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 With fresh, open eyes, interns can often unintentionally cast a light on outdated procedures, program, and/or policies.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, ”
I’m sure I looked at my intern like he had 3 eyes that morning. Shroud of Mystery??????
He went on to remind me that much of what counselors do tends to be removed from observation. One on one counseling sessions often happen behind closed doors. Even in small group work, other stakeholders are rarely invited in to peek behind the curtain. The very nature of the counseling relationship, confidentiality, and much of the direct service counselors provide is not easily open to public viewing. Thus, it’s probably crucial to share whatever program aspects we can with students, staff, and parents. In his own way, Nate was basically telling me...we needed to tell our counseling and/or school’s story.
BOOM! Mic Drop!
The truth is...there’s a little bit of mystery that surrounds all educators. It’s easy to get compartmentalized and disconnected from other educational professionals if we don’t intentionally seek out collaboration, communication, and teamwork. This form of collaboration can take place by departments, school or district wide. Additionally, we can collaborate on a global level. While our school family was a tight knit group, communication outside the school (to parents, community, and the greater education world) wasn’t on my radar. Education is so much stronger when we share ideas, support, and experiences.
I’m not afraid to say, this was a new way of thinking for me! If only I had already read Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess’ “Lead like a Pirate”, George Couros' “Innovators Mindset”, or David Geurin’s “Future Driven.” Perhaps, this wouldn’t have been such a revelation to me but the truth is, I was completely unaware how necessary it is to share our story with the world. Until that moment, I believed that doing good work was enough. It’s not! We have to share the work that we’re doing. Not only does sharing help education move forward but it ensures our community has the opportunity to emotionally, mentally, and physically invest in our school’s journey.
Since this conversation, our counseling team has moved all in on our social media outreach. We revamped our counseling center website, reinvigorated our school’s Facebook, established Instagram/Twitter, and a Youtube Channel. We’ve even ventured into blogging and rolled out a student led podcast last fall. And, with encouragement from Beth Houf this summer, we’re strongly considering a dip into the Snapchat world. Many of you are thinking...so what...you started social media. What’s the big deal Hans?
Now here’s what’s truly interesting from a personal standpoint. Prior to 3 years ago, I had NO social media accounts! None. Even today, I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t have a personal facebook or instagram page. Go ahead, try and look me up. You won’t find me. In fact, despite creating a strong school social media presence several years ago, I only started my personal twitter (@hansappel094) account last April. Let that sink in for a moment. So for all the anti-social media folks (and believe me I was the strongest of the bunch)...or the educators who have personal social media but haven’t yet ventured into interacting at the educational level...let me assure you that telling our school’s story has been worth every minute. And beyond that, the relationships, feedback, and learning that I’ve encountered from my PLN is life changing! I understood quickly that it’s not enough for me to share my school’s story, I also have to take interest in other stories around the country. Because the work that’s happening in education is EPIC! There’s so much to be inspired by, when we open up the window to our collective educational soul.
But the truth is, it’s not about specific social media. Social media is just a tool and that tool may change over time. It’s about having an open communication with the world about what your doing, your school, and your vision. Pulling our counseling program or myself for that matter out of the shadows is about having the transparency, vulnerability, and confidence to share our school’s journeys. We’re not there yet. We still have a ways to go in my school, district, and community. My task at Enterprise Middle School is to help others realize the power and impact that sharing our #WildcatNation #AwardWinningCulture brand has on ourselves and others. It really is worth all the time, effort, and energy!
Of course, none of this EMS story happens if our counseling team didn’t first take our school’s pulse on the current state of our program. Having a willingness to look critically at your own practices and stakeholders experiences is humbling. But growth only comes from reimagining our mistakes into possibilities. Possibilities become realities with a sprinkle of action. Who knows when we would’ve been ready to create a survey if we had no eager intern prodding us on. Indeed our willingness to take on a mentorship, almost guaranteed educational improvement.
It’s truly amazing what personal growth and learning can occur when we open ourselves up to mentorship.
Observing all the critical success #WildcatNation has had, Nate is now creating a vision of how he’ll help share his own school’s story. So cool that the actions that he inspired now inspire him.
Award Winning Culture is supported through formal and informal mentorship.
*How will you tell your story in a deeper, more meaningful way this year?
*What archaic practices might currently be holding you back?
*How might you establish mutually beneficial mentorships in your own sphere?
**Are you bold enough to re-examine your school's current programs and practices?
Perhaps your compass will come from staff, student voice, parent/community feedback or PLN...OR maybe somebody’s already trying to help you grow...if your willing to listen.
What new educational RISK or adventure are you BRAVE enough to explore to ensure your classroom, school, or district has
no more “Shrouds of Mystery”?
About the Author
Hans Appel has worked as a counselor in the Richland School District for the past 18 years and at Enterprise Middle School since it opened. He’s passionate about school culture, servant leadership, and kindness. In 2018, EMS was awarded the ASCD Whole Child Award for the State of Washington and the Global “Class Act Award” for creating a culture of excellence through kindness, service, and empathy. Recently, Hans launched his own blog about School Culture and this fall rolled out a student-led leadership podcast called Award Winning Culture: Hosted by Wildcat Nation, which can be subscribed, listened or reviewed on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, and Libsyn. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow Hans on twitter @hansappel094. Follow AWC on twitter at @awculture or Instagram @awardwinningculture. Wildcat Nation at @emswildcats1 and Instagram @emscounseling #WildcatNation #AwardWinningCulture
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.