Wit & Wisdom

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We Need Mentors In School & Work More Than Ever

CJ Westerberg, August 16, 2014 3:44 PM


"It is staggering to me
that we do not involve the community of "wise olders" outside of school
to mentor students of all backgrounds."
-CJ Westerberg


DSC_0163-1_2.jpgBy C.J. Westerberg

One of my big obsessions in the school arena is the importance of role models and mentors for students. I've been known to beat the drum incessantly about this subject in school board meetings, parent conversations, and frankly, to anyone who will listen. 

In our schools, we often think about teachers, school and extra-curricular activities as separate from role-modeling. The school my daughter attended in middle school happened to have a great Headmaster who believed very strongly in how the everyday behavior of teachers and coaches IS one of the best opportunities for role-modeling.

By comparison, my daughter attended another school which touted its mentoring program which really was nothing more than an occasional presenting of a rose or some other token by an older student to a younger one after a school play or award ceremony. There was no real meaningful interaction.

Too bad because there can be real initiatives for mentoring such as having older students read to the younger, less accomplished kids or help with homework.  This is a simple plan that can sow the seeds for a "mentoring culture" that continues throughout one's life.  It is staggering to me that we do not involve the community of "wise olders" outside of school to mentor students of all backgrounds. It's as if schools want to be isolated citadels cut off from the rest of the world - missing such tremendous talent, innovation, different perspectives, and pools of wisdom.

When we see the energy, passion, and experience of a Bernie Sanders, who at 74, is leading the youth vote in this presidential election, it may give one pause at the antiquated stereotype of "doddering" seniors. In fact, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton, are all a few years apart.

When I came across this blast-from-the-past post by Fred Wilson, principal of Union Square Ventures, it was just the perfect connecting anecdote to the real world regarding this issue. He parallels role-modeling in school with role-modeling and mentoring in the business world.  I personally think with the state of our nation's employment and economy, we need collaboration and mentoring more than ever.  Here's Fred's take:

"Both of my girls played in this league in their middle school years and then assistant coached in it during their high school years. The skills and experience they developed playing in this league allowed them to be leaders and top players on their high school team.

Earlier this week, when I showed up at my daughter's high school game, I saw one of the younger girls on her Greenwich Village team in the stands cheering her on.

As I sat there this morning watching these little girls play basketball, I was thinking about role models. . . .

 . . . Role models are so important. When my girls were young, they had high school players who were their assistant coaches to look up to. They had women head coaches who had played college ball. They had Becky Hammon who was the point guard on the NY Liberty to go root for. They wanted to be them, they listened to them, copied them, and got a lot better as a result.

The same thing plays out in startup land. The young entrepreneurs who are starting companies for the first time are best served by seeking out and getting experienced serial entrepreneurs as angel investors, board members, and mentors. We encourage all of the first time entrepreneurs we work with to do this. And the serial entrepreneurs who work with young founders get something out of it too (in addition to equity). It is a truism that the best way to learn is to teach . . .

One of the best things about the startup programs like Y Combinator, Seedcamp, Techstars, and many others is that they provide a vehicle for young entrepreneurs to connect to experienced entrepreneurs. Mentoring is a big part of these programs.

 . . .  Everyone would benefit from more role models, mentoring, and coaching."

To link to the complete post at AVC, click here.
  • Michael Wagner

    Great Article! I couldn't agree more. Mentoring programs in school are often token at best. We are ignoring such a valuable resource!

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The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they - at some distant point in the future - will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely... because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.
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