Perspectives Gained on Mentoring Part 2
Written by Jason Rosa for The View from Valehaven
In this continuing series of articles, it is my goal to communicate things that I have learned about mentoring others throughout my years as both a member of the community, and in my professional role as an educator. In each article I will discuss a different maxim of teaching; things that educators must apply to their craft if they are to be successful, and explain how I have interpreted each of them to help me be a better mentor within the Realms.
Each student learns in a different way.
In education, each and every September, you begin the school year with over a hundred brand new faces in front of you, for some teachers, many more. The reality of education is that you must teach these kids as a group; when you have a classroom of twenty-five to thirty students, all you can really do is present the same information to all of those young people at once. But no classroom contains thirty kids who are all identical learners. Each of them has a different background. Parents with different perspectives on the importance of doing well in school, a different set of teachers that brought them up through the different grades, a different array of interests that prompted them to focus on some things and eschew others. We are tasked, as educators, to get to know these students as individuals and teach them as individuals, even as we must address them as a group.
Such a demand can be very difficult, but it does happen, in some way or another, throughout the fullness of the school year. Over the weeks and months you begin to understand each of your students as a unique learner. You get to know their history, their personality, and what enthusiasm or baggage they bring through your door every day. This allows you to begin to engage them as individuals, even within the larger context of the whole classroom. Until you reach that level of understanding with a student, teaching them can be a very difficult task. Yes, they might be able to get passing grades and do well on tests if they are taking notes and studying, but you only truly become their teacher once you have a personal relationship with them which allows them to trust you. They need to trust that you have their wellbeing at heart. They need to trust that the reason you are there is to help them grow and become better people. They need to trust in your belief that the knowledge that you want then to gain has value.
The mentees that you have within the Realms community are the same. Each of them is a different person. Each of them has a different background that made them the person who they are out of game, and has had different experiences that have shaped who they are as a member of the community. If you are tasking yourself with the responsibility of helping them to grow, you need to understand that background and how it influenced them.
One of the largest mistakes that a mentor can make is to generalize from themselves when trying to understand their mentee. Even if you see a lot of yourself in the person that you are attempting to teach, it is important to remember that there are huge gaps between the experiences you had and learned from and those that brought your mentee to your side. These differences, sometimes subtle, often vast, are one of the most important things a mentor should learn before deciding how to best teach a person who is putting their faith in them. In the beginning of your relationship, talk more about what makes you different than what makes you the same. Your goal is not to make your mentee more like you, rather your goal should be to make them a greater version of themselves.
If they are becoming your squire or your apprentice then what is motivating them to take that step? What is their personal understanding of what it means to hold those titles and be working towards others? What do they most want to learn and what parts of the community to they want to grow into? Who have their role models been up to this point and what perspectives on the game did they receive from them? What have their greatest disappointments been and how have they suffered through them? These are but a few of the things a mentor needs to know to more effectively understand who their mentee is and how best to teach them.
Part of learning about who your mentee is involves failing together. In schools, students do not always succeed at each assignment they are given, and it is through evaluating their missteps that educators discover who they are as individual learners, and how to teach them better. This will be true of your mentoring relationship in Realms as well. You will assign tasks to your mentee which are rooted in your own personal experiences and perspectives, but those tasks may not always be aligned with who your mentee is and how they will best learn. Because of this you will see times, especially in more complex projects, where your mentee will stall, not follow through, or even fail to live up to your expectations.
In some cases this may mean that you and your mentee are not a good match for one another, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Unfortunately I have seen too many situations where the relationship between two people would completely dissolve on the back of one or two assigned tasks that did not go as the mentor expected. But being a successful teacher takes more fortitude than that. Instead of writing off your mentee as a failure, instead you must evaluate why they did not live up to your expectations. Were you asking them to employ a skillset they did not yet fully understand? Were your assumptions incorrect about the amount of time it would take to accomplish something? Was the content of the task simply something that they found uninteresting and uninspiring?
Don’t be afraid to let some little things go. If a task wasn’t done exactly the way you expected but it was clear your mentee put in effort and learned through doing so, that can be enough. If your mentee found some other way to achieve similar ends to the ones that you intended, you don’t need to feel slighted that they did things in their own way. But in those situations where they fell far short of what you asked them to do, the duty of a mentor, through a conversation with their mentee, is to find out why. Sometimes a task or goal needs to be restructured or redefined. Sometimes it may require more teaching or more time working together towards its completion. Sometimes, the task simply may not be right for that mentee and the best mentors can then take a step back, not draw offense from the situation, and look for a more effective way of teaching their mentee what they need to learn.
As an educator, comprehending the learning styles of so many new students every year can be daunting. And certainly not every teacher succeeds in doing so every single year. In our community, however, it is more common to have a handful of mentees rather than a hundred. It means that learning how to teach them best is a much less overwhelming prospect, and one we must dedicate ourselves to if we are going to make a commitment to help them to succeed.