by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion
Melissa with Visitation Sisters Mary Margaret, Mary Frances, Katherine, Mary Virgina and Karen.
What does the word “mentorship” mean to you? What images or associations come to mind? Who has mentored you in your life/ work/ journey? Who have you mentored along their path? What have the consequences been in and through these relationships?
These are some of the questions that I’ve been sitting with in the days leading up to this one, when Sr. Suzanne Homeyer and I had the opportunity to co-present on a panel at the General Mills sponsored “Hawthorne Huddle” meeting in north Minneapolis. The opportunity to reflect and share on this topic inspires me in my writing this day.
I think about definitions of mentorship. I think about experiences. I think about how to talk about the consequences and impact of such a thing.
"Following the Spirit" Discerners- including former student, Joy Chaney
A google search for the definition of “mentorship” brings up the following wikipedia entry:
“Mentoring” is a process that always involves communication and is relationship based, but its precise definition is elusive. One definition of the many that have been proposed, is:
Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital
, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development;mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)”.
My mind goes immediately to a quote that grounds me in my thinking about the topic.
“No significant learning occurs outside of a significant relationship.”
– Dr. James P. Comer, Yale University
I am sitting in the convention center on my first day of employment with the Minneapolis Public School district and the words of Dr. Comer are flashed on the screen above. I pause as these words resonate within me. “Yes,” I think. “No significant learning occurs outside of significant relationship. I would not be a teacher were it not for the significant space and rapport I shared with Ms. Diane Rood, my English, speech and drama teacher at Norfolk Catholic in Norfolk, Nebraska.”
As a teacher, I want nothing more but to create a safe space, similar to the one afforded me as a student, where my learners can take risks, pose and wrestle with large life questions and grow in knowledge of themselves and life-long callings. I want to forge significant relationships within my classroom so that significant learning might take place.
A Mentoring Relationship: Sr. Suzanne and collaborator at the NetWork for Better Futures
“Be who you are, and be that well!”
–St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder, Visitation Sisters
Working at North High in Minneapolis with the many blessings and gifts of the students I was privileged to teach, came many challenges that hindered my capacity to create such mentoring, educational space. Data I collected during my third year on staff shed light on one of the challenges inherent in my post. I began the school year with 124 students on my roster. By January, 63 of these young people had transferred or dropped off my roll, replaced by 57 new students. The 50% mobility rate mirrored the graduation rate hovering around 47%.
How do you create a safe communal learning space of educational excellence and engagement when the community is in such flux – when your learners are so highly mobile? Losing half of my students every year became a “problem” that I sought counsel on. The mentorship and presence of the Visitation Sisters of north Minneapolis was a saving grace for me. As an urban educator seeking ways to remain positive and loving in that dynamic setting, I found the sisters modeling a calm, delightful and joy-filled presence in the midst of an often chaotic community that seemed scarce on resources.
Vis Companion, Leo Johnson, and Sr. Karen
As a contemplative order of nuns just two blocks from the doors of the school, the Visitation monastery provided me a space of reflection and sanctuary. On days when I couldn’t find the beauty or light in a child, when I felt my eyes and spirit diminishing in their capacity to see grace and gift in a learner, I sought retreat within the sisters’ prayerful space. I found their mere presence and anchored, contemplative structure to be a mentoring one that buoyed me in my ability to continue and continue well. Grounded in the Salesian charism of their founders, Sts Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal, the sisters showed me a way to “be who I was, and be that well.”
I strive to live their motto daily “Living Jesus” or “Living Love” in spaces beyond the walls of North High. The sisters continue to mentor and ground me, as I strive to be a similar presence and agent for other people in the world around.
Your comments or stories about how the nuns have mentored you, or inspired your mentorship are welcome below in the comment section.