by Rick Brown
California mentor

A few weeks ago a group of newspaper advisers, their editors, a professional journalist, and I sat down for an end-of-the-year dinner.  The event was hosted by the Auburn Journal, and we were seated in a room where editors and the AJ staff make daily, occasionally agonizing, news judgments.

The evening’s discussion was a lively, one: top stories of the year, stories that got away, coping with administrative interference and a myriad of others.  To add to the atmosphere, one of the adviser’s six-year-old daughter was happily playing with her dolls in the corner.

As a JEA Mentor the occasion provided many reflections.

One of the most important of those reflections is that when you connect teachers good things happen – very good things.

Teachers confront a lonely profession that isolates its participants in classrooms, departments and school environments.  Rarely is there an opportunity to share ideas, exchange ideas and collaborate with innovative solutions.  Too often we operate within a closed environment that inhibits an honest, free exchange.

The Sierra Foothill Journalism Advisers held an end-of-the year dinner at the Auburn Journal, May 4. Advisers, journalism students and Auburn Journal staff are (left to right): Terrill Korell, Daniel Grauspenberger, Dylan Laidlaw, Kendal Nielsen, Amy Hanson, Stephanie Breitbart, Dan Wilson, Casey Nichols, Suzanna Johnson and her daughter Marie.

Secondly, we rarely get the change to partner with professionals in our disciplines.  Often our colleagues in he career technical curricula do, but one would be hard pressed to observe those of us in liberal arts and hard sciences participating with co-professionals in the private or public sectors.

These observations are based on 34 years of being a teacher/adviser as well as a stint as curricula director for the Placer Union High School District in the Sierra Foothills.

These reflections bring us back to the dinner at the Auburn Journal.  For the past four years the AJ, under the leadership of editor Deric Rothe, has partnered with My JEA mentor efforts in providing two journalism days, two adviser summer workshops and an on-line, daily outlet called Student Voices. Additionally, the on-line content producer, Stephanie Breitbart, has visited numerous high school newspaper staffs and taught them how to file stories and prepare stories and upload images for cyber journalism, Student Voices.

This partnership has benefited all sides of the relationship.  It connects young people to local media, and keeps AJ staff members attuned to local campuses.

Another approach I used was organizing an on-line professional learning community with the help of the Ning social network.  That network, Sierra Foothill Journalism Adviser, has provided an outlet for day-to-day issues like advising dilemmas as well as a display for student work.  Most importantly, the network connected experienced advisers with the mentees in the day-to-day routine of advising a publication.

As the dinner came to a close, it was time to say goodbye, a bittersweet moment.  I have truly enjoyed being a mentor and witnessing the development of fledging advisers into experienced ones.  But the future holds the challenge of maintaining a small organic farm that my wife, Jackie, and I started two years ago. And if you think about it, mentoring is a lot like farming.  You work with the conditions you are given, and often, if you are lucky, magical things happen.

Mentors and journalism teachers: Do you have experiences to share about developing a network with other journalism teachers and/or the professional media?