Guest Post: The Importance of Mentors for Educators

By Susan Stone Kessler, Ed.D., April M. Snodgrass, M.Ed., and Andrew T. Davis, Ed.D., authors of the forthcoming The Principal’s Survival Guide

Susan Stone Kessler, Ed.D.

Susan Stone Kessler, Ed.D.

Are you a new principal? A new teacher? Or do you work with people who are new to the education field? Then you have probably already realized the importance of a mentor. January is National Mentoring Month, which makes it a perfect time to consider why mentors are so important—and what to look for in one.

For New Principals
If you are a new principal, you’ll want to find a mentor separate from the leader who supervises you. Why? An ideal mentor—an experienced principal who works at the school down the road or across the world—has developed time-saving ideas for how to do your job. The experienced principal has already perfected questions for interviewing teachers, developed the best way to involve school personnel in the budget process, and navigated the landmines of dealing with a principal’s many bosses. He or she is still actively involved in the process of being a principal and understands what you’re going through in a way no one else can. You can challenge your mentor’s rationale or argue philosophy without anyone thinking you’re being insubordinate. These discussions will help you develop your own ideas about how and why you lead your school the way you do. Plus, when you don’t take the advice of your mentor because you disagree, it’s more like what happens when a teen doesn’t take a parent’s advice. The mentor may shake his or her head, but he or she still loves and supports you as you make your own mistakes. When you don’t do what the boss says, love is not the feeling you’re likely to get in return.

April M. Snodgrass, M.Ed.

April M. Snodgrass, M.Ed.

How do you pick a mentor? Most people look for similar school demographics in terms of grade levels served, size of school, or school makeup regardless of location, while others prefer someone in their geographic area no matter what kind of school they run. The most important characteristic of a mentor is that you believe he or she is successful in leading a school. No mentor will be perfect—that’s impossible. But most principals will be glad to take you under their wing because they are, after all, teachers who are motivated to help others. The benefit of picking someone in your district is that this person will know and work with all the same people you do. The benefit of picking someone 1,000 miles away is that you don’t have to tiptoe around your mentor’s friends or close associates. Like most things in life, there are many great choices, and this is about what works best for you.

For New Teachers
Just like new principals, new teachers need mentors they can trust who do not supervise them. We highly recommend that principals set up mentor programs in their schools to build in this level of support as a part of new teacher induction. Whether you are a teacher choosing a mentor for yourself or you’re helping teachers find mentors, here are a few guidelines to consider:

  • Andrew T. Davis, Ed.D.

    Andrew T. Davis, Ed.D.

    Choose highly effective teachers who are comfortable sharing their practices with others. Observe teachers in their classrooms and interacting with their students. Do their classrooms look the way you would want yours to look? Are students engaged and learning? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then observe teachers in planning or team meetings. Are they willing to help out when needed? Do they communicate with adults as well as they do with students? If the answer is still yes, then they might make great mentors.
  • Look for connections between mentors and mentees. Mentor relationships tend to be more successful when connections are present. These connections might be based on personality types, interests outside of school, subject or grade levels taught, or life experiences. The specific connection is not that important. What’s important is that it’s there.
  • Plan regular communication. It is very easy to get busy in the business of school and not take the time needed to get the support a mentor can provide. Whether you’re meeting for coffee, talking on the phone, emailing regularly, or making copies together during your planning period, a mentor relationship needs communication to be successful, and regular check-ins make mentees feel more comfortable about coming to their mentor with a serious issue.

Mentorship alone cannot guarantee the success of a new principal or teacher, but it can go a long way toward helping a newbie navigate the world of education and avoid those pitfalls a veteran can see so clearly.

Have you ever had an extraordinary mentor? Tell us about it!

PrincipalsSurvivalGuideDr. Susan Stone Kessler is an award-winning educator who has spent the past 21 years working in schools with Middle Tennessee teenagers. She has been a teacher, assistant principal, and high school principal in two Tennessee school districts. April M. Snodgrass, M.Ed., is an assistant principal in Nashville. Dr. Andrew T. Davis is a principal at an elementary school in Nashville. Their book The Principal’s Survival Guide: Where Do I Start? How Do I Succeed? When Do I Sleep? will be available in March 2015.


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Counselor’s Corner: Amelia Earhart Day

January 11 is Amelia Earhart Day. On January 11, 1935, Amelia Earhart became the first person—man or woman—to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean. Amelia_Earhart, aviator, wikimedia commons common licenseHer life came to a tragic end when she took her last flight in July of 1937, an attempt to fly around the world. She encountered weather difficulties and was not heard from again. After weeks of searching that spanned 250,000 square miles of ocean, the U.S. government ended the search. Earhart is admired for her incredible bravery and for breaking barriers for women.

Here are some ways teachers and families can celebrate the life and spirit of Amelia Earhart.

I would love to hear how you marked Amelia Earhart Day. Share your stories in the comments below.


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December Giveaway Winner!

FSP Gift CertificateCongratulations to Barbara Gruener, winner of our December giveaway of a $200 Free Spirit gift certificate!

Barbara was selected by a random drawing. In her entry she wrote:

I’m a free spirit when I let the direction of my counseling sessions be determined by my elementary-aged students. When I first started, I’d really script my sessions to make sure that I was using my tools to help fix situations. Now I work to put the tools aside and let the students do the fixing with me as a guide by the side. It’s been a challenge, but my free spirit is working to “let it go!” Thanks for a fun reflection!

Another giveaway is coming up soon, watch for more information!


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Guest Post: Get Organized! How to Cope with Clutter

By Janet S. Fox, author of Get Organized Without Losing It

Jaent S Fox FSP AuthorWe’re halfway through the school year. Could you use some ideas to help students get or stay organized?

Last year I wrote a post on some general tips for managing stuff, time, and information. Let’s look more closely at the category that seems to give everyone the most trouble: stuff management.

There are two overarching rules for dealing with all the things that clutter up our lives, whether we’re talking about paperwork or gym clothes. The first rule is a place for everything and everything in its place, and the second is use it or lose it. These two rules are closely intertwined.

The term that organization experts use for rule number one is “zoning.” Think of zoning the way kindergarten teachers do. Different areas of the classroom are assigned different roles: the reading corner, the hands-on table, the story circle. Zoning can be applied to notebooks, backpacks, desks, and lockers, and is especially useful at home if you can persuade your child to zone his or her bedroom.

organized binder common license GNU public domainTo manage papers, students can use a sturdy three-ring binder stocked with helpful tools such as transparent pencil pouch, clear plastic sleeves, a homework folder, and colorful labeled dividers. “Locking-ring” binders are worth the investment, and I recommend that the binder be at least 2 inches thick to hold a semester’s worth of papers.

Some students may not intuitively understand a filing system, so help your young learners divide and conquer their paperwork, ideally at the end of each daily homework session. Make sure they understand how to order information chronologically and how to flag information by topic. Older students might want to cull their paperwork at the end of each semester or section and file older work until exams are finished.

I suggest that every night kids empty their backpacks by dumping things out on the floor. It sounds messy, but in fact it helps them put things back where they belong and get rid of things that don’t (like that apple core, pencil stub, wadded-up gum wrapper . . .). Backpacks can be zoned, too, making it easier to find the algebra book when it’s needed.

Classroom desks and lockers are black holes for stuff. Provide younger students with clear plastic boxes for desk items like pencils and rulers. I recommend that elementary students clean out their desks at the end of every week. Have them bring all items home, and help them sort and store or toss. This is a great way to avoid the “I forgot the permission slip!” moment.

Lockers are easy to organize with folding shelves, magnetic boxes, magnetic hooks, and/or plastic boxes. Again, a weekly or bi-monthly cleanout will unearth dirty gym socks or forgotten library books.

As for rule number two—use it or lose it—we are all guilty of hanging on to too much stuff.

recycle-bin-paperTeach your student how to get rid of things that are no longer useful or important. Most things can be recycled or donated. If you’re dealing with a large amount of stuff, use a triage system: Create four piles that you designate Keep, Maybe Keep, Donate, and Toss. Wait a week with the Maybe Keep items and you’ll find that almost everything there can be donated as well.

Research shows that clutter not only creates a crowded space, it also foments a crowded mind. Clearing physical clutter is the first step toward better focus and learning.

Using these two rules will help your kids—and you—manage all that stuff that we accumulate every day. Here’s to a less cluttered new year!

GetOrganizedWithoutLosingIt by FSPMore hints, plus reproducible worksheets, can be found at janetsfox.com.

Janet S. Fox is a writer, teacher, scientist, wife, mother, and avid gardener. She has published poetry, short fiction, and science articles, taught an elementary reading program, and now teaches middle school and high school English. Author of Get Organized Without Losing It, Janet and her family live in Texas. Check out Janet’s blog, which features “interviews, musings, and more about books for kids.”


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Guest Post: Resolve to Introduce Your Kids to Goal Setting in 2015

By Beverly K. Bachel, author of What Do You really Want?

Beverly K Bachel FSP AuthorHappy 2015! With the start of the New Year, you may be thinking about making resolutions and setting goals for the coming year, but are you helping your kids do the same?

If not, you may want to.

Studies show that kids who acquire goal-setting habits get better grades, improve their concentration, feel better about themselves, and experience less anxiety. In addition, goal setting can help families improve communication, reduce stress, and balance busy schedules.

Never been much of goal setter? Don’t worry. This is a skill you and your kids can learn.

Here’s an easy way to get started. Ask your child, “If you could do anything this year, what would you do?”

Chances are your child’s answers will make excellent goals. But don’t stop there. Take the next step by helping your child create SMART goals. SMART goals are:

  • Smart Goals Blackboard SignSavvy: They are meaningful and easy for your child to understand
  • Measurable: They define exactly what your child intends to accomplish
  • Active: The outline the specific action your child is going to take
  • Reachable: They are challenging for your child, but still within reach
  • Timed: They have deadlines

Here are some examples of real-life SMART goals from kids:

  • Study math for 15 minutes on Mondays and Wednesdays.
  • Earn $25 from babysitting in January.
  • Get my driver’s license before school starts.
  • Save $30 so that I can buy a new video game by my birthday.
  • Take my dog for a walk every day.
  • Make a new friend on the swim team before the season starts.

Keep in mind that goals come in all shapes and sizes. What’s SMART for one child may not be for another. And what’s SMART today may not be so SMART just a few months down the road.

Take Action
Although there are lots of methods for achieving goals, the most successful goal getters use action plans. Action plans break each SMART goal into manageable steps. One of my favorite action plans is the goal ladder. As kids complete each step, they climb up a rung of the ladder, moving one step closer to their goal. I also like goal ladders because they help kids visualize their progress. You can download a goal ladder here.

Start by asking your child to brainstorm all the steps that go into accomplishing his or her goal. Review the list, adding any steps your child may have missed. Then, help your child combine similar steps and cross out ones that don’t seem useful. Ideally, your child’s goal will require ten or fewer steps, though longer-term goals may require an “extension ladder.”

Encourage GoalsOnce you have a manageable number of steps, help your child prioritize them and fill in the goal ladder; put Step 1 on the first rung, Step 2 on the second rung, and so on. Post the ladder where it’s visible every day, then encourage your child to take at least one action—no matter how small—right away. Doing so creates an immediate sense of accomplishment and sets your child up for further success.

Give Goals a Chance
Once your kids have set their goals, step back and give them some space. Don’t nag, or they may abandon their goals altogether. But if you sense they are struggling, here are some ways you can help:

  • Provide encouragement. Ask your kids questions at dinner or while carpooling to get them focused on their goals.
  • Talk about your goals. Talk to your kids about your own goals and the steps you take to accomplish them. If your kids see you following through on your commitments, they’ll be more likely to do the same.
  • Offer to help. Let your kids know they don’t have to do it alone. Offer to drive them to the gym, introduce them to a role model, or take them on a field trip.
  • Stay positive. Even the most optimistic kids feel beat up some days. Jump-start their confidence by reminding them of their good qualities and their past successes.
  • Celebrate accomplishments. When your kids take a step toward achieving their goals, reward them with a movie, time with their friends, or a chore-free weekend.

WhatDoYouReallyWantBeverly K. Bachel, the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go For It! A Guide for Teens, has introduced thousands of teens and their parents to the power of goal setting.


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