When you were a teenager, who, other than your parents and friends, had a significant influence on your life? Why was this the case? How did they influence you?
Shelagh was my Grade One teacher, tough as nails on the outside, compassionate and caring when one got to know her. What was absolutely clear was that she gave her best to motivate, encourage and guide us as young children settling into Primary School. I wanted to do well for her, although her message was motivating me to reach my potential through making positive choices. On reflection, I think I had my most successful year academically that year – the power of an influential teacher! Shelagh also had a beautiful Alsatian, Alannah, which occasionally accompanied her to the classroom and received pampering from all the students.
When I was seriously ill with cancer, Shelagh was there for me in her own quiet, empathetic and supportive way. She generously gave me a book of wild animals which I kept for over 50 years. She wrote me ‘get well’ cards. Although I was not interacting with her a great deal, the fact that she cared and was an encouragement and support to me, positively impacted my life and inspired me to become a teacher myself.
We kept in touch all the way through my school days, indeed, until she finally passed away of old age. A special person who has left me with so many wonderful memories and I probably never really told her what a powerful impact she had had on my young life.
Lessons from mentoring youth
Mine isn’t the only story that identifies a teacher as someone who made a deep impression on a young life. Over the years I have mentored and coached well over a thousand teenagers on a 1:1 basis. Every student had a different back story.
Sometimes, sadly, some of these students were living in homes that were not functioning too well for a variety of reasons, so positive parental influence might have been lacking. No matter what the situation, many of them talked about a teacher or a coach, a person who cared about them and believed in them.
The world mourns the death of so many innocent lives and the injuries others have sustained as a result of bomb blasts and shootings in different parts of the world in recent times, though we must never forget the tens of thousands, maybe millions of young people living in poverty or traumatized by war or some other traumatic event in their lives.
These thoughts spurred me into action.
Words to motivate and inspire
For many years I had been thinking of a way to inspire young people to reach their potential, the quiet ones who retreat into their shell, who perhaps lack confidence and need to be reminded that they can take charge of their lives. With all the experience I have gained over the years, combined with all the research I have undertaken, I decided to do something to share all this knowledge in a user-friendly way with teenagers.
I have been working on developing a free App with an inspiring daily message, not a well known quote, but something more personal which I have written from my experiences working with young people for over 40 years – can’t hide my age! I actually began this project over 15 years ago and am busy refining and completing it at the moment.
There are 365 daily messages to inspire young people, which can also be accessed by parents, teachers, volunteer adult mentors and anyone else working with teenagers. The messages can create wonderful topics for positive conversations and interactions between teenagers and those significant adults in their lives.
During the next few weeks I shall be undertaking a journey to action my dream, as I’ll need to find funding support to make this dream a reality.
The power of mentoring can be life-changing
What continues to inspire and motivate me, are a whole many quotes from 14 and 15 year-old students who participated in the GR8 Mates school-based mentoring program a while ago. Most of these students were showing signs of disconnecting from school before they joined the program, many of them in single parent families and from low socio-economic, often high risk environments.
All the volunteer adult mentors were thoroughly trained and received weekly encouragement and guidance while they were actively involved in the mentoring journey. The focus of the 6 to 9 month mentoring relationship – a pity we did not have more time – was on connecting, sharing ideas about goals and setting some, looking at possible career options and researching information on careers that interested the mentee and, where possible, the mentor taking the mentee to visit a Company or organization of interest to that young person from a career perspective.
As I read through the quotes below, I was again struck by the importance of RELATIONSHIPS in these young people’s lives, FACE TO FACE RELATIONSHIPS, not online communication.
With the development of the digital footprint, it is so easy for us to forget that the most meaningful relationships are developed around three key words: RESPECT, SINCERITY (AUTHENTICITY) and EMPATHY, qualities that are shouting out to me when I read these quotes.
“[My mentor] has helped me through good times and bad and has helped me cope. She has also helped me with what my goal is in life and things I need to do to achieve becoming a teacher…[the program] has heaps of different aspects and it is brilliant …it is perfect the way it is.”
“[My mentor] gave me a lot of confidence. He told me about my self-worth and my values. I was extremely lucky to get him as a mentor. I liked that I had someone to talk to whenever I needed to, through email and face to face. I realized throughout the journey my career goals and opportunities.”
“My mentor has helped me analyse myself and the careers I’m interested in and helped me to find better time managing skills. I liked having someone to talk to about life in general, and having someone who can relate to certain things has been helpful and fun.”
“She has really helped me with managing my time. She has also been a great help with finding information about my career and how to achieve it. I enjoyed the whole thing.”
“She has helped me find what I’d like to do when I’m older and set a goal, as well as helping me find work experience at good places 🙂”
“Because I am 100% sure about where I’m going in life and have gained many valuable skills that will help me achieve my goals… gained a friend.”
“It was just good to be able to talk to someone about anything.”
“He has helped sort through my life and make right decisions when it comes to work related things. Very awesome person. Really been good with him.”
“[She] helped me gain self-confidence, realize what I wanted to do in the future, how I was going to get there and has helped me achieve my goals.”
“She told me things I just wanted to hear.”
“Helped find the jobs I like …talking about jobs…”
“I now understand what I want to do in life…I enjoyed it all.”
“She has opened my mind to the opportunities and still has more I’d love to learn from her. She took me to a Career Psychologist showing me what I am best at. She has helped open my mind 🙂 …it is a good program.”
“[She] has helped me become more confident in myself and I hope that I have made a positive impact on her life as well. I wish her all the best …talking about each other’s lives, resolving issues and having a good laugh. I liked everything. I think it was a great idea. Thank you for allowing me to have this experience.”
“Helped me with job opportunities eg, work experience.”
“She has helped me write my Resume. She organized work experience. Good rapport.”
“[She] has helped me with a lot of things…having someone to talk to.”
“He has been there if I needed to talk …make it last longer.”
“[She] has taught me to control my anger and shown me the importance of a good career.”
I remember that one of these mentors went through personal difficulties a few years after this mentoring relationship began. On Facebook the mentee, by then a young adult, posted a comment to the effect that just as her mentor had been there for her during her confusing adolescent years, now she would be there to support her mentor. The mentoring legacy will continue into a new generation.
The seeds of the Spirit of Mentoring had been successfully sown during these relationships.
Have you remembered who, other than your parents, made a significant and POSITIVE impact on your life when you were a teenager? Have you thanked that person or those people yet? Have you shared your experience with a teenager?
About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, 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 New Zealand and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Facebook or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website Robin’s free Mentoring Matters daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.