Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 | 2 a.m.
January is National Mentoring Month, and we have been reflecting on the power of providing one-on-one support to students in our classrooms. We teach fourth and fifth grade at Pahranagat Valley Elementary School, and we are proud to work with the students in our community.
This academic year has been a bit different than years past. Last year our principal, Brian Higbee, came to us with the idea of implementing a teaching and learning approach that focuses on educating our students through projects based on real-world scenarios.
The approach is called Summit Learning, and our immediate thought was that this was an opportunity to reinvigorate our classrooms and to encourage our students to approach learning with curiosity. Student engagement is important to every teacher, but the piece that excited us most was the unique emphasis on dedicated mentoring for students.
We have always known that students learn best when their teacher supports them in and out of the classroom. However, as most teachers will tell you, time restrictions and competing priorities kept us from consistently meeting with our students to set and accomplish goals. This has all changed, and we now have a built-in structure that allows us to meet regularly and mentor our students.
So what does mentor time look like?
We have scheduled weekly one-on-one meetings with our students, during which we connect with our mentees and talk about goals, motivations and challenges. We have only been using mentoring since August, but these meetings have already critically strengthened our relationships with each student in our respective classrooms.
The students love these new meetings, as they now receive personal attention, and we are able to get to know them better. We have always tried to go above and beyond to get to know our students, but the best part of now being a mentor and a teacher is getting the opportunity to watch each student set goals and grow.
It has been said that a goal not written down is a wish, but a goal written down becomes a reality. During mentor time, our students engage in weekly reflection on what they have been able to accomplish and what they want to achieve next through open conversations with us. We support them and show them how to set meaningful, actionable goals that lead to success in academic pursuits and extracurricular endeavors.
An added benefit of mentoring is that consistent check-ins enable us to truly know how students are doing and the support they need to achieve. For example, one of our fifth-grade students started the year with the tendency to get off track easily. We knew she was capable of greater achievement, but every day, she put forth minimal effort in her coursework and rarely stayed on task. The student’s mentor helped her make small goals focused on project management. Her mentor guided her to stick to one objective at a time and take helpful notes before taking her test.
At first, the student was afraid of failing to reach her goal. Her mentor reassured her and let her know that the only real failure happens when we give up, and that goals not reached become steppingstones to eventual success. Over the course of a few weeks, this student eventually began to see the benefit of more thorough note taking, and her grades started to rise — a clear indication that she was truly retaining information. These skills of goal-setting, processing information and prioritization will stay with her the rest of her life.
The power of mentoring cannot be overstated: truly understanding and supporting students is one of the best parts of teaching. Reaching students is bigger than just one teacher and one student; it builds a culture of learning with students at the wheel.
As students set and achieve goals, they gain a greater picture of what is possible and what they are capable of. By helping them create their own goals and strive for success, we can all help mold the future.
Kari Mortensen and Adam Lytle are teachers at Pahranagat Valley Elementary School in Alamo, about 100 miles north of Las Vegas.