As educators or as independent educational consultants (IECs), we often speak to our students/clients about the wisdom and value of having one or more mentors in their lives. So why is it then, that we as adults and professionals get to the point where we think we can and should do everything on our own?
Recently independent education, the consulting profession, IECA, and I all lost a giant among us. Faith Howland, one of the founding members of IECA and a role model for so many of us in this profession, passed away after a distinguished career and wonderful life. The profile of her in the fall 2021 issue of Insights speaks to her integrity, intelligence, and compassion. She was a visionary, with Michael Spence (Emeritus, VT), running one of the most successful consultancies in the country and serving as a resource and mentor to hundreds, if not thousands, of students. When I first entered the boarding school admissions world in the early 1980s, Faith was one of the first people to lend a helping hand, showing me the ropes and providing a patient and understanding ear for my many questions and concerns. I owe a debt of gratitude to Faith for the wisdom, humor, and intelligence she shared with me over three decades of working with her as a boarding school director of admission and headmaster. I know I am not alone in that sentiment. I was blessed to have her as one of my mentors.
As educators or as independent educational consultants (IECs), we often speak to our students/clients about the wisdom and value of having one or more mentors in their lives. We coach our students/clients to search out women and men of integrity, experience, and compassion to help guide them in loco parentis through the challenges and opportunities they face in school, their social lives, and their activities. We extol the virtues of collecting wisdom and speaking with folks who have been through life’s many twists and turns—mentors who can help young adults consider all sides of an issue, leading to a wise decision. We tell our students/clients that it is not a sign of weakness to reach out to a life guide, but rather a sign of strength to be smart enough to know when you need help and to know which mentor to guide you in that moment.
So why is it then, that we as adults and professionals get to the point where we think we can and should do everything on our own? Why is it that our sense of confidence and our belief in independent achievement keeps us from seeking guidance from sage professionals, wise experienced colleagues, friends, or family who can help us make better decisions, find a new outlook on an issue, or perhaps keep us from making a mistake? Is it embarrassment or a lack of confidence that makes us think this is a sign of weakness that will be noticed by colleagues, or perhaps our supervisor or the parent who hired us? Is it a situation where once we’ve had a successful career, we think we know it all and need no help?
I have a very simple, clear, straightforward view about mentoring: I believe that no matter what age or stage we are in life—personal and professional, all of us need mentors in our lives. We all need some level of support, guidance, and compassion in our lives.
As each day I more fully experience the educational consulting world after more than three decades of work in independent schools and one college, I see three main areas of need where a valued mentor can provide expert help to me, and I am sure others.
No one person can know all there is to know about school, college, or therapeutic consulting. Each organization to which we recommend our clients consider is different and just when we believe we come to know them well, they have naturally evolved. Nor can we, no matter our degrees earned or experience gained, know all there is to know about every young person’s educational background, neurological condition, etc. To best serve our clients, we rely on colleagues from all walks of education to provide expertise and content. Kim Loughlin, assistant head for enrollment at Bement School, comments, “I attribute much of my success and satisfaction in work to the incredible mentors I have had along the way. Both Jan Scott and William Graham provided guidance, advice, answers, and support….so much that helped me to grow.” How many of us (hundreds I assert) have benefited from the wisdom of our living legend, Steve Antonoff (CO)? I have, both as a head of school and now as an IEC. Steve is THE wealth of information for anyone in the college consulting world, and his brilliance is only outdone by his care and concern for the well-being of all of us.
All of us who enter this vocation come to it with a wealth of experience. The variety of that experience among our membership continues to amaze me. And yet, any of us can benefit from the experience of another member, a veteran of the college, therapeutic, or school business—someone who has walked in shoes we have not. During the latter half of my 17 years as a headmaster, I was blessed to hire a young admission director, Kristen Naspo (CT). I think Krissy would offer that I was not just her supervisor but a valued mentor as well. We developed a close, respectful relationship. She left the school admission world to work for another IECA legend, Cammie Bertram (CT). Krissy, the 2021 IECA Foundation chair, has—as all who follow schools know—developed into a truly outstanding IEC. Now in just my third year as an IECA member, I often reach out to Krissy for her view on topics of need in my consulting work. Is it strange to some that the mentee is now mentoring her former mentor? Maybe. But not to me. I value her experienced hand in helping me solve issues of importance to my clients and me. IECA member Theodra Washington (MD) puts it beautifully this way: “As a mentor, I have found that I strike gold when a natural ‘give and take’ relationship has been established between my mentee and me.”
As we all know, there are many situations where we may not need expert counsel or content experience. We just may need a colleague, a friend, a mentor to listen, understand, and support. We may just need a kind word, a patient thought, or help to keep us moving forward with a smile on our face. Over the years as a school administrator, I had a secret weapon in my arsenal: Frank Perrine, the longtime legendary head of Foote and Fessenden schools. His humor, his unflinching support, and his complete honesty helped guide me. As both a headmaster and an IEC, I have benefited from the kind, compassionate, devoted support of such IECA ‘gold’ (to use Theodra’s word) as: Paula Feldman (Emeritus, CA), Jean Hague (Emeritus, FL), Jane Kolber (Emeritus, NY), Lloyd Paradiso (PA), CEO Mark Sklarow, and so many others.
I am continually impressed by the quality of our membership. IECA members routinely change lives. You provide hope where perhaps it had vanished. You help build our future. And yet, we are not superhuman. We all need mentors in our lives to do our work, to do it well, and, to do it at the level of success that we all expect of ourselves. If you have one or more mentors, cherish them and thank them. If you are mentoring another, know you are appreciated. And most importantly, if you need a mentor, ask for help. Amazing colleagues are just a phone call away.
By David Beecher, Sound Consulting, IECA (CT)