Tag mentor

Mentor a child, change her life…*

Mentor a child…*

About a year ago, an acquaintance of mine from college made a Facebook post that deeply affected me. This man was currently attending a prestigious business school, had already worked a few years at a prestigious financial firm, and graduated with me from a top liberal arts school. His post was a picture of himself and his mentor from the program Big Brothers Big Sisters, a mentoring organization that creates relationships that transform children’s lives. In the post, he credited his mentor for helping him obtain the life he has today. I was so moved that I immediately started googling “mentoring in NYC,” determined to make the kind of impact that his mentor did.

In a nation-wide study of Big Brothers Big Sisters, researchers found that children who were randomly assigned to the program versus those not yet in the program were more confident about school performance, had better relationships with their families, and were:

  • 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs
  • 27% less likely to begin using alcohol
  • 52% less likely to skip school
  • 37% less likely to skip a class
  • 33% less likely to hit someone

(source: bbs.org)

With results like that, it seems like creating one-to-one partnerships could be one powerful solution for improving educational outcomes for low-SES students.

My Mentoring Experience…*

I’m not completely new to the mentoring game. In college, I led a small female-oriented mentoring group called Ophelia’s Girls that worked in group sessions with middle school and high school students in a nearby very rural town. We provided a safe space for students to talk and aimed to serve as role models for these girls who – statistically speaking – were likely to drop out of high school before graduating.

As a 20-something, I was now hoping to have more of a one-on-one relationship where I could potentially make a greater impact on one girls’ life. I ultimately chose to participate in iMentor, a school-based mentoring program where matches email once per week and see one another at least one time each month. iMentor’s mission is to build  “mentoring relationships that empower students from low-income communities to graduate high school, succeed in college, and achieve their ambitions.” Students participate in iMentor through their high schools, where they have iMentor class once a week and stay after school for events that generally revolve around college preparedness and goal-setting.

One year ago, I signed up for a three-year match in the College Transition Program with a student that I would mentor from 11th grade through her first year of college. I was matched with Madina*, a girl living in Brooklyn who had just moved from Uzbekistan a few years ago. Over the past 10 months, we have slowly built a relationship, navigating a strong language barrier and a myriad of cultural differences. Madina speaks 3 languages fluently but still has a lot of trouble communicating in English. She juggles working a night job with her schoolwork and helps her parents take care of her younger sister. She knows she wants to go to college, but she lacks a tremendous amount of cultural capital around what college is and what different occupations entail. Together, we struggle to stay openminded about each other’s customs and cultures; she is from a conservative Muslim background, and I am a fairly liberal Jew.

When I first signed up for the program, I was prepared to help change somebody’s life. What I didn’t expect was how much she would change mine. I never fully understood the barriers immigrant students face every day. I also have been blown away by her kindness and generosity – she got me a birthday present and has cooked her favorite foods for me to try. It has been challenging to get her to open up, but as she has I have been fascinated by her life and world. It is unbelievable how vastly different our lives are, and I learn something new from her every day.

The Power of Mentoring…*

I’m not the only one thinking about how important mentoring is for low-SES students. In Michael Benko’s TEDxOU talk, he also speaks to the power of having a person investing in your life at a young age. Currently, there is a 1:500 ratio of guidance counselors to students in our school system. Benko’s idea is to give everyone their own success counselor, matching college students with high school students online.

In Lori Hunt’s TEDxCCS talk, she talks about the power of mentoring. She first talks about her struggles in the beginning of college, failing courses at a 4-year college she was not academically prepared for. Lori actually does not advocate for a particular program, but instead talks about informal mentors – the types of mentorships that occur organically. Her work study advisor became her mentor, helping her find the tools to make the right decision. She, like my friend from college, credits her with changing her life.


There are many avenues to mentoring. The bottom line is that these experiences are challenging at times but immensely life-changing on both sides of the match. If you are not already, I’d urge you to get involved in a mentoringship – it will open your eyes and could help change the trajectory of someone’s life.



*Name and some facts changed to protect her privacy.

{ rethinking mentorship …* } How Might We Change Traditional Learning Scenarios & Completely Decentralize Learning From Its Current Form?


Image: Akarsh Sanghi

  “In the 21st century when we are surrounded by digital devices and are occupied by a screen most of the time for every possible activity, I wanted to explore how can we break away from this cycle to learn something in a more organic and natural way.” – Akarsh Sanghi

I discovered Grasp yesterday and was immediately charmed by this “wearable tool to assist learning” created by interaction designer, Akarsh Sanghi. Grasp is a design provocation aimed at questioning our assumptions about traditional learning practices and environments–

“The scope of the current version of the project was to spark a debate on how traditional learning scenarios can be changed and learning as we know it can be completely decentralized from its current form. [….] The idea was to learn new skills which are more physical in nature-like craftsmanship and require step-by-step instruction assist learning.” –Akarsh Sanghi

As our lives, learning, work and communities become increasingly decentralized, online and interconnected, Grasp raises some urgent and important questions about the future of learning and mentorship. Head over to Sanghi’s website to learn more about Grasp and check out his other projects.

“Learning new skills which are more physical and instructional in nature has always been limited by the constraint of a mentor and the learner being present in the same physical space. Grasp is a wearable device which attempts to overcome that constraint by connecting the mentor and the learner across distances. The tool provides the mentor with a real time insight into the learners environment through the coupling of a first person point of view and an instructional laser pointer. Therefore, the mentor can communicate to the person learning via the device and instruct using the laser pointer. It is the idea of having a companion looking over your shoulder and instructing you while learning something new irrespective of distance.”

question & rethink . . .*

Source: This Robotic Wearable Is Like Having a Teacher on Your Shoulder


Image: Akarsh Sanghi

Sir Ken Robinson on the 3 Principles By Which Human Life Flourishes & What That Means For Education…*

“There are three principles on which human life flourishes and they are contradicted by the culture of education under which most teachers have to labor and most students have to endure.”

In this insightful and brilliantly delivered talk, which first aired on the TED TV special on education, produced with PBS, Sir Ken Robinson highlights three principles by which human life flourishes and the implications that these principles have for learning and teaching practices. Robinson notes some of the various ways in which America’s education culture contradicts these critical principles and then goes on to offer some suggestions on how to better align our educational system and culture to these inherent principles of human flourishing.

The three principles that Robinson identifies are:

1. Human beings are naturally different and diverse ~ “Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, not just a small range of them.”

2. Curiosity is the engine of achievement ~ “If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners.”

3. Human life is inherently creative ~  “It’s why we all have different résumés. We create our lives, and we can recreate them as we go through them. It’s the common currency of being a human being. It’s why human culture is so interesting and diverse and dynamic.”

Drawing from the practices of high-performing educational systems across the world, Robinson highlights three trends of real-life applications of these principles to actual teaching and learning practices which lead to greater engagement and more effective learning:

1.  They individualize teaching and learning. They recognize that it’s students who are learning and the system has to engage them, their curiosity, their individuality, and their creativity. That’s how you get them to learn.

2. They attribute a very high status to the teaching profession. They recognize that you can’t improve education if you don’t pick great people to teach and if you don’t keep giving them constant support and professional development. Investing in professional development is not a cost. It’s an investment.

3. They devolve responsibility to the school level for getting the job done. You see, there’s a big difference here between going into a mode of command and control in education. [Learning] happens in classrooms and schools, and the people who do it are the teachers and the students, and if you remove their discretion, it stops working. You have to put it back to the people.


highlights }


The drop out crisis is just the tip of an iceberg, what it doesn’t count are all the kids who are in school but being disengaged from it–who don’t enjoy it, who don’t get any real benefit from it.

Education, under No Child Left Behind, is based on not diversity but conformity. What schools are encouraged to do is find out what kids can do across a very narrow spectrum of achievement. One of the effects of No Child Left Behind, has been to narrow the focus on to the so-called STEM disciplines. They’re very important; I’m not here to argue against Science and Math. On the contrary, they’re necessary but they’re not sufficient. A real education has to give equal weight to the Arts, the Humanities, to Physical Education.

By the way, the Arts aren’t just important because they improve Math scores, they’re important because they speak to parts of children’s being which are otherwise untouched.

There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. But teaching is a creative profession. Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system. You know, you’re not there just to pass on received information. Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage. You see, in the end, education is about learning. If there’s no learning going on, there’s no education going on. And people can spend an awful lot of time discussing education without ever discussing learning. The whole point of education is to get people to learn.

You can say, “There’s Deborah, she’s in room 34, she’s teaching.” But if nobody’s learning anything, she may be engaged in the task of teaching but not actually fulfilling it.

The role of a teacher is to facilitate learning. That’s it. And part of the problem is, I think, that the dominant culture of education has come to focus on not teaching and learning, but testing. Now, testing is important. Standardized tests have a place. But they should not be the dominant culture of education. They should be diagnostic. They should help.

So in place of curiosity, what we have is a culture of compliance. Our children and teachers are encouraged to follow routine algorithms rather than to excite that power of imagination and curiosity.

We all create our own lives through this restless process of imagining alternatives and possibilities, and what one of the roles of education is to awaken and develop these powers of creativity. Instead, what we have is a culture of standardization.

The point is that education is not a mechanical system. It’s a human system. It’s about people, people who either do want to learn or don’t want to learn. Every student who drops out of school has a reason for it which is rooted in their own biography. They may find it boring. They may find it irrelevant. They may find that it’s at odds with the life they’re living outside of school. There are trends, but the stories are always unique.

Right beneath the surface are these seeds of possibility waiting for the right conditions to come about, and with organic systems, if the conditions are right, life is inevitable. It happens all the time. You take an area, a school, a district, you change the conditions, give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities, you cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners, you offer people the discretion to be creative and to innovate in what they do, and schools that were once bereft spring to life.

The real role of leadership in education — and I think it’s true at the national level, the state level, at the school level — is not and should not be command and control. The real role of leadership is climate control, creating a climate of possibility. And if you do that, people will rise to it and achieve things that you completely did not anticipate and couldn’t have expected.


Enjoy & rethink…

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley via TED.com, published May 2013.

Rethinking…* Learning ~ Transmission as Discovery of the Inexpressible

Our freight.

The bringing together of what has been parted

makes a language quiver.

Across millennia and the village street

through tundra and forests

by farewells and bridges

towards the city of our child

everything must be carried.



Last week, I had an interesting discussion with my father about what type of knowledge should be taught in schools and what the quickly changing practices of learning and teaching might come to look like in the near future. This conversation highlighted an interesting dichotomy between knowing and learning in today’s world. The ‘Googleability’ of questions is forcing teachers and educators to question and rethink not only their own roles but the very definition of education itself in this age saturated by technology and information accessible virtually anywhere and at any time. What is a Googleable question and, more importantly, what is its opposite? How can we start to think about the nature of non-Googleable questions?

Obviously these are loaded questions which affect a wide spectrum of stakeholders and require deep collective rethinking. Our conversation ended with these questions left open-ended and unresolved. But the binary struck me and has been gnawing at me for the past week. What does a learning practice outside the realm of ‘knowing’ look like? How might it be expressed? While I certainly haven’t come close to an answer, I had an insight today, which helped me frame this tension in a new way.


Today is art critic, social historian, poet, novelist, and one of my biggest heroes–John Berger—‘s birthday. Berger is a prolific thinker and writer concerned above all with the nature and experience of the human condition. And like most of my other ‘virtual’ mentors–some of which I have already mentioned here on rethinked.org: Dan EldonMartin AmisChristopher HitchensAlberto GiacomettiW.H. Auden–I was introduced to John Berger’s life and work by my father.

In fact, most of my worldviews and understanding of my self and reality have been shaped by these myriad conversations with my father throughout the years. I would tell him about the new ideas I encountered at school that excited me and he would mention books, people, studies and films that provided different perspectives on that idea and enabled me to push and refine my thinking about it. He helped me explore my interests and taught me to learn. These conversations were much more than a way to pass the time or communicate information. They form a core part of our bond. I know, and have known for a long time now, that these conversations are an act and expression of love. By being interested, listening and encouraging me to push my thinking about these ideas and the connections that arise between them, my father was shaping my worldview, learning, knowledge and our relationship.

This idea of transmission as both an act of learning and love is key to the paradox of learning versus knowing in today’s world. I do not mean to oversimplify or fall prey to easy binaries, but I do think there is value in distinguishing the concept of transmission from that of communication. Transmission is not separate from communication, but constitutes a specific aspect of the communication process. Communication refers to the entire process of encoding data into discrete, dispersible vessels that can be transferred to and decoded by another person. It refers to the entire process of encoding, decoding, dispersing, receiving, and interpreting, as well as the result of the process: A sends B a message, meaning X; B receives the message and interprets it, either successfully as X, or not. Transmission, on the other hand, refers more specifically to design; to intent.

Transmission is the most complexly human part of the communication process. It is the reflection and decisions that go into not only which data and information to encode, but also, and perhaps more importantly, how to encode this information so as to optimize and enhance the decoding experience for the receiver of our message. It is the art of imparting essential and often inexpressible ‘truths’ of life. For example, we teach character primarily through transmission. Schools have ethics programs and moral codes for their students. They have strategies such as rewards and punishments to communicate and teach ideals and behaviors such as empathy, self-control, or grit. But these are often experienced as exterior constraints by the students subjected to such programs. Transmission is about communicating these same ideals and social codes in ‘hypodermic’ ways. Transmission is the act of expressing indescribable truths by creating the experience of discovery for someone else and leading them through it.

I think that as we enter into the full swing of what Daniel Pink has called the Conceptual Age, an era of (nearly universal) ubiquitous access to technology, automation and abundance, the acts of teaching and learning will have to become more human and more empathetic. While teachers and parents do not have the same responsibilities or emotional investments towards their students, I think teaching and learning will have to become increasingly about transmission–design, ethics and the human factor of our experiences. For although we hoard our knowledge in museums and libraries, accumulate it and worry about passing it on to our children, it too perishes in the face of time. Ideas are killed off, proven wrong, taken in new directions. But what does endure is our need to seek knowledge, our ache to understand the world and our place within it. When I was growing up Pluto was a planet, now it’s not. But my father taught me that when someone point at the sky, only the idiot looks at the finger. Learning will have to become increasingly about nurturing the impulse to look beyond and about transmitting the sense of vast and endless possibilities that the act of looking creates.


Perhaps this idea is best articulated by John Berger’s poem Separation, found in his book And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, a virtuosic merging and exploration of the many themes–art, time, space, reality, perception, love subjectivity, ethics—that run across Berger’s vast opus.


We with our vagrant language
we with our incorrigible accents
and another word for milk
we who come by train
and embrace on platforms
we and our wagons
we whose voice in our absence
is framed on a bedroom wall
we who share everything
and nothing–
this nothing which we break in two
and wash down with a gulp
from the only bottle,
we whom the cuckoo
taught to count,
into what currency
have they changed our singing?
What in our single beds
do we know of poetry?

We are experts in presents
both wrapped ones
and the others left surreptitiously.
Before leaving we hide our eyes our feet our backs.
What we take is for the luggage rack.
We leave our eyes behind
in the window frames and mirrors
our feet behind
on the carpet by the bed
our backs
in the mortar of the walls
and the doors hung on their hinges.
The door closed behind us
and the noise of the wagon wheels.

We are experts too in taking.
We take with us anniversaries
the shape of a fingernail
the silence of the child asleep
the taste of your celery
and the word for milk.
What in our single beds
do we know of poetry?

Single track, junction and
marshalling yards
read out loud to us.
No poem has longer lines
than those we have taken.
Like horsedealers we know how
to look a distance in the mouth
and judge its pain by its teeth.

With mules, on foot
by airliners and lorries
in our hearts
we carry everything,
harvests, coffins, water,
oil, hydrogen, roads,
flowering lilac and
the earth thrown into the mass grave.

We with our bad foreign news
and another word for milk
what in our single beds
do we know of poetry?

We know as well as the midwives
how women carry children
and give birth,
we know as well as the scholars
what makes a language quiver.

Our freight.
The bringing together of what has been parted
makes a language quiver.
Across millennia and the village street
through tundra and forests
by farewells and bridges
towards the city of our child
everything must be carried.

We contain poetry
as the cattle trucks of the world
carry cattle.
Soon in the sidings
they will sluice them down.

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