Career Corner: Mentors are Everywhere

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Teresa Roberts, MS, CCC-SLP

We are surrounded by mentors every day. It might not feel like it, because we may have a narrow definition of mentorship. If we limit the concept of mentorship to a formalized agreement between two people, we may miss out on the broad view of mentorship. Any work interaction provides us with a learning opportunity. In fact, we can cultivate mentorship from others by our own actions. Colleagues, related professionals, and administrators may enjoy informal mentorship roles when they are formed naturally.

We have the ability to draw forth advice and knowledge from others. Some years ago, I worked with an incredible School Psychologist who was dual-certified as a Child Development Specialist. I have never met anyone else like her and I doubt I ever will. She had a soft, reassuring, and skilled approach with families and staff. She was highly knowledgeable and astute about child needs and ways to provide intervention.

She began every comprehensive meeting with families by saying, “You will hear a lot of people say a lot of things about your child, but no matter what anyone says, he is still your child. He is the same person that he was before this meeting.” This short statement allowed the family to honor the love and understanding that they had for their child, and recognized that assessment information and diagnostic terms may be external categories to a child’s whole being. She used the words “challenges” or “areas for growth” instead of “weaknesses” or “deficits”. She emphasized “baby steps” toward larger goals. I wrote down the words that she said after each meeting. I never asked her to formally be my mentor; I let her natural leadership skills guide me.

Other mentoring situations may be more identifiable because another person is giving you advice directly. In the early years of my work, a thoughtful kindergarten teacher in the building kept an eye on me. She would ask me if I had set up my 403b retirement account yet, and remind me how even just a little bit each month toward retirement would add up over the span of my career. She would share personal stories about balancing caring about the welfare for the students while maintaining professional boundaries. I listened closely to her every time she paused briefly at the end of the day to give me a quick bit of advice.

Finding mentors involves awareness, focused observation, note taking (physical or mental), and then deliberately incorporating those traits and behaviors that you admire. When we recognize that we have more to learn and that there are people around us who have lessons to teach us, we are open to mentorship.

Reflect on all of the colleagues, co-workers, administrators, and staff you see regularly. Think about what is unique or special about each person. Think about discussions in which you have learned something new. When you ask another person about how they might handle certain situations, you are seeking a form of mentorship. When you listen intentely to how something is explained and watch how the clear details have positive effects on the listeners, you are being guided.

Recognizing mentorship in action is about the hope of growing and changing to become more skilled in your work. It isn’t about dwelling on your own (accurately or inaccurately perceived) flaws or shortcomings. See what is great around you and emulate it. You may even be a mentor for someone else without realizing it. Accepting and cultivating mentorships involves refining your own values, and incorporating new tools from others into your practice. Mentorship brings us all closer to what we aspire to be. 

About the Author:

 Teresa Roberts, MS, CCC-SLP, works as a Speech Language Pathologist in a public school setting, provides clinical mentorship, and teaches as adjunct faculty in Portland, Oregon. She is committed to making connections between knowledge and practice. She has a weekly blog with ADVANCE for Speech Language Pathologists.


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