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Acknowledging Our Mentors

I recently began reading the Acknowledgements sections at the end of novels. I used to finish a book, close it upon completing the final chapter, and file it away on the bookshelf.

Perhaps I am arriving late in the game of reading Acknowledgements; perhaps most of you have always read acknowledgments and are wondering why it took me so long to get there (no worries, feel free to judge). Regardless, I'm glad I finally took the time to do so.

So many people help with the creation of a book, whether fiction, nonfiction, or textbooks. And I find myself inspired by the tributes authors compose to the unseen eyes and unheard voices who helped these authors generate their work. I have even found myself crying on occasion because of how much love and tenderness writers extend to their editors, friends, partners, children, and even pets. Sometimes authors acknowledge one or two people, and other times the lists are exhaustive. It's powerful stuff.

In the absence of writing a book or winning an award, most people don't often have the space to collectively acknowledge the ones who shepherded them along in their lives. But what would happen if we took a moment to think of all the people who got us to this point in time? Maybe there's one or two people who come to mind. Or maybe the list is exhaustive. 

Considering how moved I have been by what I read, I thought, "What if I took the time to stop and write some Acknowledgments?" And being a writing teacher, I decided to create an assignment: Acknowledging Our Mentors. 

Maybe you'd like to try this task, too,  on your own, with your students, your faculty, your team. If so, here are some considerations:

An Overview of the Task
If the stories of our lives were to go on pause, who would we acknowledge in this moment? Which mentors come most to mind? And mentor, as I define it, is anyone who helps us become the people we most want to be.


  • To take the time to reflect on where we are in our lives.
  • To engage in an authentic practice of gratitude
  • To acknowledge those who have contributed to our growth
  • A hefty paragraph (most Acknowledgments are crafted this way)
  • Fragments are okay
  • Begin with "I'd like to acknowledge..." and let the piece go from there
  • Be specific about what you'd like to acknowledge your mentors for
1.) Call to mind at least three to five people who have had an influence on you. Write their names down.
2.) Next to each name, write how they have been helpful. Consider an anecdote, a phrase, or simply the work they do--or the work they have helped you to do.
3.) Consider the ways you want to arrange your paragraph. Some options are the following:
  • Go chronologically from the first person who influenced you to the most recent person
  • Go thematically--group people together if their influences are similar
  • Group people by the professional impact they had on you, or the personal impact
  • Go person by person, with no real order in mind (maybe everyone is as important as everyone else)
  • Choose a style that works best for you
4.) Begin writing. Perhaps take the piece through a few drafts, and practice arranging your sentences in different ways.
5.) Share it with the people who have influenced you.

And because I never assign something that I wouldn't do myself, I have decided to practice this task to see what it would be like. 

So here goes:

I'd like to acknowledge Beth Greenspan, who asked me to be her campaign manager for class President in elementary school (she was in 5th grade, I was in 2nd); I couldn't see over the podium when I gave my speech, but it was my first shot at public speaking (and she gave me a stuffed animal as a thank you!). I'd like to acknowledge my 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Dully, who gave me the space to turn show-and-tell into a one-woman show each week. To my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Pierce, who, even though she fell asleep on our milk tickets, was one of the most creative people I knew in my young life. To Mrs. Canterbury and Anastasia Cole, the painting teachers who taught me to love working with oils and get lost in the creative process. To William Bonnell, who gave me a D+ on my first paper in his AP English class, and who inspired me to work hard at the art of revision. To Debby Martin, who taught me how to be a leader and the value of helium tanks for school dances. To Rachel Pond Camero, Emily Plesser, and Carissa Adams, whose work at coaching rowing motivated me to fall in love with and be a part of the sport for eight years--as a coxswain and as a coach. To Celeste Haarmeyer, Ellie Koutilides, and Linda Beaudin, my master teachers for my student teaching (thanks, Ellie, for the phrase, "I'll bend, but I won't break."). To Pauline Holmes, Jon Wagner, Sandy Davis--and Steve Athanases--who established the foundation between theory and practice in education, and who have set a high bar for effective teaching. And Steve, thanks for inspiring me to write my first published article. To Rod Hollander, Ellen Wong, and John Wong, who helped me survive my first years at McClatchy High School, and who supported my growth inside and outside the classroom. Rod, thanks for being my surrogate father, and loving me even though you dislike my politics (I'm right most of the time). To Lise Shelton, who saw my desire to grow; who created opportunities for me to hone my skills; who has supported my leadership/coaching path. I owe the next stage of my professional journey to you. To Janet McGarvey, who creates opportunities for me to flourish as a presenter and innovator. To Jane Haladay, who inspired me to become a teacher, whom I reconnected with when I first began my career, and who has remained a lifelong friend and mentor since I was 17; you are my chosen family. To Buster, the worst rescue dog a person could ask for, but who has taught me what it means to love someone where they are. And to Amy, partner in crime and partner in life, who loves me where I am and who reminds me I'm human (even though I rarely screw up). 


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