers have never experienced this. The mentor program must address these day-to-day operations issues early and provide access to information about these types of things. Many mentor programs incorporate the school faculty handbook and student handbook into their orientation programs, so that teachers will feel more comfortable with the daily happenings of the building.
Mentees must be met where they are. New teachers enter the profession with course work related to pedagogy, assessment, classroom management, etc., but do not know everything there is to know about their new assignment. Mentors must meet them “where they are” – at their current level of understanding. Mentors must be sensitive to this aspect of the mentor-mentee relationship. It is the mentor’s responsibility to gently shape the mentee’s knowledge base, but not crush the enthusiasm that is present.
Communicating with new teachers is of paramount importance and offers another way to meet them where they are. Young professionals entering the profession are comfortable with and often prefer electronic communiqués in the form of emails or text messages. To maintain the necessary levels of confidentiality and to meet the requirements established by many institutions, electronic communications should take place only via school approved accounts. Bear in mind that these communications are often archived and available for viewing by the general public if so requested thanks to the Access to Public Records Acts many states have put into law.
Mentors, mentor programs, and mentees must be accountable. A line of accountability related to improving student achievement must run through the mentors, the mentor program, and the mentees. Mentors must be evaluated regularly and there must be evidence of their effectiveness. The evaluation should contain documents provided by the mentor, such a agendas and minutes from meetings, examples of communication, etc. The mentor should have the opportunity to reflect as part of the evaluation, and the mentee should have the opportunity to offer confidential feedback regarding the process, as well.
Throughout the mentor program, teachers should document their professional growth as a result of partaking in the mentor program. Documenting growth in the area of instructional methods could be as simple as showing lesson plans with a variety of methodologies included. Growth in assessment effectiveness could be documented by showing the variety of assessments used in the classroom with students. Similar documentation should cover classroom management and related issues. The mentor should have the opportunity to provide the mentor program director confidential feedback regarding the mentee, and the mentee should have the opportunity to reflect as part of the evaluation. Additionally, both the mentor and mentee should provide a reflection that details their vision for the continued professional growth of the new teacher.
Mentor programs as a whole should be evaluated by both the mentor and the mentee. Both should provide confidential feedback regarding program leadership, direction, curriculum, and relevance. The evaluation of the mentor program should include ratings sheets that are simple to score and open ended items that allow for free response. The program director should receive the information, analyze it, and adjust accordingly. School principals or superintendents should also receive the information and determine appropriate next steps for the continuation of the program, always seeking to positively impact student learning.
Johnson, J., Musial, D., Hall, G., & Gollnick, . (2011). Foundations of
american education: perspectives on education in a changing world.
New York: Prentice Hall.
Whitaker, T, Whitaker, B, & Lumpa, D. (2000). Motivating and inspiring
teachers: the educational leader’s guide for building staff morale. Eye On Education, Inc.
Archer, Jeff. (1999). New teachers abandon field at a high rate. Education week, 18(27), 3p.
Heller, M. P., & Sindelar, N. W. (1991). Developing an effective teacher mentor program.
Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.
It has been said that perception is reality; however, in organizations that rely heavily on data to drive decision-making, reality tends to be more concrete. Frequently, there is disparity between perception (what leaders say is happening) and reality (what the data shows). What happens to trust when there is significant disparity between perception and reality?
Trust in the organization and its message decreases as the disparity between perception and reality increases. Here’s an example for clarification: The CEO of ABC Industries holds a press conference and shares that his company’s stock prices have outpaced every other similar company in the most recent quarter. Upon further examination of the actual data regarding stock performance, stock holders learn that while ABC Industries’ stock did increase in value over other similar companies, that increase was only one cent per share. How will this impact trust in the CEO? When the next press conference is held, will stock holders be more or less likely to believe what is being conveyed? Would the level of trust be different if the increase in ABC Industries’ stock value compared to similar companies was multiple dollars?
A wise leader will minimize the disparity between perception and reality by accurately reporting to all constituents without overselling or underselling results. The outcome will be a consistent level of constituent trust for the work of the organization and its leaders.