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How to Acquire a Distant or Super Famous Mentor

By Dave Stuart Jr.

The most powerful kinds of mentorships are the ones where the mentee learns how the mentor thinks, essentially internalizing the mentor's mind. In such arrangements, the mentor gives concerted effort and inquiry, and the mentee gains mental models. These models, be they for teaching, problem-solving, student motivation, literacy, or otherwise, are precious because they would likely not have otherwise been the mentee's [1].

So let me ask you this: if there was one person in all the world by whom you would most like to be mentored, who would it be?

If you're like most people, you'd choose someone who is probably unable to give you the kind of personalized attention that in-person mentoring requires. However, you can probably still be mentored by that person; you can still internalize that person's thinking and mental models.

So let's say that you're an English teacher who would love to be mentored by Mr. English Teacher's Companion himself, Jim Burke. The problem with Jim is that, unless you teach at his high school, Jim's not just down the hall from you. He's distant, and this precludes him from being your mentor in the same way the person down the hall from you could be. Also, even if it were possible to work out some kind of virtual mentoring thing, that likely wouldn't work either because it turns out that teaching on top of writing on top of researching on top of being a present husband and dad makes Jim busy. He's got a life.

Yet you can still totally be mentored by Jim Burke — or [Insert Your Guru Here] — in the way that I described at the start of this post. You can still internalize how that person thinks, still gain access to their mental models, using the following steps.

The easy and fast method for getting mentored by the number one person you would dream of being mentored by

Just kidding.

The not-so-easy, not-super-quick method for getting mentored by the number one person you would dream of being mentored by

Step 1: Pick your dream mentor. This person is going to need to be someone who is either pretty famous or a pretty prolific creator/writer/thinker.

Step 2: Read and study that person's most popular work. Not sure which work to pick? The Internet makes this easier. Go to Google (or a site like Amazon) and type in your mentor's name. Read the first book- or report-length piece of work that pops up. When you complete this step, you don't have a mentor, but you do have an idea of an important event in your mentor's life: the publication of his or her most well-known work.

Step 3: Read the other things that person has written: books, articles, blogs. This is going to take a long time if you're picking someone like Jim Burke, but this is also the time in which you separate yourself from people who use Jim's thinking and people who learn to think like Jim. Be mindful of situating the pieces you read within the context of your mentor's career; if you don't, things will get confusing.

Step 4: Read things written about that person or that person's work. So far, you've only seen things through that person's voice. How do others interpret your mentor's work? What conversations did your mentor enter or join?

Step 5: Read or listen to interviews with your mentor; watch speeches or video clips of your mentor. YouTube is great for this. Also, try Googling “Interview with __________.”

Step 6: Read the things that person most frequently cites. Now we're digging deep, but no one creates from a vacuum. Anyone who you've ever heard say or write or do anything brilliant is standing on the work that has gone before.

In reality, the process is less linear than what I've indicated above. When I'm trying to get into a person's mind, I typically wander around Steps 2-6. The longer I do it, the more I gain. Keep in mind that this should be fun and it should be challenging.

It may help to make sure you're reading in as wise a manner as possible. For help, try these related posts:


  1. It's worth noting that mental models are typically not the outcomes formal teacher mentorship programs produce. In formal mentorship programs, mentors are assigned to mentees and mentors typically do much of the work; in the relationship described in this post, the mentee seeks out the mentor and puts forth the lion's share of the effort.

Thank you to those who have spent years producing and publishing their best work, iteration by iteration. 

3 Responses to How to Acquire a Distant or Super Famous Mentor

  1. Ana Cornea October 2, 2016 at 11:47 am #

    I am a first year English teacher at a small school and your writing and resources are invaluable for me. They are refreshing and helpful as I think and rethink through my teaching philosophy and practices. This week, I was just bemoaning the fact that I have few people with whom to talk about content (as I am the only high school English teacher) and this post reminded me of the beauty and value of reading, and the possibility of mentorship that lies therein. Thank you so much — I am truly grateful.

    • davestuartjr October 5, 2016 at 8:49 pm #

      Ana, I am so glad to read that this helped. You are right — mentorship is available to any of us with a few books or an Internet browser!

  2. Michele October 24, 2016 at 8:33 pm #

    This is so true. I strive to read one chapter from a mentor’s book every day, and I’ve learned so much it has started a percolation of ideas in my head that is causing a 180 degree change in the way I do things in my classroom.

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