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Magnificent Mentoring and Transformational Learning

February 7, 2017

 

As I turn on my computer today, I sigh deeply: “unsuccessful applicant” is the message I read yet again in my email inbox.

 

It feels like I have just climbed Mt Everest since leaving my former career, returning to study and graduating with a new qualification. Now I have another mountain to ascend as I look for an open door to employment. I know that the right opportunity will present itself soon but in the meantime I am forced to be patient. In light of the frustration and disappointment that is mounting in my heart, I have been imagining how the act of mentoring could make a difference to my situation.

The predictable and the messy

As a new graduate, it seems very apparent how employers need that standout person who has suitably matched work experience. To appoint a highly experienced person who can quickly hit the ground running in a new position is undoubtedly preferable. After all, the rationalisation of our society subjects the workplace to a set of efficiency standards, predictability and order. I am sure it is safer, smarter and easier to predictably choose the most experienced candidate.  Whereas, to appoint a new graduate with limited job specific experience is messier. It is messier because it is a risk to the employer; more training and support may be required and who has time for that?

Standing on Giant’s shoulders

So this little quandary of mine has turned my thoughts to the latter - the messier road. This is the road that holds no guarantees but when someone demonstrates great potential, sometimes the return on the risk is undeniably worth it.  

I consider every great woman and man in the fields of science, sports and the arts; their greatness must be attributed to someone who has believed in them. It was Sir Isaac Newton who exclaimed:  “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”  In other words, Sir Newton’s incredible insight into the world of science was owed to the worth and hard work of other great scientists.  

Perhaps Newton could attribute some of his educational success to a schoolmaster who saw Newton’s potential and took action to support his learning.  In 1659, Newton’s mother withdrew him from school with the intention for Newton to become a farmer.  Given that Newton hated farming, it was a lucky break that his former schoolmaster, Henry Stokes, was able to convince his mother to return Newton to school.  Thanks to the shoulders offered by the headmaster, Newton was able to become one of the most influential scientists in history. 

Mentors making a difference

I wonder who else mentored Newton and contributed to his remarkable development as a mathematician, physicist and astronomer? Mentoring is a selfless gift and seems to be a dying art in a modern day society that is consumed with notions of individualism and competition.  

It is with tremendous gratitude that I can thank many people who have touched my life in a mentoring capacity. I am thankful for the youth leaders; school teachers; artists; academics; fitness instructors; health professionals; spiritual leaders; horsewomen and inspiring individuals who have gone the extra mile to develop my skills, believe in me, love me and share their wisdom as mentors.  Their investment into my life is priceless; I am a better person because of these giants’ shoulders.

In Australia, one of the best models of mentoring is exemplified in the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) program. AIME seeks to assist Indigenous students to complete high school by connecting them with university student mentors. This program offers Indigenous students the opportunity, skills and confidence to complete their schooling years. This is significant given that historically, Indigenous students have been less likely to complete their schooling than non-Indigenous students. The sizeable gap that exists between students has warranted the government’s hit-and-miss attempts to close the educational gap. 

 

 

This is what makes the mentoring capacity of AIME so exciting: the number of indigenous students completing high school is increasing thanks to the sacrificial support of mentors. The effects of a mentoring relationship for these students are substantial because students who participate in the program are proven to have greater success accessing university and employment. What a wonderful outcome!

Love is the key ingredient

To invest into the lives of others in a mentoring capacity is indeed an act of good will that helps to create a fairer world, unleash potential and discover new possibilities.  Perhaps what makes mentoring so special is that it is love in action and this is what probably makes it the messier path. However, in the risk of loving others, great transformations can take place. One of my favourite philosophers and educators, Paulo Freire, radically incorporated the act of loving into his professional practice of teaching. He believed that it was only through the act of love, that teaching and learning could be truly transformative and liberating.  

This is the same for the mentoring relationship and I have begun to contemplate how employers could use both reason and love to recruit new employees. Imagine going for a job interview and the panel was able to tap into both reason and love.  Firstly, they apply reason to check your resume, referees and credentials, and then they act in love to ask you about your aspirations and consider how they could mentor you in the new position. This is a transformational investment, to enable you to reach your potential and become all that you are meant to be.  

When it comes to magnificent mentoring and transformational learning, the proof is in the pudding: “2015 was a record year for AIME kids. Year 12 attainment hit 93.7 percent, exceeding the national non-Indigenous average of 86.5 percent and the national Indigenous average of 35.2 percent” (aimementoring.com).  

Perhaps it is time I pass the baton on and bend down my shoulders?


 

Natalie is passionate about human rights issues, matters of the mind and interfaith insights. When not in deep thought, Natalie loves to travel, drink good coffee and keep fit where she resides on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.

 

See all previous articles by Natalie Alexander

 

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