What Gets This Summit Mentor Out of Bed In the Morning

On The Summit Sparks Podcast: Sazan Ghafur

Sazan Ghafur
Former Summit Rainier teacher Sazan Ghafur now works on Summit’s R&D Team.

This month on the Summit Sparks podcast we are highlighting Habits of Success, one of Summit Learning’s four student outcomes. This week we talk to a former Summit teacher, Sazan Ghafur, about the power of mentoring in developing Habits of Success.

Ghafur joined Summit Public Schools in the Fall of 2015 as an English teacher at Summit Rainier. She later taught the Habits, Community, and Culture course prior to taking on the role of Site Based Research Manager at Rainier. Before arriving at Summit, she served as a Teach For America Corps Member at Renaissance Academy in San Jose. Sazan graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Psychology.

The transcript below is a condensed version of Sazan Ghafur’s full interview. Find this and all episodes at

Mentoring students has been, and still is, a big part of what you do at Summit. Tell us about your experience as a mentor.

My first year coming into Summit… we went from about 12-13 students to 24-25 students, so we essentially doubled in size that same year. And I think that initially, there were a lot of growing pains that we came across — learning how to work well together, understanding our different needs, our different personalities, and navigating those different relationships as a group.

But I think that’s something that I always try to emphasize with them — that the role of the mentor group within the school system is kind of like a family. And it’s this idea that while there might be conflicts and there might be disagreements between the group, at the end of the day what’s really at core is that there is this unconditional respect and unconditional support, regardless of differences of opinion. 

What has been one of the most transformative mentoring experiences that you’ve either witnessed or been a part of?

I would say that mentoring is what gets me out of bed each morning. It’s something that I look forward to the most out of my day. Because it is something that is so incredibly rewarding, to just see the growth that students make. I think one of the [stories] that I just think of very regularly and is… two cousins, and at their previous school they barely scraped by, just got bare minimum Cs to pass and move on to the next year. They did not want to go to college, did not see themselves as academics, had a lot of struggles with even just classroom behavior in general.

And through really getting to know them — I also coached them on the boys’ varsity soccer team and really built that relationship — finding ways to help them build their academic identity and a sense of confidence and belonging within the school really was transformative for them.

They are now 3.8 [GPA] students or higher, applying to UC [University of California] schools, really excited about mechanical engineering, and I’ve just seen them make that transition from kids that didn’t even want to go to college to now, like, “Oh, I know what I’m gonna major in, I know what career I want to have, and I’m taking the steps that I need, including taking calculus and statistics.”

How long did it take you to develop those (one-on-one) relationships with the students?

I think my initial step was to build the one-on-one relationships, just because I felt like it would be easier for me to then leverage those relationships to help students see that they had a lot more in common with one another than they had initially thought. So I tried to get to know each one of them really well as individuals, and then help them make connections, by saying things like, “Oh, well you really enjoy soccer, did you know that this person also plays soccer and has done this for this many years?”

Or, “Oh, you really need support with Spanish right now, this student has grown up speaking Spanish and is doing a really good job in AP Spanish, I’m sure they would be happy to support you.” So finding ways to show the students that they had things to offer one another, and that I could be someone who supported them in building those connections.

How much time to you take each week with each student and get to know them?

It’s Personalized Learning Time that happens just as a mentor group. So, this is all day from 8:00 to 3:30, we’d be essentially in a room together working on self-directed learning, so, pacing themselves through playlists and content assessments and projects. Through that, being in the same room together, that’s when one-to-one mentor check-ins are happening…

We also try to bring in different community building experiences, or different ways of celebrating student achievement. For example, I would put up all the students’ names on the boards, and as they passed a content assessment, they would go up and star, just so that we could all see what we were accomplishing as a group, and then set a goal for how many content assessments we wanted to have passed as a group, just so that there was shared sense of responsibility in achieving those outcomes for themselves, but also as a group.

I know students are in different places, they have different backgrounds, they come from different places, in terms of where they are in that social-emotional learning spectrum… What are some of the strategies that you use with them to help develop Habits of Success?

I think it depends on the habit that we’re trying to focus on. For example, if we’re focusing on things like attachment, which is one of the more foundational and fundamental building blocks, some of the things we try to do is to create a very stable and consistent environment, so there are clear routines in the classroom, students know what to expect every time they walk in.

We try to make sure that students know when they are getting a [one-to-one] check-in and have some say in what is discussed in that check-in… they know that’s something that’s always there for them in a space that will always be available. And that helps them build a sense of trust and understand that there are people in their lives who will be there for them and that they can depend on.

Thinking of routines and development of culture, and having those types of school-wide community building types of activities and opportunities that really recognize and help students develop those habits. What are some of those, or what might that look like?

On a school-wide level, something we began to implement this year that we’ve seen a lot of success with are our monthly assemblies, where we recognize students for the core characteristics. So, those are characteristics that are across the Summit Schools, which are: curiosity, respect, responsibility, integrity… the different core characteristics that students need to work on, and recognizing them in a public way, and explaining why they’re being recognized for that core characteristic, which pushes students to not just think of themselves as solely being here for academics, but also that who they are as a person, how they treat other people, how they engage in different spaces matters.

How do you prepare teachers and other mentors to coach students in developing habits?

When I am coaching teachers, it’s usually through observations and providing some feedback and strategies around that. So I look for ways within the learning environment and the instructional practices to help create additional opportunities for habits-building, or identifying students that are struggling or who have habits that are really more urgent and impact their learning; to help them find strategies to support those students as well, rather than just seeing them as a behavior issue or seeing them as someone who just needs to work on the actual academics, seeing that there are other parts that impact learning beyond just the content itself and just the academic skills themselves.

Do you have resources that you use, like observation sheets already made up? Is there something that’s available in the platform for going through those observations to provide that kind of feedback?

We’ve identified a set of what are called look-fors, things that people can observe in order to know that those priorities are being implemented with fidelity. And in addition to that, our Platform team has built out an observation tool that encompasses all of those different look-fors, so that a school leader or coach or anyone who’s coming into a classroom is able to observe a teacher and identify which of those priorities the teacher is working on, and which of those they need some support with.

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About the author

Lauren Faggella
A storyteller and former educator, Lauren Faggella is dedicated to turning the Summit Learning community's stories and ideas into great content that informs and inspires a range of audiences. Prior to joining Summit Public Schools, Lauren was a professional freelance writer and third-grade teacher in Rhode Island. She earned her MEd from the University of Rhode Island and BA in English from Elon University.