Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Potential of Online Mentoring

I have been reflecting quite a bit recently on the potential for change in Alberta's education system.  With a move from a very prescriptive system to a more collaborative system with more local input/control a possibility, I see even more need for focusing on the relationships we create personally and professionally.  

In terms of building the capacity of district and provincial teachers and administrators, I see a place for an increased focus on formal and informal mentorship as a way to facilitate those relationships.  More than a simple focus on team building, mentoring is truly a powerful way of supporting personal and professional growth through tapping into the potential of relationship building.  The impact on the culture of the organization is potentially quite powerful as well!  I wanted to share two examples that I believe illustrate the power of virtual mentorships on individuals and the organization.

I was talking with one of my sources of inspiration a while ago who is doing some work with the Apollo Group as they refine their practices in the Canadian higher education market.  He mentioned that the Apollo Group has an employee mentoring program, and shared the example of a very high-ranking Apollo executive (I believe the CEO) mentoring or coaching one of the young IT employees in Nova Scotia, Canada.  They email, talk on the phone, and occasionally meet when the executive's schedule takes him to Canada.

This commitment to individual employee growth, at the highest level of the organization, is an example of the potential of mentoring programs at the organizational level.  What does it say about the value of people in that organization, that the CEO works to mentor someone in the IT department?  Does that kind of relationship across departments build trust and organizational loyalty?  I think a little bit, don't you?

At the school level, in the past I have encouraged young female students from our remote northern location participate in the Cyber (SCIber Mentor) program offered by the three universities in Alberta (  This program puts talented and interested female science and math students in mentoring relationships with females in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professions.  It is simply an amazing program.  It has been in place for many years, and I think/hope it will continue to grow in popularity!

Of course, with children and mentoring programs, the safety issue is something that is of extreme importance.  I have trust in the SCIber Mentor program, but I believe extreme caution is warranted if directing a student to join a mentoring program offered by an outside organization, such as, as opposed to an institution I am familiar with.

As we plan opportunities for ourselves and others, we need to remember that structure is an important part of a successful program. Online mentorship programs, as with face to face programs, will benefit from a core structure, whether curricular or attending to other needs, that shapes the interactions between the mentor and the protegee.  Additionally, providing a framework to guide interactions and offer direction for the future can help begin a relationship and guide participants until they are comfortable with each other. Until safe and trusting relationships are formed, having a structure in place can help guide the interactions between mentorship participants.  

For individuals and organizations in small geographic areas, I think the potential of building an online pool of mentors is something to consider!  As individuals are more and more connected outside of traditional work hours, there is benefit to this sort of relationship as well.  

I think it is something worth considering!  Our people are the most important resource we have in a school district, and more than any supplies we could possibly buy, they are essential to the achievement of our students!  If differentiating the support our adults get helps the students, it makes sense, doesn't it?


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