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Why being a role model is your most important job

My husband and I have been working hard to develop good manners and ‘speaking kindly’ with our toddler. For the most part this has gone pretty well, except when it comes to the dogs. Without fail, when my daughter barks orders at our dogs it sounds anything but kind:

“MOVE DOGS!”

“AWAY PIP!”

“Come here NOW Wilbur”

(…or my real shining moment of parenting) “BLOODY DOGS!”

She sounds exactly like me. The intonation, the tone, she has learnt it more effectively than any of the pleases or thank yous I spent hours investing in.


Young people watch and learn. They copy. They parrot. For toddlers, their copying is very obvious, cringeworthy and sometimes hilarious to see. For teenagers it can be a little more nuanced, but they are watching and learning. They are developing their beliefs, values and views of the world based on the adults and peers around them.


One of the first things we do in mentoring training is play a game. The game involves organising different attributes into order of importance. There is always a huge amount of discussion about the merits of being kind, how much you know about school and whether being popular would make a difference to your mentee. The attribute that often gets bumped to the middle of the pack, is being a role model.


I want to take a moment to consider what being a role model really means. When I offer these words to teachers, they talk about working hard, their pupil’s grades, having happy pupils in their classroom, being on time. While these are all good things to strive for, are they the most valuable elements of being a good role model? I see these things as results rather than actions that can be copied.


For me, being a role model is the biggest opportunity you have to transform someone else’s life and your own. When you consciously become a role model you take on responsibility for living and behaving a certain way. That could easily sound like a whole lot of pressure, something daunting to be shied away from. Certainly, if you are considering results as the measure of a good role model, then there is a vast amount of pressure to perform.


With record levels of anxiety in teenagers being reported on what feels like a weekly basis, your position as role model in the life of young people is more important than it has ever been. Should your focus as a role model, as my trainee mentors describe, be working hard and hitting top grades? Sure, these results are desirable, but I would argue that they are not the copyable skills that need to be role modelled.


Here are some thoughts and questions to help you consider the skills you want to demonstrate:


  • How can I show myself more respect, and extend that to others? How do I speak about others? How do I speak about yourself? I am not suggesting we need to be 100% positive 100% of the time, far from it. What I am saying is that showing yourself and others compassion and grace goes a long way. To do this, you have to pay attention in the moment, catch yourself when you are being hypercritical and decide whether it is necessary.

  • How can you manage your time well? Note, I’m not saying ‘be organised’ or ‘get your work done on time’. For me, managing your time well means making decisions ahead of time, having the discipline to get your work done within the constrained time you have given yourself, and prioritising rest and downtime. It means respecting the commitments you make to yourself ahead of time. It is the opposite of being busy. It is the opposite of habitually letting your time be hijacked.

  • How can I value my wellbeing? How can I take care of myself this year? What old habits or patterns of thinking do I want to let go of? It is just as important to consider what you want to stop as well as new things you want to do.


It is easy as educators to say that ‘the children come first’, but all too often, the unspoken end to that sentence is ‘...to the detriment of us’. It doesn’t have to be. If we embrace our role of mentor and role model as ardently as we do educator and caregiver, then the wellbeing of everyone improves. This doesn’t have to be an either or scenario. It isn’t us or them. When we change how we view our role, we allow for everyone to be prioritised and valued.


If these questions feel alien to you and your school’s community, then I can help. Let’s chat.


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