Mentors have been essential for me. No matter how many books you read or how much time you spend researching on the web, mentors are still a crucial part of learning in any arena.
So how do you find a great one?
Daniel Coyle goes through the research in his excellent book The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills and pulls together five points:
1) Avoid Someone Who Reminds You of a Courteous Waiter
…one who focuses his efforts on keeping you comfortable and happy, on making things go smoothly, with a minimum of effort… This is a good person to have as your waiter in a restaurant, but a terrible person to have as your teacher, coach, or mentor.
2) Seek Someone Who Scares You a Little
Look for someone who:
Watches you closely: He is interested in figuring you out— what you want, where you’re coming from, what motivates you.
Is action-oriented: She often won’t want to spend a lot of time chatting— instead, she’ll want to jump into a few activities immediately, so she can get a feel for you and vice versa.
Is honest, sometimes unnervingly so: He will tell you the truth about your performance in clear language. This stings at first. But you’ll come to see that it’s not personal— it’s the information you can use to get better.
3) Seek Someone Who Gives Short, Clear Directions
Most great teachers / coaches / mentors do not give long-winded speeches. They do not give sermons or long lectures. Instead, they give short, unmistakably clear directions; they guide you to a target…Teaching is not an eloquence contest; it is about creating a connection and delivering useful information.
4) Seek Someone Who Loves Teaching Fundamentals
Great teachers will often spend entire practice sessions on one seemingly small fundamental— for example, the way you grip a golf club, or the way you pluck a single note on a guitar.
5) Other Things Being Equal, Pick the Older Person
Teaching is like any other talent: It takes time to grow. This is why so many hotbeds are led by people in their sixties and seventies. Great teachers are first and foremost learners, who improve their skills with each passing year.
What else does the research say?
What did predict success, interestingly, was a history of perseverance—not just an attitude, but a track record…Those who initially scored high for “grit”—defined as perseverance and a passion for long-term goals, and measured using a short multiple-choice test—were 31 percent more likely than their less gritty peers to spur academic growth in their students. Gritty people, the theory goes, work harder and stay committed to their goals longer. (Grit also predicts retention of cadets at West Point, Duckworth has found.)
But another trait seemed to matter even more. Teachers who scored high in “life satisfaction”—reporting that they were very content with their lives—were 43 percent more likely to perform well in the classroom than their less satisfied colleagues.
What methods do they use? “Explanation, demonstration, imitation, correction, and repetition.”
Break down proper technique, quickly correct errors and get students to repeat until it’s second nature.
Gallimore and Tharp recorded and coded 2,326 discrete acts of teaching. Of them, a mere 6.9 percent were compliments. Only 6.6 percent were expressions of displeasure. But 75 percent were pure information: what to do, how to do it, when to intensify an activity. One of Wooden’s most frequent forms of teaching was a three-part instruction where he modeled the right way to do something, showed the incorrect way, and then remodeled the right way, a sequence that appeared in Gallimore and Tharp’s notes as M +, M −, M +; it happened so often they named it a “Wooden.” As Gallimore and Tharp wrote, Wooden’s “demonstrations rarely take longer than three seconds, but are of such clarity that they leave an image in memory much like a textbook sketch.”
What’s something that makes a great mentor that also lets you know they are the right mentor for you?
When teachers believe their students are smarter than average, more adept, the students perform better.
…Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson (1968) did the same study in a classroom, telling elementary school teachers that they had certain students in their class who were “academic spurters.” In fact, these students were selected at random. Absolutely nothing else was done by the researchers to single out these children. Yet by the end of the school year, 30 percent of the the children arbitrarily named as spurters had gained an average of 22 IQ points, and almost all had gained at least 10 IQ points. The “spurters” were also rated much higher in their classroom performance by their teachers. Rosenthal compared his results to an expensive “total push” campaign funded by the Title I education act that led, after three years, to gains that were much smaller than even the gains for the control students in these classrooms. Something had definitely happened to the teachers of these students.
Rosenthal was fairly certain the teachers did not spend more time with the alleged “spurters” because these students improved less on their verbal scores than their reasoning scores. Rather, he thinks the teachers were more excited about teaching these students, and maybe about teaching generally. And they must have subtly communicated respect for and enthusiasm about these students, so that the students themselves felt more capable of understanding and anticipated better performance from themselves. Rosenthal calls this the Pygmalion effect. Others call it the Rosenthal effect. And still others see it as a special case of what has come to be called “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
So the mentor that believes in you is the better mentor.
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