I recently attended the Schoolscape Premier 2021 event, and at the end of Session 1, Rian Truter gave an inspirational chat about role models. He introduced us to two role models, Hamish Brewer and John Stephen Akhwari. The characteristic that stands out from both role models is relentlessness. If this value resonates with you, then you would appreciate their characteristics and admire the person. It would also provide a personal goal that you would like to attain.
Before I go on about role models, let us look at the difference between a role model and a mentor. Role models differ from mentors. Role models inspire and teach by example, often while they are doing other things. Mentors have a direct relationship with a student over time, and they more often direct the student by asking questions and giving advice freely.
I have always been skeptical about role models, primarily because if you ask anyone, they will say Nelson Mandela or Mother Theresa. Although they embody the values I admire, their persona is distant. I only truly understood the importance of a role model when I started teaching, and my Marigold helped me through a challenging first year of teaching. See, I only entered education at the age of 38, and coming from a corporate background; the school system hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt out of control and quickly realised that teaching is not as easy as it seems. My Marigold let me cry; she showed me how to handle the workload, classroom discipline and even had the school get a new set of Afrikaans textbooks! My role model also became my mentor.
I have met people who have added value to my life throughout my life journey, and I can label them as role models. From lecturers who opened my eyes to racism in our society and white fragility, educational innovators who showed me how to bring EdTech and pedagogy together, and people who have seen me from afar, recognized my potential before I did and guided me to achieve more in the Microsoft environment. I even look at my daughter and see her as a role model; she is brave and thoughtful in more ways than I ever was.
Does it matter whether we call them role models or mentors? I do not think it matters. What does matter is whether these individuals add value to your life and your being. They display the same values you hold dear. In all that you do, find your person or tribe. The value in such a relationship lies in the give and take, the good and bad, the acknowledgment, the listening, and the applying. Engage, and you will find your inner self grow.
PS. I urge you to read about The Relentless Principal and find thought leaders that guide your practice.
Ilonka Poole is a freelance design architect who has a passion for igniting the a-ha moment with learners and teachers. She believes fiercely in collaboration and runs a PLN group for teachers. Ilonka is closely associated with NBConsult and a certified Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.