Written By: Jennifer Appel
“I think the teaching profession contributes more to the future of our society than any other single profession.”
From the time I can remember, I desperately wanted to be a teacher. Thus, when I deciding on colleges, I was focused exclusively on the schools with stellar education programs. After a pros/cons list and careful reflection, I decided on Central Washington University. While I had some struggles in college at the beginning (a blog post for another time), I was able to get into the education program and was so overjoyed to finally be on my way to realizing my dream of becoming a teacher. I always wanted to teach little ones (2nd grade was my dream) maybe willing to teach 3rd grade (Ironically, I’ve ended up spending most of my career working with middle school kids and loved every minute of it). Reading was a strong passion and I believed I had something unique to offer future students...
With this decision a new course of classes in reading came my way. In one of my early courses, I was introduced to my first professor in the reading department, Dr. Jurenka. She was a cute little older woman in her early 60’s that had been in education for years and seemed to know EVERYTHING about KIDS and READING. I was a little intimidated on the very first day of class, but also believed this is where I was supposed to be so elected to try and hide any feelings of intimidation. She was not like other professors I’d encountered; she didn’t start out with the syllabus, or lecture, she came right in and asked our college class a direct question:
“What is the most popular book for 5th grade boys?”
Written By: Hans Appel
"Asking questions is one of the best ways to grow as a human being."
As a counselor, I frequently find myself in a position of talking to students who need help; although, sometimes the help they need isn’t actually from me. Ironically, they seek my guidance or thoughts when they should be talking directly with a teacher. Maybe they’re struggling to understand a concept. Or perhaps they’re having a conflict or feeling disconnected with a teacher. Other times, they may have a desire to make a change to some aspect of their learning. While students hopefully view their counselor as a safe advocate, we often work to empower them to plug back into their own student/teacher relationships and follow-up directly with the adult who can most appropriately help them.
However, students’ avoidance of asking teachers questions makes me wonder:
Where does this inquiry based trepidation come from?
Would you like to know the most frequently uttered statement by teachers to parents during conferences: I’d really like to see him or her ask me more questions. What prevents some students from seeking help? Ok, sure, at the secondary level, and even upper elementary level there are a multitude of factors that play in with peer acceptance near the top. ‘Peers might think I’m stupid if I ask this question.’
Fair enough. Social pressures for teenagers weigh heavily and can greatly influence their willingness to seek help. Talented educators recognize the need to create a safe space where classmates can support inquiry. Yet, the reality is, there are so many opportunities to ask for teacher assistance, in quiet non-observable to other peers sorts of ways. Students can talk to teachers during work time, before/after school, lunch time, over e-mail, google classroom, or any other technology program. Some of my introverted readers might be quick to point out, that Susan Cain’s “Quiet” would remind us that personality types impact their boldness to ask questions. Yes! A student’s outgoingness absolutely affects their frequency to ask verbal questions. Although, I’m not quite as convinced that a propensity toward introvertedness precludes all online questioning. Indeed, teachers have found exceptional ways of eliciting student participation from our quieter students, through the use of technology, personal connection, and warmth.
If I hadn’t witnessed an overt discomfort to seek help by consistently ALL ranges of personality type over the last 19 years, I might have been content to conclude that peers and personality were the only driving force preventing inquiry. Rick Jetter and Rebecca Coda, authors of “Let Them Speak” so eloquently explain that if we want to know WHY kids do something, why not just ask them! So, I have...for most of my career. What keeps you from asking the teacher? While there is no denying personality and peer influence as impacts to students’ willingness to seek help fear of teacher response is clearly involved. There’s actually three categories of this fear: Witnessed, Perceived or Experienced. A major fear factor that students cite:
“I’m afraid the teacher will make me feel stupid.”
Written By: Hans Appel
“When the student is ready
the teacher will appear”
Mentorship is the guidance provided by a mentor, especially an experienced person in a company or educational institution. We typically associate mentees in schools as interns and/or practicum students. The underlying implied outcome is that the intern benefits from the mentors wisdom.
This is only part of the story. While being an effective mentor takes time, patience, and a dedicated willingness to examine one’s practices, the outcomes for the mentor are equally rich.
When I decided to take on a counseling intern, a few years ago, I had no idea that I’d grow as much or more than my intern. Thus, I’ve created a new working definition of mentorship:
Educational mentorship is a mutually beneficial endeavor that promotes growth, insight and learning for BOTH parties.
As I enjoyed breakfast last Saturday with my former intern, it dawned on me, just how educationally meaningful this experience had been for me. As Nate and I caught up on his recent attendance at a national educational conference and debriefed both last year and his plan for this next year...I realized how far both of us had come.
Having an intern forces one to take a deep dive into relooking at everything you do. With fresh, open eyes, interns can often unintentionally cast a light on outdated procedures, program, and/or policies. Their very presence initiates the kind of necessary introspection that often gets pushed to the side, in favor of mandates, routines, and requirements.
While my takeaways from my time with Nate were plentiful one has really stood out. In the spring of Nate’s 2nd year of a 3-year internship, he approached me about doing a survey of all our stakeholders. He wanted to create a way for us to gain some feedback from parents, students, and staff about our counseling program. I liked the idea and believed we were overdue to take our school’s temperature on the effectiveness of our counseling program. We spent time crafting questions, put it out to folks and then began to sift through the data.
Overall, we had very positive results! Getting a great response was very reaffirming to what we were doing. However, in one category we got absolutely destroyed. The data was very clear on this part of the survey; people did not feel we successfully communicated about our counseling program and the happenings around the school. I remember feeling a little like I’d been punched in the gut. It was as if people said to us ‘we love what your doing but we don’t always know what your doing.’ As Nate and I reviewed the results and attempted to make sense of how everything could be so positive and yet have this one giant black eye on the entire program, Nate said something profound to me.
“I think there’s a shroud of mystery that inherently surrounds counseling, ”
Award Winning Culture was created by Hans and Jennifer Appel with the sole purpose of creating an educational mindset of Positive INTENTIONALITY and ACTION; with a daily mantra to make our sphere of influence stronger through Character, Excellence, and Community. Part of AWC's mission is to highlight outstanding educators, companies, and resources that support an Award Winning Culture. Both Jennifer and Hans work at Enterprise Middle School aka Wildcat Nation. Wildcat Nation received the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award in Washington, for its award winning culture and the 2018 Global "Class Act Award" for Kindness.