Updated: Jun 13
This morning I came across a blog on Twitter, written by Catherine Carden @catlistcar which was talking about teacher education over training. It was a piece about the importance of new teachers learning to critically evaluate and reflect on what they do in order to move forward. Carden said, "These skills do not develop naturally; they need to be taught, reinforced by access to relevant literature and discussed" (2020). Our twitter discussion led to a conversation about mentoring which made me reflect on my journey through mentoring (I still have one, or more!) and being a mentor and its effect on my learning and career.
I feel that mentoring for me has become my opportunity to 'payback' some of the support I have been given over the years. As a young mum, with no immediate family around, I always felt bad asking friends for favours or support when I was not always in the position to do something for them in return. One day a friend said to me that favours work in circles and not in lines. She went on to explain that I may not be able to pay that particular person back but would one day be able to do something for someone else and that would be my 'payback'. I love this way of thinking and have tried to live my life by it either from a work or personal perspective.
If I am honest my first official memory of mentoring was when I started thinking about applying for my chartership back in 2006. I had never had an official mentor prior to this although on reflection there had been a couple of librarians Helen Paul and Paul Craddock, who kindly supported and helped me through the first years of my early career and without them I don't think I would have left first base. Did I think I needed a mentor when I applied for chartership, probably not, but as it was a requirement I went for whatever was easiest and can honestly say that neither myself or my mentor really understood what this process was about. It did not benefit either of us and it was more to tick a box than to be reflective. It did not end well, leading to a complete fail and leading to finding someone via CILIP to help me. I am pleased to say that I did eventually charter in 2008 but in hindsight, I really missed out on what the mentoring part was all about.
I eventually decided that it was time to pay something back so applied to be a CILIP mentor in 2012 and have been working on my support skills of listening and asking the right questions... Not easy for me as I love to share my thoughts, especially on a topic that interests me! However, I think my own mentoring skills grew after I found Carol Webb @WebbLibrarian who mentored me through my Fellowship in 2016. Her gentle questioning and positive support without giving me the answers really helped me blossom into a more critical and reflective librarian. She helped me understand that this was a two-way relationship and she was learning from me as much as I was taking from her. Hopefully, my subsequent mentees have benefitted from this learning as much as I am learning from them.
My own mentors and their value
Since becoming an independent trainer I noticed that I had lots of unanswered questions and decided that I needed a mentor. Someone who would agree to be my go-to person with questions but also someone who I could chat to about where I was heading and why. I have been extremely lucky to find two people who have different focuses. The first person I went out to look for and asked if she would be my mentor. She is someone who works in the same profession as me and is willing to be honest and supportive, and I have learnt a lot about myself through this process.
The second I found by accident. At the beginning of my independent journey, I was invited to attend a business accelerator programme which was being run by the Digital Greenhouse. I nearly did not take this offer up as I couldn't see how I was a business. I felt a fraud! I thought I would attend the first one and then decide if it was for me. That first day I was surrounded by others who had what I classed as businesses, they had products to sell whereas my product was me. I am so glad I did push myself to go as it offered me the opportunity to think about my business in a different way, helped me understand the importance of being clear about my message and made me think about what my product was and my end goal. I still have conversation with Gez who regularly pushes me to think beyond my comfort zone. This type of mentor is invaluable and I am very grateful to him for his time and patience. We all need someone who asks us why and how...
Is there only one type of mentoring?
Going back to Carol's blog where training teachers to be critical thinkers is important made me think about the levels of mentoring that I do and the different ways I do it. I do think we need to train others to be reflective and critical practitioners and this is how I currently do it.
Blogging: I aim to write for myself for my own learning but hope that others benefit from it too. it is a great form of critical thinking.
Webinars: I hope that these will help share knowledge and understanding but also inspire others to find out more.
Online video librarian meeting: Offering a space of support and shared learning to those currently in lockdown.
Finding a mentor
We are all moving forward at different paces and need different things at different times. If you are a lone librarian or just starting out it is important to understand that there are lots of people who are willing and able to help. Choose wisely!
Is there someone you know and look up to that you can approach?
Is there someone you currently work with that could be supportive?
Is there a group you could join either on Twitter or Facebook?
Is there a forum that you can join that is on the same journey as you? The FOSIL Group forum is my go-to place.
Check out SLA list and see if there is a match there. (I only found this by accident when thinking about writing this blog today).
However, you need to get over the hurdle of 'it's embarrassing to ask and what if they say no?' Don't worry about it, move on and try someone else. Most people are very flattered to be asked and if they say no it will be for genuine reasons. Another hurdle people often find themselves asking themselves is 'is this a stupid question?' No question is a stupid one as my friend, colleague and mentor, Darryl Toerien (ok I have a 3 mentors!), says regularly.
Finding support is really important for our professional progression. Don't try and do this on your own. Reach out and find your Yoda and remember that others are learning from you as much as you from them.
Carden, C. (2020): We Train Dogs - We must Educate Teachers. Available at https://www.bowdeneducation.org/post/we-train-dogs-we-must-educate-teachers-part-2