Student Mentoring: GEMS

5 Jan

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The most important relationships teachers have is with our students. While observing our national debate around testing and the adoption and implementation of National Standards, Charter Schools and inclusive education policy I can’t help but feel like a very important component of raising student achievement is more often than not overlooked.

Building long-term and meaningful relationships with students, especially students who are left out in the cold because of socioeconomic status, race, sexual orientation or disability. More often than not, these students are left on the fringe of mainstream school culture  have a difficult time building relationships with other students and teacher–the people who are critical to their development and educational progress. If students do not feel invested in their school or feel that the staff of the school is not invested in them and their education, learning becomes difficult. This is highly problematic.

So, what can be done to address the need for building relationships with our students?

I think the answer is a solid mentoring programme that is defined. That is formalized. Student mentoring exists in all schools but time is not usually created for it to blossom. In m our environment we have done this. We call it GEMS. (Goals Encourage Mana and Success)

Mentoring is not a drastically new concept, it has been used in many other countries around the globe for year. I have been very fortunate to work in a such a school using it and the system has greatly impacted the students, staff and school culture.

Mentoring has as one of the core beliefs students being the best they can be. It aligns with our school vision. Our students have the same mentor or GEMS teacher over their four-year high school experience, as well as access to a Dean who acts as an advisory over the  cohort. In this model, each teacher builds a personal relationship with each student. These relationships are essential for our students’ success.

There are several ways that mentoring contributes to student achievement:

Consistency. For many students, life outside of school is far from consistent—in fact it’s rather chaotic. My students know exactly what to expect from my colleagues and me every day when they walk into the building, and we’ve found that they crave this consistency. In their otherwise frenzied worlds, the school becomes a safe and nurturing place for students.

Shared Accountability. We believe in accountability for both students and staff. When our students set goals, we consult. Though mentoring we understand all courses become a singular journey of learning rather the here and now.

Support systems. Finally, mentoring creates a family that supports each student in their academic endeavors. Life is hard, and for teenagers. In a way, my colleagues and I are there to celebrate their achievements. We are there to help them learn from their failures. We laugh together. We cry together. Most importantly, we learn together.

A student’s success in school and beyond is impacted by much more than their academic performance, and this kind of holistic programme does exactly this. This is why it is critical for schools to have the flexibility they need to experiment with unconventional methods and systems—not all students are the same, so why should all schools be the same?

There does have to be a measure of the success of this programme. Next Tuesday it will be I will measure it as the NZQA release their annual results.

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