by Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
District Superintendent, Questar III BOCES

“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself and helps bring it out of you.” – Bob Proctor

January is National Mentoring Month. This is an opportune time to thank those who have supported us or to seek a mentor who can provide support and encouragement in the new year.

In 2019, an Olivet Nazarene University survey found that 76 percent of people thought mentors were important, though only 37 percent had one. Mentoring is particularly important for those new to an industry or organization, or who may be unfamiliar with a particular position. Mentors can provide mentees with the opportunity to discuss the most effective strategies or best practices to be successful.

Mentors can also play a critical role in supporting underrepresented groups in fields where they are significantly underrepresented. For example, the National Association of Law Placement found that less than one percent of equity partners in law firms in the U.S. are Latinas. Similarly, The Education Trust reports that Black women represent only 1.4 percent of school superintendents nationally.

The idea of a mentor has been around since the days of Greek mythology. While mentoring is often discussed in the context of someone new in a business setting, there is also the idea of reverse mentoring. This is when a junior employee shares their expertise with a more senior colleague on topics where they may have less knowledge or comfort, such as emerging technologies.

There are many examples of famous mentor-mentee relationships. This includes poet Maya Angelou mentoring Oprah Winfrey, software engineer Eric Schmidt mentoring Google co-founder Larry Page, writer Ralph Waldo Emerson mentoring writer Henry David Thoreau, and musician Ray Charles mentoring music executive Quincy Jones. Many have considered a teacher, principal, or coach their mentor.

Within public education, mentoring is an invaluable tool, providing positive and lasting impacts for staff and students alike. This includes new teachers, teaching assistants, administrative assistants, bus drivers, custodians, food service workers, related service staff, and others. Mentors provide guidance and support to new colleagues, helping them navigate the job and develop effective work strategies. In addition to supporting professional growth, mentoring can also foster a sense of community and belonging, helping to reduce feelings of isolation. Over time, this can help an organization retain staff.

Mentoring is also important in leadership development. Both informal and formal programs can help to identify and nurture potential or aspiring leaders among the teaching staff. Likewise, mentors are important to new administrators, who may lack experience in a particular area. These individuals can provide perspectives or lessons learned from previous experiences, which can lead to more informed decision-making.

Students can also benefit from a mentor in different areas, including academics, social-emotional development, or career guidance. A mentor can provide support and encouragement or serve as a role model, guide, or sounding board. This may be particularly beneficial for students looking for career advice or inspiration.

A mentor may be life changing for other students, including those without a permanent place to live, or those who are dealing with challenges outside their control. Best-selling author Liz Murray is an example of this. She went from being homeless and losing her mother to AIDS to graduating Harvard University.

Whether it’s in public education, your professional field, or simply within your personal life, do not hesitate to seek a mentor or ask for help or offer to mentor a peer or colleague. These relationships can be short term, but they also may become life lasting and life changing. Mentoring relationships are also two-way experiences where both parties benefit and learn.

As we celebrate National Mentoring Month, let us recognize the importance of mentoring and continue to seek opportunities to learn from or to help others. Thank you to our mentors for providing personalized support that helps bring out talents and abilities others may not see in themselves. Happy New Year!

This column will appear in the Register Star and The Daily Mail newspapers.

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