#3 The mentee follows the one who has been there before.

#3 The mentee follows the one who has been there before.

The mentee follows the one who has been there before.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. When the student is truly ready, the teacher disappears.  Celeste, a primary school teacher, shares her story about the advantages of having a mentor, and the great relationship they share.



#3 Celeste Petinella

You're listening to Loretta Piazza, experienced school, principal, mentor, and coach, and together we're 'talking out of school'. You will hear from leaders who have lived and breathed so many experiences, agonized over decisions and have tossed and turned through countless sleepless nights. These are the people who will help you stay ahead of the game.


In this episode, we're continuing the mentoring theme. But this time we're taking a much closer look at mentoring through the eyes of the mentee. Many of us have had the privilege of mentoring others such as our own assistant principals, but have we ever stopped to reflect or even to ask a mentee what they're getting out of the experience? Luckily, this topic has been well researched and many of the common themes have been documented. The mentee wants to be taught things that they don't know. My mentee wants to gain a learning specialist job and she asked me to help her. Even though this hasn't happened yet, I've been able to show her that by taking a strategic sidestep in a brand new school, there will be lots of opportunities coming her way in the next year or two. Without my guidance, she probably wouldn't have come to this realization on her own. The mentee also wants their mentor to open doors for them by putting in a good word, and by helping them expand their networks. Of course, there is a real proviso with this, the mentor will not open doors unless the mentee is ready, as this could seriously jeopardize the mentor’s credibility, and even their reputation if they were to get it wrong. Maybe to a lesser extent the mentee wants their mentor to protect them throughout the journey. This is probably not something that a mentee reflects on it's as it's most likely a case of not knowing what they don't know. This is where the mentor’s help becomes crucial. Recently, I recognized that my mentee was making what I considered to be some risky moves. I quickly stepped in and helped her find better ways to manage the situation that she was facing. For me, it was important to do this because I was the one that recognized that there was potential harm for her if she continued on this path. And lastly, mentees want to be inspired by helping them experience new situations and meet new people. All of a sudden, they're on a new and exciting path well beyond what they thought was possible. Not long ago, at the end of one of our mentoring sessions, I introduced my mentee to three of my principal colleagues just before joining them for lunch. My mentee told me later that she felt absolutely privileged to have met these three experienced principals. While on my part, it was just a simple and respectful gesture, introducing her to my colleagues, but for her, it opened up a whole new world. But no relationship is one sided. So now let's consider mentoring through the eyes of the mentor. The mentee needs to show initiative and the right amount. There are times when they just need to sit back and follow. There'll be other times when they will need to be going above and beyond. For example taking ideas from their mentor and giving them a go. The mentor expects a mentee to learn and to show evidence of that learning. They need to be serious about any effort that's made to teach them. The mentor expects their mentee to follow through whether it be an agreement, a task, or even just a suggestion. The mentee needs to be doing the work. The mentor won't invest time and effort into a relationship if the mentee doesn't pull their weight. And lastly, the mentor expects their mentee to manage the relationship, even during those times when the mentor is taking the lead. Every so often the mentee should reflect on the status of the mentoring relationship and decide where to next. iI could be that the mentee comes up with a whole new set of goals that they want to achieve. Or it could be that they decide to leave the formal relationship. It could mean continuing on a more casual basis, or even finding a completely new mentor. Whatever the next step in the journey, it's the mentee who has to drive it. Recently, I came across the writings of a famous Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. He sums up the mentoring relationship beautifully. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. When the student is truly ready, the teacher disappears. My guest is Celeste and she's the primary school teacher. Unfortunately during the interview, we experienced some technical issues in the form of voice echo, predominantly from my end. I'm grateful to Celeste for freely giving of her time and because I want to keep this as authentic as possible, the voice echo has not been removed. Hopefully this does not distract from the quality of what Celeste had to say.



Loretta: Celeste, hello, thank you for joining me on talking out of the school.

Celeste: Thank you for having me.

L: Let's start off with you telling us a little bit about yourself.

C: Sure. My name is Celeste. And I've been teaching in the government sector for nearly 11 years. I’m going, and I love teaching, and I've taught, all year levels and had a specialist role. And now I'm on to my journey of finding an official leadership job.

L: What sort of leadership job are you looking at?

C: I'm looking at a leading teacher or a learning specialist role, in particular in literacy, or STEM, or an untagged one. That's like a mystery flight, because I feel my skills can be transferable.

L: That's interesting, a mystery flight. What makes you think you're ready for learning specialist job?

C: Does anyone really think they're ready for anything? Honestly, I think I've matured, have understood that leadership involves having the skill set of being able to look at whole school perspective, rather than just in your own year level or cohort. And I think I've got more experience. And I've been very lucky to be coached by you. And mentored, and I feel that the skills and knowledge that I'm receiving, it's just just a matter of time now.

L: Well, that's actually the perfect segue into me disclosing that I am your mentor. And it's interesting, you use the word coach, because initially, ours was going to be a coaching relationship, but it didn't take me long to realize that you needed a mentor. Mentoring is about helping people in terms of their career and their career aspirations. So it's good that you actually brought that up. But I'm sort of just also wondering if you could tell us now, I don't want this to be a mutual admiration society, I want you to be honest. And I want you to tell it, like it is, worts and all. What's your experience as the mentee, how has that been going?

C: I absolutely love being mentored. I feel that it's very supportive. And I learn what to do, different skills, wealth of knowledge, experience and passion. It's so inspiring. And I like to hopefully, take in as much as I can. I've learned so much in terms of how to structure emails, in terms of how to be succinct. Still working on that, I'm not really that succinct. But I'm working on that one. It's not my strong suit. And it's quite motivating. And especially because I've never had a mentor, or a coach, in my teaching career, even when I was a graduate, I actually feel quite blessed. And whether it was now or then at some point in your life having a mentor, particularly in education, because that's a field of interest that I’m in, it's really helpful and beneficial. It enables you to springboard conversations that you may not think about. And I think personally, it's so much more valuable having a mentor externally to your work organization. Because they see things differently. Like yourself, you see things differently. It's good for setting goals. And there's times obviously when you switch the hat from mentoring to coaching, but predominantly, our relationship is mentor mentee. So I can't, I'd be here all day talking about how good you are. So my relationship and experience with mentoring has been phenomenal. And I would recommend it to anyone, because you end up seeing things that you may not necessarily see about yourself. And the questions that are asked, because you're such a good mentor helped me feel that I'm going in a better path than maybe what I could be doing on my own.

L: Having that strong connection and relationship is really, really important. I guess for us, we hit it off pretty well, pretty quickly. How do you think, you know that connection and relationship, how do you think that works in a mentoring situation?

C: That's a really good question. So I agree with you. We did hit it off very quick. And I feel very honored to hear that. So I think, though, it depends. I think the most important thing is when you find that you want to get mentored, that you have a very good relationship with the person. But I also think you need to be a little bit patient. Like you said, it's probably a bit unusual to be able to build a relationship that quick because you need to be able to give the person some time to develop and get to know you and the ability to build your mutual trust is something that perhaps doesn't happen straightaway. But I think if you're really interested in getting a mentor, it's really important that you're patient with the person to get to know them. And vice versa, the mentor takes time to get to know the mentee. The other thing I guess that could potentially be seen as something that may feel like its hindering in someone's experience, hasn't for me personally, is that sometimes information that you received from yourself could perhaps be a little bit overwhelming. But I guess it just depends on what your goals are with the person. I don't personally find that to be the case.

L: Yeah, that's actually interesting. It's a good observation that you make, because when you self reflect, think about how you responded to particular situations, or what was said or what was asked. And I think in terms of the mentor, you know, I don't know if you're familiar with the Goldilocks principle where it's got to be just right, so I often reflect and wonder, have I given you too much information? Or have I perhaps not given you enough? How do I know that I've given you just the right amount of information that's needed at this time? And the other thing I ask myself as well? Are you just being polite? Or are you being honest? So that brings me to another train of thought that I have. How do you give feedback to me?

C: Okay, so now I have to give you feedback, what do you say, Okay, I'll be honest, I'm too much of a direct person to pretend that I'm being polite. I will actually in my nature, I would be polite. But I think how do I give you feedback is by asking questions. So if I don't understand something, I will say, Could you please explain it? Or maybe that's not what I was talking about. Generally, that doesn't happen, because you seem to read me quite well. However, another form of feedback is after our mentoring sessions I write some reflection points on what I've learned where to next, or what I'll do next. It could also be just a message an email just to say, I tried this out, this worked really well. Like recently, I asked you a question about something. And I went to school, and I trialed it out. And I wrote back to you saying this worked really well. So that's terms of feedback. Also, when you give me readings, and you asked me to look at specific things, like for example, the book recommendation, it told me about driving school improvement, by Vic Zbar, Yes, and reading that and looking at the different preconditions of learning. My feedback to you, that was a fantastic book. And I know that when your mentor, I mean, this is a great thing to look for when looking for a mentor is, you know, you stop and use evidence based research. So it's not just something you just pick out for the sake of it. And I actually feel quite reassured in that aspect. And also, you have experience and a wealth of knowledge. It's not just about the experience, because I mean, I could be a teacher for 11 years and have experience, but I'm doing the same thing every day. You have a very, varied skill set. And I guess, you also have, which is something I don't necessarily have, but I'm developing, you're more strategic, you're a strategic thinker. And so in terms of feedback, because you're a strategic thinker, if I'm not understanding something, I remember we had a session which was online, was about inquiry. So I knew, and yeah, okay, at that point, I'd probably be polite and think about how to say something, but then, before I could say anything, which I was going to, I was trying to work out how to be polite, you're like, This isn't what we're talking about, and all that. So I think feedback also is some terms are quite broad in education. So maybe my ability to maybe word my questions a bit better, could be something that I can work on. So when I was talking about the inquiry cycle, I wasn't really talking about the inquiry cycle in terms of an actual approach. I was talking about it from the data inquiry cycle angle, so I should have said, Could you please help me with the data inquiry cycle. And also in terms of feedback, you're a dedicated mentor to me. And I think you have a really good relationship with me, and I feel very honored and privileged to work with you. And as you told me, once I do, use your words here, you're what you're, you're in the journey beside me. I think that's so beautiful, as opposed to you being in front of me or behind me, but I actually do see you in front of me. I don't mind doing that. Because it's true. I'm getting led by a good leader. Why do I have to care if you're in if I'm behind? I don't really care about that stuff.

L: Well, there's a great deal of trust here. So you know, when I bring things up, or we talk about things you tend to go along with it all. But if you were someone say who had very, very specific goals and very specific views, and perhaps were not so open with your thoughts, and your ideas, perhaps a little bit more timid, how do you think they would go about giving feedback to me or to the mentor, generally?

C: I think they’d be a bit reserved in their thoughts. And I think that it would take a bit of time for them to really give you feedback. Perhaps they might say part of what they want to say. And then perhaps as a mentor and mentee, you'd have to flesh out what exactly they're saying. So they might just say a word or a sentence, but they don't open up to it. And I also think, too, in terms of how they would go, I think a mentor will actually build their confidence to provide them with feedback. So I think it would be in itself a goal that you've worked through together.

L: I guess from my point of view, though, you know, it's it's important as, as a mentor, if we're going to do this properly, and you're going to get the best out of this, what's critical for me, what particular skills do I need to have as a mentor to make our relationship a successful one?

C: I think, for example, you've got good direction, having someone that knows the field well, being the person that's mentoring you is motivated. And is willing to learn if they don't know something, not to say that they don't. But if there wasn't, that they're good at goal setting, that they've got the ability to support you, have empathy, they've got a success rate, I know that you've got a good success rate. And whilst it doesn't really matter, if they're not that successful, they’re successful to you. Because what you look at success may not look like for someone else. I think the other thing that's really important, in terms of what mentor skills a mentor brings, is their willingness to come along on the journey with you. And they don't tell you I don't think this is actually a skill set. I don't know what you'd call this, this is probably not answering it fully, but being hopeful and believing in not , Oh, no hoping hope that that's that, to me, is something that's very important than a mentor brings. Because I just can't tell you how refreshing it is to have someone that actually in education in my journey, see something in me and I actually really locked up.

L: You know, in my years of teaching, without giving it too much thought at the time, I had a couple of really brilliant mentors, one in particular. And he said, you need to do a masters. And I haven't given it any thought or, you know, you need to go on school council. One day, you're going to be a principal, and I just laughed at him. You know, so what you're saying about having that faith is really, really important. And, and I think people see things in you that you don't necessarily see, and you hope they're good things. And in in our case, yes, I see some really good things, same way that Charlie saw some fabulous things in me. And I guess I wouldn't be where I am today if if I didn't have people there standing beside me. And occasionally getting in the front and doing the leading. So I guess the next thing too, is about the mentee. Because you know, looking at you ,you just don't sit back and and wait for everything to happen.

C: I think definitely being open to learning. Being willing to give if you're interested, the mentor relationship a chance, particularly if you've never done it before, because it can be for some people nerve racking. I think another skill set it to follow through on what has been asked of you because there's no point, if someone gives you readings to do that, you just say I'm going to read them and you don't do them. Because then it's not really doing what you're asked to do. And being motivated, intrinsically and extrinsically but motivate yourself, being very resilient, because you may not achieve your goals straightaway. And I think that if you're expecting to go to a mentor, and then you just get a session and then I'll have everything, it can all happen but it's very unlikely. And being very respectful of your mentor. I think that's really important and getting getting to know them a little bit because whilst it's important that you're focusing on what you're doing, I think you need to have the good people skills so that you can know the as well. And that's also in a way how you as a team, like your work on getting to know each other so that it brings out the best in both of you. So that's the skills that I think are important to bring.

L: Relationships and strong connection has come up constantly. I can't help thinking, do you think, though, that if if a mentor and a mentee don't necessarily have that strong connection? Do you think they would still be that success in the mentee achieving their goals?

C: This is actually a really interesting question. I would say that it would depend on what the goal is. And what do I mean by that is if the goal is fairly generic, not necessarily, you may need to have the mentor and mentee having the world's best relationship. But if it's something generic, such as reading a set of data, sure, I think that could be achieved pretty quick. I mean, really, but if it's something more personal, or more connected to the mentor and the mentee, sorry, then it might not necessarily be achieved. Because if you don't have that real strong set of trust, it might not be achieved. So for example, if for example, you're applying for a job, and you don't really want to tell your mentor, that you're going for a job because you're nervous or scared, and then you don't get feedback prior the interview, you may have less success rate of succeeding at that job interview, when you could actually utilize the skill set from your mentor that could potentially go in your favor. So if it's something generic, I don't think it really matters because a mentor, mentee wouldn't really care because data sets are generic, there’s nothing personally attached to them. If it's something personal to them, and they're not willing to open up, potentially, then I don't think it could be as successful. That's just based on my opinion, or it's not.

L: This really reminds me of the classroom. You walk into your class every day. And there are your kids. And what's the what's the most powerful tool that you've got at your disposal?

C: I'd say the connections, and obviously the safety first, because if you don't have a safe environment, they're not going to connect.

L: Yeah, absolutely. So I think the same sort of applies to a mentee and, and their mentor. I think, also, if you were to be chatting to some, you know, friends or colleagues, and they were to say to you, oh, I’m thinking about getting a mentor, what would you say to them?

C: I'd say, Absolutely, I wish I'd done it earlier. And I wish that I had known earlier in my career that whilst I may not have been assigned one in a school situation, that I could have actually externally gone and sought one out. So I think having a mentor is brilliant, and depending on what your goal are, but definitely, in terms of career advancement, or other areas, not just career advancement, yes, have someone 100%.  Yes, I have my parents, but they’re nowhere near is good in terms of what I'm getting out of this mentoring. But yes, 100%, I'd recommend one.

L: You know, we've talked predominantly about what you got out of this. But as your mentor, I have gained so much from working with you. So I am just as grateful as you are Celeste. Our situation came about because you actually visited by school and things developed from there. But saying, again, you know, one of your colleagues in your school who wants to look for a mentor. How would they go about it?

C: I would say that networking is crucial. And that it's really important to network, it could be through external PDs or workshops that you attend, or network within your own school, speak to your at your assistant principal or principal, to get a lead from them. If someone was asking me, I could recommend Loretta, pass on her details with her permission. I think that's really important. I guess the essence is that your network is your net worth. And I read that quote, recently, and I thought to myself, You know what, it's true. The people that you surround yourself with, and the people that you align your values and goals with will determine percentage of the makeup of you how successful you are in different fields. And I'm very fortunate that I have got a mentor that has given me so much net worth that I know that I'm on a good path. So yes, that is what I would be doing. If I wanted to get a mentor I'd be networking as much as you can.

L: That's actually very, very good advice. And the other thing too, that I always keep in the back of my mind is we work in a system and that means that we don't do everything although you know, we do tend to but we don't do everything for our own particular school. It's about education as a whole. And I'd like to think like, I'm giving back to education now by mentoring you, that as you gain in confidence and skill and promotion that you will give back to somebody, you know, less experienced, you know, in the future, because I think that's how it works.

C: I would absolutely love to do that. And with the short stints that I've had in terms of helping teachers on teaching rounds and graduate teachers, why not. The more you can help someone… As  you said, we're in a system, it's lovely, it's quite, it's actually quite a nice feeling.

L: Yeah, because it's that collective responsibility. You know, it's just not looking after your own kids. But it's looking after the kids in the cohort, and, you know, the kids in the school.

C:  In fact, I'm glad I didn't get the Lending Specialist role, because I wouldn't have met you. And I wouldn't be in this position. So sometimes things that you have to wait for are worth it. So it's been worth it.

L: And you know, there's this famous saying, for every door that closes, a window opens, and you've had a very, very big window open for you. So now it's up to you to go through. I know you're going to do very, very well. So Celeste thank you very much for your time, you've given us some great insights into the your thoughts around being a mentee, your expectations of the mentor and how, how critical it is to have that great relationship, which which I concur with. So I wish you all the very very best and I know that a learning specialist job and possibly even an assistant principal job…these positions are not far away for you. So Celeste, thank you, wishing you all the best.


Thanks for listening to this latest episode of talking out of school, where we cover topics and dilemmas associated with the ups and downs, and even the downright curious of the school leaders job. Want to know more then visit me at www.shapingleaders.com.au

But for now here’s to staying ahead of the game.