Schools are some of the most complex organizations to lead and support. A multifaceted corps of individuals (administrators, teachers, nonteaching personnel, maintenance staff, others) organize around schools goals in order to support the needs of their students.
Most often, students represent a variety of social and economic backgrounds. At the same time, their teachers may come from very different backgrounds. Yet, teachers are charged with ensuring the success of every student.
In the process of ensuring student success, many schools incorporate programs to support new and veteran teachers as they attempt to bridge the gap between teaching and learning. Bridging this gap is challenging and demanding, and some schools spend a substantial amount of money mentoring and supporting teachers who must adapt and implement teaching strategies according to students' social and academic needs.
Teachers receive various forms of mentoring and guidance and are often involved in multiple support networks to enhance and advance their knowledge and skills to meet student needs. Teachers participate in regular and ongoing professional development, including collaboration with colleagues, to share strategies, and get feedback on new ideas and approaches to teaching. Mentoring and supporting teachers is the one area most in the profession and those outside of it can agree is necessary and vital.
However, if mentoring and support is viewed as necessary and vital to teachers, then maybe we should provide similar mentoring and support to the students they serve. Such programs do not exist in most schools.
In fact, many schools struggle to find quality and involved mentoring programs and systems to help support their students. Mentoring is not just important to struggling students, but to all students.
There are established mentoring programs for students in some of the wealthier school districts in Illinois. Most school districts that offer these programs use teachers as the students’ mentors.
In most cases, these schools do not have many low-performing or at risk students, but they see the value of mentoring to their student’s success. They make the commitment that all students need support regardless of their socioeconomic or personal background.
The commitment from these schools, teachers and parents can really have an impact on the overall success of all students. Unfortunately, many school districts cannot afford to undertake such a costly endeavor, which can lead to many students being lost in the wash of educational reform and bureaucracy.
Many schools are forced to rely on volunteer programs, which are very limited, or they try to reallocate money from other programs to bring in for-profit mentoring groups. Either way, it does not seem to be enough to service all students.
So, with the season of giving and reflection just around the corner, I challenge all of us to think about what or how we could make a difference in schools by committing to mentor a high school student, regardless of their background.
Teenagers struggle every day to make the “right” decision; this could be an easier choice if they had someone, a non-family adult, they could trust to support and guide them through the challenges of adolescence and of life.