One of the great blessings of my first year at PDS was finding a mentor in Alice Parker. Alice has a background in gifted education and teaches small group reading next door. For the first part of the year, Alice and I divide my classes so that each of us could work with the students in small reading groups, and we work closely together through the process. Watching Alice interact with the students, I knew immediately that I had much to learn from her. She is a master teacher with many of the characteristics I want to develop and incorporate into my teaching and learning. She is also willing to listen and offer help. In many ways, Alice became Yoda to my Luke Skywalker as we met regularly to talk about the thinking and learning happening in my classroom.
While many schools assign new teachers a mentor, the best mentors are usually those we discover for ourselves. After all, the school’s vision for the teacher isn’t as strong as the one he has for himself, and one is much more likely to form a strong connection when he develops it himself. Remember the force was strong in Luke, and he sought Yoda out on his own. So, how do you find your Yoda? I’m sure there are many ways, but when seeking out your Yoda you might want to keep the following things in mind:
- A Yoda has uncommon skills. One of my goals for the year was to incorporate Visible Thinking into my instruction. Alice had already been to Project Zero twice. She understood the thinking routines and had already deftly infused visible thinking into her classes. The way Alice interacted with the students inspired me, too. She has a positive outlook that is contagious, and her classroom was warm, friendly, and inviting. She also has a deep knowledge about her subject matter. If I ever had a question about reading, Alice either had an answer or knew where the answer could be found. When you seek out your Yoda, be sure you look for someone who is a true master at our craft.
- A Yoda thinks in object-subject-verb word order. A great teacher thinks similarly. Alice always considers her students first. She considers them as individuals and as a class by assessing where they are and addressing what they need. Then, she tackles the subject matter–the text or reading and how she will help the students develop a deep understanding of the content. Finally, Alice emphasizes the verb. The learning in her classroom is all about action–the doing. Students aren’t allowed to be passive onlookers. Alice designs activities and experiences that encourage her students to think, act and share, and she’s right there in the middle of all of it.
- A Yoda foresees greater problems. Just like Yoda foresaw the recklessness in Anakin, a Yoda teacher is able to see the big picture and spot the dangers that lie ahead. Many times in conversations with Alice as I would lay out my grand plans for what I wanted to accomplish, she would pause and say, “Have you considered…?” or ” You may need to think about this.” Alice never told me what to do. She listened. She asked good questions. She helped me discover areas that I hadn’t fully considered, and she helped me avoid some major snafus. I still failed occasionally, but many times I was more successful because Alice had helped me consider all the possibilities.
- A Yoda walks with a cane. As wise and talented as they are, Yoda teachers realize they have areas of weakness. They are humble. They know they still have things to learn. Whereas Alice’s skills lie in engaging students, designing lessons, communicating expectations, using visible thinking, and assessing understanding, she walks with a cane when it comes to integrating technology. Yet, she’s willing to learn, and I appreciate her seeking me out for help as she seeks to grow in this area.
- A Yoda has a great sense of humor. Just like Yoda is a practical joker, Yoda teachers recognize the need for fun. One of the things I appreciate most about Alice is her sense of humor. We work hard, but we laugh often and have lots of fun. When looking for a mentor, make sure you find someone who seeks balance and can appreciate the lighter side of things.
What do you think? What characteristics do you think are important in a mentor? Are there Yoda-like characteristics that I didn’t consider? Feel free to share them in the comments.