According to my wife, I seem to always write about things that I struggle with myself. This has been one of those things. But as I have delved into the differences between these two roles over the years, I’ve come to realize how important a question it is to ask. What I’ve determined is, as dance educators, we are all role models whether we like it or not. Just like the celebrities that our students follow on social media, they are watching us and modeling our behavior. But mentors, that’s a different animal altogether.
When I was younger and just starting out as a teacher, I felt the pressure to try and mentor every student. I wanted to be that teacher they could come to for guidance, advice or just a kick in the butt when they needed it. But I came to realize (and maybe not quickly enough) that not all students are looking for a mentor in the dance studio. Sometimes, they just want someone to teach them how to dance; and that’s OK too. I can do that. Learning how to discern what each student wants or needs is a process; but it isn’t up to us to determine what that relationship is. Sure we set boundaries both personally and professionally, but we aren’t the ones to decide if we are a mentor or not. That is completely up to them.
So what exactly is the difference? I Googled it…that’s what we do nowadays right? LOL. At the core of it lie the words consent or permission. Anyone can be a role model; but mentors are chosen. Let’s take a deeper look.
ROLE MODEL: A role model is a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated. Now, if you really take that in, we could apply it to our jobs in a few different ways.
- Dance role model: This one is pretty literal in what we do and we are automatically put in this role just by being at the front of the room. We literally are teaching our kids how to dance like we do. Our strengths will be their strengths and our weaknesses will be their weaknesses (unless we are self-aware enough to help correct them in those we instruct). It is our job to model proper technique and provide them with information and knowledge to help them execute movement safely and correctly.
- Personal role model: This one is dependent upon the amount of exposure your students have to you. For example; if you allow them to follow you on social media, they are seeing more of you than if they are just in your classroom for an hour a week. If they are your neighbors, they are seeing WAY more of you than that. How we live our lives in front of them WILL impact their behavior and what they find to be acceptable social behavior. So if you want to live your life your way, keep a safe social distance from them. (Had to get that in there since we are living in the world of social distancing re the Covid-19 epidemic). If you like to go out and party with your friends drinking and dressing provocatively, that is absolutely your right. The problem is, your students may not recognize the difference in your ages as prerequisite for such behavior and begin copying you at a young and influential part of their development. As a result, it can put them in situations that they are not prepared to deal with. So if this is an important part of your life, create a student friendly profile and don’t accept students to your more personal pages that you share with your peers.
- Professional role model: How you do your job and the types of jobs you take will be a template for how your students conduct themselves when they enter the workforce. It will influence what kinds of jobs your students will take and create a model for their work ethic. It also influences their level of commitment to their training. If you take a teaching job, and then send a sub in every other week because you are gigging out or auditioning for another job, it says that this job isn’t important to you so neither are they. So why should they take it seriously? If you show up and are checking your phone every five minutes, you are not modeling focus or commitment to what you are doing in that moment. Demonstrating professionalism and passion in the studio will instill the same behavior in your students.
As a dance teacher, we are afforded a different level of respect from our students than they sometimes give their school teachers or even their parents. We are someone who, in some cases, has been where they want to go. We have knowledge they want. We contribute to a passion that, in many cases, their parents have no comprehension how to even talk about. It puts us in a position in their lives to effect and influence young minds in very important times in their lives. It essentially gives us the means to directly impact the path a student takes and even establish thought patterns that impact their well-being. It’s an important role we take on whether we want that responsibility or not; so it’s essential that we take it seriously.
MENTOR: There are a few different definitions for this but they all come down to a few key words: An experienced and trusted adviser. In my opinion, that second qualification, trusted, is the one that really defines the role of mentor. It is the one that tells me who chooses when that role is assigned. In order for someone to become a mentor, someone has to put trust in them. Person A needs to seek guidance from Person B and trust that the motives of Person B are pure and selfless so as not to be self serving. Person B could claim to mentor Person C, but if Person C doesn’t want any help from Person B, they are a nuisance, not a mentor. What does someone need to have in order to truly be a mentor? In my opinion:
- The consent or permission given by the person being mentored for you to take on that role in their life.
- Experience that is relevant to the goals of the person being mentored.
- A self-awareness that allows the mentor to help others circumvent self-made obstacles and avoid mistakes they themselves made.
- A passion for sharing their knowledge and a sincere desire to see others succeed beyond themselves.
- Brutal honesty tempered with the ability to read those they mentor to know how to present that truth.
- The strength of mind and character to ensure they are maintaining a proper mentor/mentored relationship and not allow it to descend into therapy or cross other personal boundaries.
- The willingness to acknowledge and remove themselves from the role when they are no longer welcome or beyond their own ability to help.
These are all important qualities required to be a mentor, but the first one to me was the most important. The CONSENT OR PERMISSION GIVEN BY THE PERSON BEING MENTORED FOR YOU TO TAKE ON THAT ROLE IN THEIR LIFE. Without that consent or permission, you are putting yourself in a position to be disappointed, alienated, frustrated and exhausted. If a student doesn’t want that level of investment from you, and you keep trying to give it, you will be disappointed and they will feel resentful of you for making them feel guilty for disappointing you. Nobody wins. So if that’s not what they want, then fill the role they are paying you for. Teach them to dance. That doesn’t mean that, in the course of instructing them, life lessons won’t or can’t be shared. It just means that you can help them more by setting a good example and being a positive role model in their life. When they are ready to be mentored, they will reach out to someone who can give them what they need.
Quite often, the topics I write about are a means to help me clarify my own opinions. More often than not, what I think when I started writing evolves multiple times in the course of writing it. I’m grateful for this venue to share my thoughts and evolve my own paradigms. I hope it’s useful to you and that you will share your thoughts below. I seek clarity in all of my writings and I can only gain that with varied perspective from you the reader. So share away. Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings and hopefully we will cross paths soon and talk about them.
This blog is an extension of the work I do with MPower Dance Workshops. MPower is an in-studio convention, regional convention, and week long national intensive designed to show young dancers how their training is preparing them for success in life. We use carefully curated themes for every event to give students a lens through which to view their training. We provide them with tools and techniques that will grow their technique and artistry, but also their mind and their relationship with themselves. We have even created an annual goals journal that is designed to break down the process of goal setting into manageable steps so that they can focus on tasks rather than be overwhelmed by the enormity of a goal. If you’d like more information, please visit our website at http://www.mpowerdance.com or email me at email@example.com.
Feel free to share this blog with your dance family, or any family at all.