OPINION: Mentoring breeds academic success at SSHS

Photo submitted Teacher Emily Hackett (right) mentors Siloam Springs High School student Lizbeth.

One day, a student walked into my classroom with a large grin on his face and said, "Guess what, Ms. Hackett?" I felt a familiar sense of pride swell up as he went on to share, "I passed yet another test this afternoon! Only a couple weeks ago I thought there was no way I'd get caught up, and now look -- I almost am!"

These seemingly routine interactions have had a powerful, long-term effect on me and my colleagues as they remind us of the transformational work teachers do, every day, to increase student engagement and autonomy. One of the primary ways we cultivate strong student-teacher relationships and transferable life skills at Siloam Springs High School has been through our school's mentoring program.

Mentoring at Siloam Springs

Since partnering with Summit Learning in 2017, an approach that emphasizes one-on-one mentoring and mastery-based learning, 250 students and nine teachers at Siloam Springs currently utilize the Summit model. Each student has a year-long teacher mentor who checks in with them biweekly. This consistent connection builds trust and loyalty, providing our students with the safety to take measured risks and the skills to self-correct.

Students know they'll be encouraged to discuss and reflect on their academic progress with their mentor, and we believe this consistent feedback loop and genuine care from an adult creates a healthy incentive for students to remain on top of their goals, struggles, and successes. By proactively providing emotional support, our mentors are seeing students step into their independence and live out this year's mantra: consistent work ethic produces success.

Tracking student progress via the Summit Learning platform

We want all of our students to be discerning about how they leave their academics before a long break. Ahead of Thanksgiving this year, we saw the need to spark urgency and increase student motivation to complete assignments and master content before entering the break. Teachers were able to gather and track real-time information on student progress as a result of the platform's dashboard, which allows us to remain up-to-date on each student's pace and workload.

Students utilize what's called a Power Focus Area (PFA) to develop content knowledge that is foundational to the development of certain skills and objectives for a particular lesson. Each PFA is made up of a collection of online resources and quizzes students must pass before they request to take a test. Since students move at their own pace, PFAs create an opportunity for self-direction and accountability.

To encourage an uptick in motivation before the holidays, we created a friendly competition among mentor groups where each group would "compete" against the others for the highest number of PFAs passed, per person, in a three-week time period.

We're all in this together

We couldn't have anticipated the renewed drive students found when we presented this idea. While students grew excited about the competition and bonded with their mentor group, we knew they had all won because the greater purpose of this competition was achieved -- each student took renewed ownership over their learning and became accountable for what they needed to complete. In total, our students passed 654 PFAs in the three-week period.

As mentors, we are proud of our students' ability to collaborate and support each other in their own individual progress. Circling back to our north star - consistent work ethic produces success - our students are witnessing and feeling the effects of putting in the work every day. It's not always easy, and it doesn't always come right away, but in the end, hard work does pay off. And we all see, firsthand, how mentoring enhances the joy of this collective process.

-- Emily Hackett is a graduate of John Brown University and in her fourth year teaching algebra I, geometry, and algebra II at Siloam Springs High School, where she has been actively involved in making personalized learning available to students at Siloam Springs. In 2017, Hackett was awarded recognition as a Summit Learning spotlight teacher. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

General News on 01/22/2020