A condensed version of this editorial first appeared in The Detroit News.
As an 8th grader at Mill Creek Middle School in Dexter, Michigan, I’ve learned that school is all about relationships. It’s not just about honor roll and bathroom passes, but about building connections with other students and my teachers. Those connections are what help me to stay motivated about my work.
Recently, Mill Creek introduced a new approach to education called Summit Learning. Summit Learning is about personalized learning, where each student is able to learn at their own pace and learn the way they learn best.
As part of Summit Learning, students at Mill Creek have dedicated time every week to meet one-on-one with a teacher who serves as their mentor.
Mentor meetings are a chance to talk about the progress you’ve made, where you’re getting stuck, and how to get help.
This year, we spend half an hour with our mentor, three times a week. Over the course of the week, our teacher rotates having short conferences with each of her students. Having that much time with a teacher one-on-one each week has been really valuable.
As we got further into the year, these check-ins became more than about just academics. It wasn’t just about asking for help on a math problem I was struggling with. Instead, we could talk about bigger issues like motivation and staying on track.
My mentor suggested strategies for me to improve how I learned. For example, because we had that time together, he began to understand that I am a visual and auditory learner. He encouraged me to use a new type of note-taking we had just learned about in class called Cornell Notes. It became a strategy I now use in all of my classes. Cornell Notes help me organize my brain as I’m taking notes and better understand the material the first time. I’ve also learned to color code my notes to help myself stay organized.
Every week during our mentor check-in, we also set goals together. At first it wasn’t easy. I had never had to set quality goals for myself before, and I found it frustrating to take the time to create detailed “SMART” goals for each of my classes. However, as the year progressed and I was able to go into the next week’s check-in and report how I had completed a goal, I started realizing how valuable it was.
Now, I find setting goals for my work to be really helpful. It keeps me accountable for what I need to do.
This school year, I plan to set goals for myself when I get home each day so that I know exactly what homework I need to finish. It helps me stay on track when I’m at home and there’s no teacher to keep me on task.
I wouldn’t be as successful as I’ve been this past year if not for the relationships I’ve built via Summit Learning. Working closely with my mentor, I’ve been able to constantly improve my habits to get my work done — and my grades. Having a mentor relationship has been really motivating. Next year in high school, I may not have a mentor assigned to me, but I know that I can use my experiences from Summit Learning to be successful.
January is National Mentoring Month. Learn more about mentoring at SummitLearning.org/mentormonth.