Get intimidated.

The thing I’ve learned about mentoring over the years is that it’s more about being present than it is about being perfect.

Every stakeholder in every school needs a mentor.

The tricky thing about finding mentors is we often miss out because we feel intimidated by our secret heroes.  Inspiring personalities can be simultaneously charismatic and intimidating in the exact same conversation.  How do we push through jitters in order to become a better mentee?

Dave Hilditch Photography It's All Downhill From Here!
Dave Hilditch Photography
It’s All Downhill From Here!


Realize you have too much to lose if you let a mentor pass you by.

I was incredibly lucky to have once worked with Paula Baxter.

Paula is one of the brightest, kindest, most inspired principals on the planet.  It never ceases to amaze me how many educators I know who have a ‘Paula story.’  Paula is one of those rare administrators who make every member of the school feel special.  She’s also the person I immediately think of whenever I hear the word ‘integrity.’  I could blog on and on about her strengths, but it’s probably more important to pivot here and talk about how incredibly intimidating I used to (okay, sometimes still even now) find her.  The rest of this post is going to unpack why that is a (very) good thing.

feel all the feels means feeling nervous too.

Years back, after reading Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, I had a quick conversation with Paula about the ways I was blending gamestorming and visual note taking in my classroom. She asked me to run a quick workshop on her campus for a small gathering of teachers.  When I arrived to her campus, it was clear that Paula had just wrapped up an incredibly busy day (take a scroll through her Twitter feed and you’ll see how visible she is around her new school).  I told her it would be no problem for her to skip the workshop, but she insisted on being there.  Not only was she present, but she was 110% engaged.  I’m sure she could have been fielding emails or catching up on missed messages, but no, there she was throwing herself into each activity. There’s two lessons I’ve kept from that day:

1) Even the smartest, most amazing people have more to learn–the key is to throw yourself into it, and to prioritize learning, no matter what.

2) Great leaders learn side by side with their team.

Marko Blue and white
Blue and white


Sure, it is always a bit daunting to run a workshop with a ‘secret hero’ in the crowd, but the more I learn about being an educator, the more I realize I need to seek out those who will rack my nerves.

Comfort zones are not where you want to set up camp.

Those who make us nervous make for the best mentors. People like Paula force us to want to up our games.  They remind us to have higher standards for ourselves and our colleagues.  That feeling of intimidation is a provocation: where do you want to go next? Energy, focus, and commitment ooze from Paula Baxter.  And yes, that is intimidating as hell, because it makes you want to be that good at your own job, and it forces you to question if you have what it takes to start off on that path to improvement.

Being a good mentee means that you have to be vulnerable enough to be intimidated. I’m not saying this is easy, but it does get easier the more you practice it.

The best mentors want to work with people who are really and truly coachable.  

What are you doing to make yourself more coachable? I’ve often found that one of the best ways of getting into a coachable mindset is to let go.  Let go of your own expectations for the educator (or person) you feel you need to be.  Loosen your grip on the definition you’ve constructed for yourself.  Sometimes that narrative we tell ourselves about the person we are limits and controls our ability to move forward.  Make space for other people to give you feedback that could completely contradict the way you see yourself.  August Turak puts this another way in his brilliant Forbes piece “Are You Coachable? The Five Steps to Coachability”:

Even when we do find a mentor we often put him in an impossible situation. We implicitly insist that we will only give up control once we have seen results. In fact we only get results if we are willing to give up control. Unwillingness to surrender control is the single biggest reason for the lamentable fact that most authentic change is precipitated by a crisis. Ironically, the reason why most of us need a coach in the first place is to learn how to give up control.

Katia Sosnowiez Have the guts, got the glory
Katia Sosnowiez
Have the guts, got the glory


The best mentees invite change.

If you get a great mentor, don’t waste their energy by trying to gain their appreciation.  I know how busy Paula is, and I know I’m not the only person on the planet who calls her a mentor.  So if I do ask her for feedback, I’m willing to be challenged–in fact, whenever I’ve sought out her help, I’m hoping she’s going to bring me a completely different perspective.  She knows more than I do—and that can be both intimidating AND invigorating.  J.T. O’Donnell addresses this hurdle in her INC. post: “The Surprising Reason You May Not Be Coachable”:

No. 1 reason some people aren’t coachable

They don’t really want help–they want validation.

I have to believe that coming across a great mentor like Paula Baxter is a little bit of a karmic win.  It has taken me a number of years to be more vulnerable, to let go of control, and to be brave enough to value feedback over validation.  It took me a decade of teaching to realize it isn’t about being perfect, it is about perfectly coming to terms with your own imperfections.  Instead of striving to find the perfect mentor, start by becoming just a little bit better at being the mentee.

Paula Baxter, if you are reading this, thank you for intimidating me to the core, I could not be more proud to publicly call you my mentor.  #TeamPaula

The Shopping Sherpa Thank you
The Shopping Sherpa
Thank you


***Update: Including a few of the comments left to this post via FacebookScreen Shot 2016-05-12 at 07.31.17

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Flickr has an amazing bank of Creative Commons images.  Thanks for these!

Dave Hilditch Photography

It’s All Downhill From Here!


Blue and white

Katia Sosnowiez

Have the guts, got the glory

The Shopping Sherpa

Thank you

Stop building fences.

Jerry Kane is spot on in his TED talk.  What we think we know about social media is already old news.  The world of social media is evolving.  You’ve heard that already.  So why are we having the same old conversations?  Why haven’t we evolved beyond the fence?

What’s the fence?

* Discouraging social media inside of ‘school time.’

* Thinking of our online selves as somehow different from our actual selves

* Focusing on the dangers of social media and ignoring the potential success to be had

*Dictating how social media ‘should be’ used and avoiding an open conversation about possibilities

*Teachers only talking to teachers and administrators about social media

How do we move forward?

“There is no such thing as social media,”- Jerry Kane

Kane’s point wants us to think of the entire world wide web as a social space.  He’s right.

The way we build, navigate, and understand information is a social process.  That has been my experience far prior to my first profile picture.

The myth that certain teachers cannot teach social media skills is bogus.  All teachers are believers of collaborative learning, otherwise they wouldn’t be a part of a social institution.

“Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.”
Seth Godin

We need to change the way we think about ‘digital citizenship.’  Do you think you can offer your students something in terms of being more thoughtful towards other people?  Good, then offer it.

The technology, the gadgetry is always secondary.  The humanity is the priority.

If you teach your students to think of online behavior as secondary to behavior, they will buy that myth.

If you teach your students to be mindful regardless of the space, you will have a different mindset entirely.

Here’s more insight from Seth Godin:

“People don’t believe what you tell them.
They rarely believe what you show them.
They often believe what their friends tell them.
They always believe what they tell themselves.”
Seth Godin

Give students the space to reflect on what they are telling themselves about themselves online.  Who is reflected back to them through their online persona?  Chances are that is the exact same message they tell themselves first thing in the morning.

Have a conversation with your class about their ‘self-talk.’  How do we tell ourselves about who we think we are?

“If you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will willfully ignore the future that is likely.”
Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

We build fences in our schools because we are fearful we will make mistakes.  Will we have missteps on and offline?  Of course we will.  Mistakes are not avoided because we construct blockades.  There is a limit to what Brene Brown describes above as armor. Brown mentions a huge empathy deficit in the world of 2015.  What if we asked our staff, students, and leadership to start to see social media as the means to do something about that deficit? What if we started to think about social media as part of the solution, and not only the source of the problem?

Photo Credit: ianqui via Compfight cc

Let’s be vulnerable enough to tell our students that we worry they will hurt themselves, that they might hurt someone else.  That is a much more sincere conversation starter than a policy. Rules are never as effective as authentic conversations are.  Talk first, policy drafts come second.  Assume students want to do the right thing.  Assume your staff can handle the occasional misstep.  Create more conversations.

One year ago, I asked the group of student council leaders at my former school to use social media to better communicate their mission.  I assumed they would rise to the challenge of open inquiry.  What do you think, did they meet that challenge?