Mentoring Ed-Leaders For Equity in Chicago

Feb 20, 2023 9:00:00 AM


In 2018, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) launched Great Expectations Mentoring (GEM) with a clear goal: by 2024, mentors with experiences in district leadership would support 150 Black male and Latinx school administrators, network staff and central office leaders to take their next step in leadership development and career. 

Ultimately, GEM intends to grow a pipeline of equity-minded Black and Latinx administrators and district leaders who deeply connect with CPS students’ cultures, contexts and communities.

As of June 2022, three cohorts of GEM fellows totaling 83 leaders have worked with GEM mentors to help build trusting relationships that influence others to action, hone their strategic vision and problem-solving skills and strengthen their perseverance and drive for impact. Nearly half of those 83 GEM fellows have already received promotions within CPS and their work has positively affected more than 47,000 students.

Mentoring for Equity

This year-long leadership development program focuses on leadership and equity–not just for students, but for mentees and their mentors, too. The GEM program benefits both mentees and their mentors. GEM fellows work with a mentor coach to develop their knowledge of the CPS Equity Framework and tap their existing strengths as they bring equity to life in their schools and in partnership with their mentees.

To achieve equitable outcomes, we must have shared language, tools and accountability for supporting our students and communities. The Equity Framework grounds us in the values and structures essential to doing the transformative personal, relational and institutional work necessary to create more-equitable learning experiences and outcomes. With the framework as our common language, we have a starting point to create meaningful change in our communities, schools and across the district.

What Happens in Mentoring Sessions?

Effective mentoring allows mentees to develop their communication skills: asking the right questions, speaking openly and honestly about challenges while developing solutions and maintaining a positive mindset focused on growth. Mentees should walk out of each mentoring session with clear next steps to implement what was discussed. Mentors should be readily available to connect and consult when needed, not just during scheduled sessions.

Here are some of the concrete strategies we have seen work to empower mentors and mentees:

  • Mentors and mentees visit classrooms and share observations about what is taking place.
  • Mentoring sessions explore solutions for the most pressing challenges in the school community including equity, teacher and staff recruitment, burnout, retention and safety for students and staff.
  • Mentoring supports leaders to process information and navigate new and challenging situations.
  • Mentoring helps mentees refine their thinking and reframe their practices for meaningful change. 
  • Sessions expand mentees’ leadership capacities, offering actionable practices and emerging strategies that can shape their leadership.
  • Mentoring supports the social and emotional development of leaders by allowing them to reflect on their motivation, self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills and empathy.

Great Mentoring Builds Communities

Mentoring starts with a vision based on honesty and equity. Then mentees and mentors can work together to address opportunity gaps and discover and implement best practices to address the particular needs of the moment. The work to apply best practices will inevitably push growing leaders to find their inner resilience, drive and perseverance. Mentors can help those emerging leaders align their work with best practices and build their capacity for  empathy, equity and results.

Ultimately, great mentoring moves beyond the 1-to-1 relationship of mentor and mentee to take a holistic view of schools embedded in communities. Great mentoring of school and district leaders must include a strong focus on building relational accountability with everyone involved–staff, students and families. 

Great mentoring can help emerging leaders take an asset-based view of their school communities, building meaningful engagement with parents and community partners to build strong partnerships for student success.  Great mentoring can also help emerging leaders build relationships with strong, community-based organizations for the benefit of all involved.

If we want all of Chicago’s students to be valued fully and to experience the opportunities that they need to excel academically, socially and emotionally, then we need to develop leadership capacity to address our equity goals. The GEM program shows us how this work is getting done.

Carlos Azcoitia and Evangelina Covarrubias

Carlos Azcoitia served as the deputy chief of education of Chicago Public Schools. Currently, Azcoitia serves as Professor Emeritus in Educational Leadership at National Louis University.   Evangelina Covarrubias is the executive director for the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Equity. She leads the GEM mentoring program to foster more Black male and Latinx leadership across the district.

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