Blogs  |  1.19.2024

Finding Your People: Tips for Educators Searching for Mentors

There’s often a perception that mentorship is something that happens between a person who’s established in their career with someone who’s new. But that’s not always the case. No matter what point you are in your career, there’s value in seeking out a mentor.

Sometimes, we don’t know what opportunities are available to us, or where to focus our professional development. A mentor can help navigate education strategies you may not have considered before, provide insight into instructional practices and classroom management, and provide subject matter expertise in “new to you” topics.

Having someone who’s been through (or is going through) similar experiences, can serve as an emotional support system as well. While talking through challenges, a mentor can shed light on shared experiences and help you pace yourself as you become a better educator. They create a safe space for trying new things where you can make mistakes—then help you learn ways to improve. And often, a very powerful dynamic of mentorship is for that mentor to be a listener too—to listen from a new perspective (you!).

We sat down with Challenger Center’s Education Team (all of whom are former teachers) to discuss their experiences as both mentors and mentees, how they’ve benefited from mentorship, and tips for teachers who may be searching for a mentor themselves . . .

5 Tips for Finding a Mentor

Mentorship can develop organically, through peers and colleagues, or through more formalized and structured mentorship programs. Whether you’re just starting out in the education profession or are a seasoned professional feeling stagnant in your career and unsure of how to grow, consider finding a like-minded mentor for inspiration and support. 

Just because someone is a seasoned teacher doesn’t mean they’ll be a good mentor—it just means they’ve been doing it for a long time. When searching for a mentor, look for someone who’s well-rounded and shares similar interests to yours. Seek out someone who doesn’t just talk about the logistics of pouring content into students, but someone who builds relationships with them. And most importantly, search for someone who doesn’t just model these traits, but also listens—to your experiences, your challenges, and your ideas. Mentorship should be a symbiotic relationship. Your mentor should gain just as much from you, as you do from them.

So, how do you find the best mentor for you?

1. Identify Your Mentorship Needs.

Think about your goals and passion. What kind of teacher do you want to be? Where do you see your career in five years? What specialties are you interested in? Write everything down to help you determine exactly what you’re looking for in a mentor.

2. Reach Out to Your Network.

Think about the people in your network, especially those you admire and respect in the education field. Keep in mind: They don’t have to have more experience than you. There’s just as much to learn from a first-year teacher as there is to learn from a seasoned one.

Ask yourself: Is there anyone who has gotten to the place where you aspire to be? Does anyone have experience in a specialty you hope to learn more about? Be inquisitive and ask these individuals what steps they took to get there.

Don’t limit yourself to just one or two individuals in your network either—reach out to a variety of individuals to create a pool of mentors that can provide you with support throughout multiple aspects and stages of your life and career.

3. Become Active in Your Communities.

If you’re looking to build or expand your network, become active in your communities, or seek out new communities that you want to be a part of. Interested in gardening? Join a gardening club. Used to be a Scout? Volunteer with Boy Scouts of America or Girl Scouts of the USA. Expanding your horizons outside of the formal education setting may provide you with additional opportunities to learn and grow as a formal educator.

Many times, it’s easier to connect with others who share your personal interests. When building a relationship with a potential mentor, these personal connections will go a lot further and be much more impactful than keeping it entirely professional.

4. Take Advantage of Opportunities That Present Themselves.

Be open to the concept that every moment is a learning moment … whether it’s a “learn to” or “learn not to.” Be aware of your conversations with fellow teachers. Observe their actions and how they carry themselves in certain scenarios. Soak in your surroundings and seek out advice from your peers.

5. Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable.

It’s hard to hear feedback or criticism—even when it’s coming from a good place! But having the emotional intelligence to hear and understand feedback from a mentor is an important part of the relationship. Be open and receptive to it. We learn and grow from our mistakes. Sometimes, learning what not to do is just as important as what to do.

“The people who ended up being my best and greatest mentors were never assigned as a mentor. They just ended up serving in that capacity unofficially—without even realizing that’s what they were doing.”

– Kevin Harrell, Challenger Center’s Vice President, Education

Mentoring Resources for Teachers

If you’re having trouble connecting with someone close to home or within your network, consider joining national educator organizations to find additional resources and opportunities for mentorship: