Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Why Not Us? The Milken Educator Mentoring Program

October 2, 2017

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By Dr. Hector Ibarra (IA '93)

Born at the 2017 Milken Educator Awards Forum, a new mentoring program pairs experienced Milken Educators with new recipients to help them find their voice. Hector Ibarra, a veteran Milken Educator, is the director of our nascent Milken Educator mentoring program. He explains the program's genesis and how it will work.

An idea begins with a need.

The need for the Milken Educators’ Why Not Us? (MWNU) mentoring concept resulted from a presentation at the Milken Educator Awards Forum last March. One slide in the presentation listed specific examples of Milken Educators involved in educational policy or representation at the state or national level. With over 2,700 awardees since 1987, the Milken Educators listed were a small portion of the whole.

We chose “Why Not Us?” as the name for our mentoring program because more can be done to help Milken Educators seek and be appointed to key leadership positions at the national, regional, or state levels.

The Milken Educators’ Mentor-Mentee (MMM) concept builds connections through relationships that began at that MEA forum. MEA and mentor biographies identified interests, strengths and similarities that helped match mentees with mentors. Monthly meetings are scheduled and additional calls and email communications are encouraged as needed.

The mentor’s role is to listen, provide support, feedback, and strategies, while identifying programs to meet the mentee’s goals. Additionally, the mentors help mentees identify professional goals, provide opportunities and resources related to the mentees’ interests, and share information. The mentees lead the discussions and decide what is shared and addressed. Mentors provide support realizing leadership comes in many forms: directing school curricula, establishing/supporting mentoring programs in their school, professional development, making presentations, networking, joining professional associations, and involvement in state and national committees.

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The success of the MWNU MMM concept depends on both the mentor and the mentee as they share ideas. For success, the mentor:

  • sees the mentoring relationship as high priority,
  • has a vested interest in helping mentees,
  • conveys interest and uses open ended questions, and
  • provides an opportunity for the mentee to articulate broad goals.

In turn, a successful mentoring concept means the mentee:

  • has a strong desire to learn from this experience, and
  • sees value from the process.

Both mentee and mentor:

  • build and sustain the personal relationship,
  • look forward to the scheduled meetings, and
  • openly share stories.

The MWNU MMM concept is not the typical mentoring program. No contracts exist. For many teachers, “The last thing needed is another mentoring program.” The mentoring resource concept creates opportunities for mentees to grow by helping to identify and create opportunities not known to Milken Educators. Blazing a path begins by identifying the possibilities available. These include meeting with area legislators, community ties/education activities, presenting to the next generation of teachers in college education programs, and identifying Teacher Advisory Committees (TAC) present in almost every state.

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The program has been successful in providing a sounding board to the MWNU teachers as well as leadership and other educational advancement opportunities. Three months after the program was started, mentees in the program completed a survey. The responses indicated a resounding success, with mentees identifying the positive impacts of this mentorship program. Responses were positive and focused on the opportunities provided, encouragement in planning for the future, and the value of a positive relationship.

Among the comments from the mentees:

  • “The mentoring program has provided me with opportunities that I personally would not otherwise know about without it. It has forced me to discuss my fears and weaknesses and provided me with ways to conquer those fears and become 10 percent bolder. It's allowed me to vent and bounce ideas off someone more knowledgeable than myself as well.”
  • “I cannot begin to describe the impact this mentoring program has had on me personally and professionally.”
  • “The mentor has given me the encouragement to pursue my dreams and create concrete plans for my professional future.”
  • “My mentor has an outside and experienced perspective that has really allowed me to learn and expand my understandings in a setting that is very friendly and open.”  

Multiple other positive responses addressed ways the mentors have helped the mentees through suggestions, insight, knowledge sharing, and that fact a mentee can shape the program into what s/he wants it to be.

Examples of actions taken as the result of the survey include:

  • Establishment of an Ambassador program to communicate with 2017 Milken Educators from the time of their notification until the mentoring program is explained at the 2018 MEA Forum.
  • Identifying learning communities and asking mentees to select areas of interest. At the 2018 Forum, mentees can connect through the formation of groups of MWNU using Google Hangout, Zoom, or Skype to meet as needed.
  • Identifying mentors’ areas of strength, to help mentors know peers they can reach out to with mentee questions.
  • Discussing the mentoring program at an upcoming meeting to discuss how mentor and mentee assignments can be made so that pairs can meet face-to-face contact at the spring forum.

No doubt, this program will evolve. The concept was created during the last minutes of the 2017 Forum. There were no meetings scheduled between mentors, nor between mentors-mentees. The only meeting occurred at the end of the session explaining the Why Not Me MMM concept. At the end of the last session, an announcement was made asking Milken Educators who were interested to stay for a brief meeting. The concept was explained to seven to-be mentors who agreed to be part of the mentoring concept. Twenty-one of the 35 Milken Educators stayed and provided email and phone numbers.  The forum ended in March and the first mentor meetings occurred in April.

A key lesson learned is the importance of the selection of mentors for the MWNU MMM program. This year’s program has both secondary and elementary mentors working with elementary Milken Award recipients. The level of experience has not been a critical factor. Rather, mentors who are caring, invested in the program, and who evidence drive, determination, dedication, and dependability have established relationships that have yielded very successful results.

Success of the program has been evidenced in a variety of ways. MWNUs are working to establish state TACs and have been selected to summer professional development programs, done presentations beyond their schools, established mentoring programs in their schools, and worked within their states to draft legislative bills focused on improvements in education.

Networking is the communication that has the potential to connect mentees to resources. At a Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes event, Lowell stated, “Teachers don’t need a map. They need a compass and resetting of the north.” Eric Crouch (GA '16) chimed in, “I want to learn to grow. I want to be a better person today than yesterday.” Eric called it “feed forward,” as opposed to “feedback.” Lowell loved the term, because feedback has negative connotations. The MWNU MMM program is both a resource and mentoring concept.


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