Professional Learning
Three Key People Every Educator Needs
January 18, 2019
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Mark Wittman

Recently, I was reflecting on people that I am thankful for and the roles they have played in my life. I of course was grateful for the obvious relationships of family, friends, coworkers, my students, and their parents. As I was finishing up my time of gratitude, I was reminded of all the individuals who have influenced me professionally and aided me on my journey to become the educator that I am today. It was during this portion of my reflection on the “professional” level that I realized I owe my success to three key people: the mentor, the partner, and the follower.  I would finish my gratitude time processing these key people and the importance they are playing in a my happy, productive, purpose-driven career.

First, the mentor: that person who professionally is shaping, modeling and pushing you to grow in the areas of your giftedness. Throughout my educational journey I have had many mentors and currently still have an individual who is providing leadership and direction at the professional level.

Our mentor is the individual who knows our strengths and weakness, providing us truth and guidance when it comes to our career. The mentor provides accountability, direction and advice on all things career wise. They many not be someone we interact with daily, but they know our hopes, fears, dreams and long term plan.

The mentor is that individual who shoots you an email when they see opportunities that align with to our giftedness. A number of years ago, on a snow day, I received an email from my mentor and all it said was, “Apply for this.” I opened the attachment and my first response was, “No way.” I was not looking to add anything else to my plate. I quickly closed the email and went on about enjoying my snow day. Within the hour I found myself drawn back to my computer and by the end of the day I had sent the application off. A month later I would receive word that I was selected to be a state trainer and two months later I would be receiving training that I would redeliver to other teachers. I didn’t know on that snow day what my future held, but my mentor knew that it was time to spread my wings and stretch myself. The experience was a catalyst to where I am today.  I have grown in so many ways and had it not been for my mentor I for sure would not be writing this article. This is just one of the many endeavors my mentor has challenged me to embark on, leading me to a deeper understanding of my profession. I look forward to future seasons of growth and welcome my mentor’s advice.

Second, the partner: the individual who is there shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee with you on the frontline. The partner provides collaboration, support, encouragement, friendship and shared responsibilities. They provide balance and stability while engaging in the workload. The partner may not be someone you see everyday, but they are that individual that you consult and utilize frequently. The partner provides support and lends an ear.   Your partner knows the true you and you know them. Your partner keeps you grounded and focused on the true goals/purpose of education.  This individual is the person that you can talk “shop” or “unload” on. Regardless what’s going on, the partner is there for you.

Recently it has been my partner who has helped me to achieve balance when it comes to balancing my classroom and leadership roles.  She keeps me grounded on issues of what is important and assists me with eliminating “drama.” She provides planning support as well as encouraging me to use my leadership skills in productive ways and to not get over-committed.

The partner is a crucial individual to every educator. Educators without a partner can become unfocused and worn down. Adding a partner to your list of go-to people will shift isolation into happiness.

Third, the follower: that educator who you are leading. The follower, and not in the social media sense, is someone who respects and believes in your work. This individual has found merit in what you are doing and seeks out opportunities to learn/glean ideas and insight from you. The follower is someone that you are investing in through transparency and trust. They are the individual who shares your vision and this shared vision fuels the relationship.

When I think of the individuals following me professionally, I reflect on what about me has drawn them to me. I then utilize my leadership skills to challenge them and ultimately drive student success.

The number of those I have had an opportunity to lead/mentor has grown as my network has increased over the years. At times I found this overwhelming. But by focusing on being a leader/mentor for these individuals, I have been able to mobilize and develop relationships and, I believe, positively impact the profession. I in turn have gleaned a great deal from those who have chosen to follow me and together we have impacted student success throughout our district.

Maintaining transparency is vital to any leader who has followers because it yields greater levels of success and creates better communication. With out clear communication and transparency “drama” creeps in and in return hinders the growth process. A true leader spends time listening, reflecting and sharing what is working and what is not. When all parties are transparent, greatness is possible.

In closing, think about these three key individuals that every educator needs in their life. As you reflect, think about your present mentor and the direction you desire for the upcoming year. Share with your partner goals and dreams you have for next semester. Finally think about who is following you and what kind of leadership you can provide for them.

Mark Wittman has taught Kindergarten/1st Grade for the past 22 years. He currently teaches Kindergarten at Riverwood Elementary School in Shelby County. He is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher and passionate about student success. He is a leader amongst his peers, serving as a District Learning Day Fellow and a Teacher Leader implementing an Alternative Growth Measure for Kindergarten teachers. Mark has served as a Tennessee Core Coach and is currently a Facilitator presenting on the Revised Tennessee Academic Standards. He holds a Master’s Degree from The University of Memphis in Leadership and Policy Studies. Mark received his Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with a Concentration in Early Childhood from Emporia State University. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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