Monday, October 21, 2013

My name is Claire Amos and I am a 'mentor whore'

Today we did an exercise with our Learning Team Leaders which got us to reflect on a key mentor or coach who had made an impact on us. We then had to reflect on the qualities of that mentor, then compared our lists with others to come up with a top 5. It was clear that a pattern was forming. Lots of mentions of powerful relationships, passion, high expectations, support/guidance and the celebration and recognition of success. This was a great intro into what qualities we would be looking to develop as Learning Coaches. 

It was through this process of reflecting on people who have influenced, coached and mentored us that I had an incredibly revelation - it would appear that I am a mentor whore. 

Okay, that might sound less than positive. Maybe I am a mentor collector. A mentor magnet. Maybe I am just lucky, because if I look back over the last twenty years (from when I knew I wanted to be a teacher) I have a whole lot of people who I consider as mentors, people who have shaped my career and will continue to do so for years to come. And after today, I would like to thank them!

Brace yourselves for the Academy Award acceptance speech...

First up there are two key 'Teacher Mentors' (Carol Don and Brian Lamb) who were my Art History and Classic teachers respectively. These two are the reason I decided to become a teacher. Their passion for their subject areas and their ability to make a group of teenagers equally passionate for learning ignited what has been 16 year love affair with teaching. Their flamboyant delivery and ability to sustain discussion and debate was magic. Both teachers commanded respect, they developed 'warm but demanding' relationships that made you want to succeed for them. Even when I returned to Rangitoto College as a beginning teacher they continued to provide both inspiration and support.

I have also been lucky to have a number of 'Principal Mentors' (Alan Peachey, Simon Lamb, Madeline Gunn and Maurie Abraham). Each, for different reasons, have been pivotal in my career trajectory. Alan was a polarising character, strong in his beliefs and values and determined to make a difference. I still remember walking into his office in my first week of teaching to tell him I was going to be a Principal and asking he how he got there. He was probably amused, but was utterly supportive and forthcoming with sage advice. In my second year he supported me becoming HOD Drama and continued to back me for years to come. He saw my determination and rewarded it with high trust and equally high expectations. Similarly, Simon Lamb provided support and opportunities for growth both as my HOD English and then as my Principal at Takapuna Grammar. Both men welcomed me barging through their office doors declaring my career aspirations and both supported me by providing opportunities to prove myself as a leader - trust, support, guidance and high expectations were key for my professional growth and were offered up in spades. Madeline Gunn is another who gave similar opportunities, again putting up with my aspirations, taking them seriously and encouraging me to grow. She gave me opportunity to lead, provided support whilst making it clear that I was accountable and that expected me to deliver. Again the phrase 'warm but demanding' comes to mind with each of these mentors. Funnily enough it was my current 'Principal Mentor' Maurie Abraham that got me on to that term and already is delivering on it himself. Another Principal who puts up with me harping on about my career plans and providing me with just enough guidance and just enough freedom and professional trust to grow professionally.

And if that wasn't enough, I have also had some kick-ass 'Professional Mentors' too. These are the wise ones who I have connected with through professional opportunities outside my school. Leanne Webb and Mike Fowler in the English world who looked after me and provided many experiences and opportunities for professional learning and growth. Both shared their knowledge and encouraged me to grow and share mine. Ann Sturgess my national ICTPD facilitator who challenged and encouraged me - she is the very definition of a 'critical friend' - sharing her knowledge and unafraid of challenging in order to make you think more deeply about the 'why?'. Then there is the lovely (late) Vince Ham who guided and supported me through my e-fellowship - unerring warmth, encouragement with the occasional kick up the butt was incredibly powerful. A quality he seems to share with his Core Education colleagues Derek Wenmoth, Nick Billowes and Michael Winter, each of whom continue to provide guidance and support in their own way.

More recently I have also come to value what I refer to as 'Mentor Friends', those people who we meet through our profession that prove to be equal part mentors and friends (even if they don't realise it). People like Mark Osbourne, Karen Melhuish Spencer, Nat Torkington, Stephen Lethbridge and Andrew Cowie. People who can provide support, sage advice and give you shit all at the same time. These people aren't to be underestimated in their value. 

So that brings my raving to a close. What was the point of all that you say. Firstly it was to recognise and thank my mentors. Secondly it was to acknowledge that mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Thirdly it was to highlight the importance of support, guidance and the power of 'warm but demanding' relationships. 

I also realise, on reflection, that it is no accident I have so many mentors. In fact I suspect I have often cultivated them. I cultivate mentors by asking for advice. I cultivate mentors by listening to advice. I cultivate mentors by barging through their office door and declaring my aspirations. I cultivate mentors by simply noticing how others have influenced and supported me. 

Heck, I am not a 'mentor whore', I am  a 'mentor horticulturist'. 

I suggest you be one too.