Mentoring drives meaningful learning for Tacoma students


By Sherrie Gibelyou

Principal, Concordia Christian Academy

Educators are always looking for tools to help students succeed in the classroom. Many people think that the items you would find on a back-to-school list – like binders and calculators – are the classroom essentials. I’ve learned over the past 27 years as a teacher and school leader at Concordia Christian Academy that relationships are what really drive meaningful learning.

Concordia Christian Academy has always been an ideal environment to foster strong teacher-student relationships. We have small classes that allow teachers to get to know their students and provide them with individualized support. We value exceptional education and strive to create an environment that feels like family.

But this year, teacher-student relationships at our school are stronger than ever because of a new focus on individual mentoring. Each student has a dedicated mentor with whom they meet on a weekly basis. Mentors are adults in the school – teachers and school leaders – who get to know their mentees deeply, understand their goals and challenges and provide them with one-on-one guidance. 

Our school’s vision is to personalize each student’s educational journey and prepare them to actively serve in the world with their unique talents and gifts. Mentoring helps us fulfill that vision and is a key aspect of the Summit Learning program, which Concordia Christian Academy adopted in 2018.

Mentors help students reflect on their learning by engaging in specific conversations about what is going well, how they can improve, and the support they need to succeed. Mentors coach students on their next steps, getting them ready to successfully tackle the next day, the next week, and beyond. With this coaching, students learn to take ownership of their progress, be aware of their strengths and areas for improvement, and develop independence and persistence. These are skills and habits they’ll use throughout their lives.

At Concordia Christian Academy, we recognize that every one of our students has unique abilities and is on their own educational journey. Through mentorship, our teachers have been able to create individual learning plans and offer support to students in a personalized way. 

The productive conversations that have arisen from spending one-on-one time with students this year have blown our teachers and me away. Here is a snapshot of the mentoring experience from 7th-grade teacher, Melissa Varvil: 

Mentoring has enriched the relationships I have with my students. We work together to ensure that the student’s academic goals and emotional well-being are met. My students know that I want them to succeed and that I will do everything in my power to help them accomplish their goals. Above all, I want them to know that they are not just a test or cognitive score. As they are navigating their path, I want them to find their passion, whatever it is. Mentoring has made me a better teacher because it has deepened my relationships with my students. 

As we celebrate National Mentoring Month, I want to remind teachers how important this role is. I applaud all educators who mentor their students and help them succeed.

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