If you are not already retired, what would you do if you were retiring tomorrow?
It’s an interesting question and one that I am facing. Tomorrow I retire after about 40 years as an educator, having the privilege to work alongside so many wonderful colleagues and students. Memories abound from my first teaching position in an Independent School in the bush of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where a war for power was being waged between the government of the day and the terrorists or freedom fighters, the name used dependent on one’s political persuasion; then back to teaching in South Africa, returning to the newly independent Zimbabwe for a few years, back to South Africa, emigrating to New Zealand and then moving to Australia where my full-time career ends tomorrow with the School closed because of the after effects of a cyclone that has swept through parts of Queensland. Not too many people will be able to claim that as a way to head into retirement 🙂
What have I learnt over the years?Teaching is about taking the gifts that God has blessed me with and investing in the lives of young people on their journey through adolescents to becoming responsible role models who will make a positive difference within the global community.
It’s not about power, status, ego, hours I work or being beholden to any Union or other self-serving organization with little understanding of the holistic nature of education and what it means to encourage a young person to be the best he or she can be.
It’s about being true to myself, warts and all, honoring God by becoming the best I can be, feeling privileged to speak messages of hope into the vulnerable, often confused young lives who are searching for purpose, wanting their ideas and opinions to be valued, respected and listened to within a caring environment that celebrates their uniqueness and encourages them to chase their dreams and find meaning and purpose in their lives.
Sometimes it’s hard, exhausting, painful and lonely. When I am in one of those spaces I quickly bounce back when I remember the email I received from a student as he left school a couple of years ago – “you were the only person who believed in me.”
And teaching also encouraged me to become active in the world of youth mentoring and develop spirit of mentoring resources, training programs and much more. In particular, working with young people in and out of the classroom has helped me fine-tune some important mentoring skills and qualities:
- empathy – being able to put myself, to the best of my ability, in the shoes of the young person I am communicating with;
- resiliency – identifying strengths and being able to bounce back; sharing with a young person how to do this and watching lives transformed before my eyes;
- communication – the importance of tone of voice, body language, eye contact and being an excellent listener and, through face to face conversations with young people, coaching and teaching them how to develop these qualities for themselves;
- humor – not taking myself too seriously and remembering the importance of having fun and being able to laugh at myself;
- goal setting – sharpening the skills required to be an effective goal setter and then a goal-getter chasing dreams. Again, I have seen lives transformed when wobbling students learn how to do this;
- persevering – learning over the years NEVER to quit on a student;
- developmental stages – gaining a greater understanding of the developmental stages a young person goes through on their journey from adolescence to becoming an adult and, with that knowledge, being better able to guide and encourage young people;
- non-judgmental – learning how to be non-judgmental, sometimes hard, yet developing this skill so young people feel confident to open up, share their feelings and trust me;
- cheerleading – one of my favorite roles, being the non-judgmental cheerleader speaking to the potential the confused adolescent often cannot see;
- making a positive difference – believing that every young person is essentially a good person who can positively influence others and being prepared to walk alongside them as that encourager and Cheerleader;
- empowering – coaching, teaching and guiding adolescents how to understand that every choice they make has a consequence and, as they journey through life, appreciating that it is a SELF EMPOWERING journey;
- being vulnerable – knowing when and how to be vulnerable with young people; watching adolescents learn over time how to be vulnerable and seeing some amazing transformations occurring;
- faith – ego = Edge God Out – I have seen so many lives negatively impacted by the decision to go it alone and to be self-absorbed, the ultimate controller. My relationship with God has taught me servant leadership and made me a stronger, more humble, caring and compassionate person (who still has lots to learn);
- relationships – without meaningful relationships built on respect, empathy and sincerity, young people will struggle, one of the key areas I wish to pursue in the years ahead, possibly developing new resources;
- messages of HOPE – appreciating the importance of sowing messages of HOPE in the lives of young people, something that is going to be a key part of anything I do in the future.
There will be lots more, but these are some of the key elements of the spirit of mentoring which I have learnt over the years and which I want to keep working on in the days, months and years ahead and next week will start thinking about how best to do this.
During the past month or so, I volunteered to run some free Spirit of Mentoring training for a former colleague of mine who is setting up a youth mentoring program specifically for teenage boys working with male mentors. I shared lots of the points above, linking some of the information with relatively recent brain research supported by child psychologists and neuroscientists. The 16 hour training program received excellent feedback and now I have a model, with proven formulae to further update, refine and shape – exciting possibilities.
My final reflective moment is to give thanks to all those teachers who put up with my nonsense as a young person, disciplined me, guided me, shaped and moulded me and encouraged me to become the best I can be. I shall be eternally grateful to so many of these men and women who spoke so powerfully and effectively into my young life.
How would you respond to the question: If I retired tomorrow, what have I learnt over the years? Now what will I do?
About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organiser, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in Australia and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can join him on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook or contact him through his YES! website