I’m about to make what could be a disastrous confession: I willingly watch both Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model.
Wait, wait, wait. Before you click on that Unsubscribe button, hear me out.
I don’t really watch for the shows themselves (although I do enjoy seeing what the designers on Project Runway come up with each show). I actually watch for Tim Gunn and Jay Manuel. I enjoy watching how Gunn interacts with the designers, encouraging them, trying to steer them away from an impending disaster without taking over their projects. He’s respectful, and he tries to provoke critical thinking in the designers, arming them with a skill that’s going to carry them through their careers. He’s a mentor, and a good one. I enjoy watching Manuel direct photo shoots. Even when it’s not going well, he tries to keep his disparaging comments away from the models and instead tries to coach them to take better pictures. If a contestant is struggling, he reminds them of what they’ve talked about in the past and what he’d like them to think about as they’re working on overcoming their weaknesses. He’s a coach, one who praises improvement but always pushes for more.
Okay, now you can click on that Unsubscribe button if you really still want to go.
For those of you who are still here, thanks for sticking with me. The reason I’m revealing embarrassing information about what I do in my down time is because I think the ability to recognize and nurture potential is a big part of the development process, and I’m finding myself spending more time either thinking about it or actually engaging in it. One of my many roles at work is Trainer. I teach teachers new to our programs how to teach our programs. I then coach them through the details until they are standing on their own two feet.
More and more of our teachers, though, are teachers just starting out, the ones looking for their first classroom. And more and more, I’m finding that I’m not just teaching them how to teach our programs, but I’m fielding a lot of New Teacher questions or being asked to help guide someone through New Teacher issues. As I have never had to train a teacher to be a teacher and never intended to be a classroom teacher myself, it’s been a bit disorienting. But as I accept that teaching is teaching, regardless of the setting, it’s almost become easier.
The problem is: We have a teacher who has been with us far longer than she should have been, mainly because she hasn’t found her way into a classroom yet. She’s a great teacher, develops an easy rapport with the kids, is enthusiastic. She’s still learning the nuances of student management, but she’s also taken the time to develop systems to help young students learn to make good behavior choices. Everyone acknowledges that it’s a shame no one has picked her up yet, because she does show so much potential…but no one really does anything. I’m pretty much hoping it’s because they’re just not sure how best to help her because…
One of our directors, not long after meeting me, turned herself into my biggest supporter. My own personal cheerleader. She took one look at me and said, “Why are you still here? Where are you supposed to be?” The first time she asked me that (because she has asked me that repeatedly), I didn’t have an answer. I hadn’t quite figured it out yet myself. I have now, and I’m trying to figure out how to get where I’m supposed to be, and she’s right there asking what I’m doing to get myself moving and how things are going.
I love her for it. She’s encouraging with me, firm with me when I start waffling. She throws out suggestions for action plans when I look or feel stuck…but she expects to hear soon after that I’ve done something. She sees my potential, and she refuses to let me do anything but try to live up to it.
And to me, that’s what a mentor or a coach is: someone who sees your potential and pushes you to make something of it. But what leads a mentor to look at two people who are both loaded with potential and push one but not the other? That’s really how I feel about this mess. Even when Gunn or Manuel feel that one of their mentees is slipping, they still try to offer some help, sometimes even turning the person around. Where does someone draw the line?
I wouldn’t be where I am today if people hadn’t given me a chance to make my mistakes, to learn, to prove to both myself and others that I could do something. I wouldn’t be where I am if someone hadn’t felt I deserved being taken under their wing and coached and polished a little bit. Shouldn’t others have that same opportunity?