Empowering educators: The influence of sponsorship

A while back, my phone rang, and it was someone calling for a reference check. When I got off the phone, I began thinking about the relationships in education that form and strengthen each school year.

Educators are constantly offering one another mentorship, especially to those with career aspirations. We take a great deal of pride in not only what we do for others but also what we put into them. The recent reference check reminded me that we owe it to those in our network to provide more than mentorship. What impact would we have on those aspirational educators and leaders if more of us embraced the idea of providing sponsorship?

Imagine walking down the hall, and the principal walks up to inquire about your fellow teacher who has been working hard to become an instructional coach in the district. When the principal makes the comment, “I don’t see her using technology in her class, so how can she be an instructional coach for the building,” how do you respond?

A typical response might affirm that the teacher hasn’t been observed integrating technology in the classroom. Sponsors might respond by saying that this teacher demonstrated strong coaching skills during recent staff professional development. They would continue to say that the teacher’s appetite to grow as a leader would lead one to believe she will take the challenge to build up her knowledge for using technology in the class.

Each response drives the discussion in two different directions. By placing a focus on providing sponsorship during inquiries around professional capabilities of aspirational educators, we open the door for their diverse skills and abilities to shine a light on their potential in the role. We open new opportunities and pathways for them to contribute to the learning community in new ways.

In the field of education, mentorship and sponsorship have proven to be valuable tools for career advancement and professional growth. Mentorship involves experienced educators genuinely guiding and supporting their colleagues, sharing knowledge, and offering advice. Sponsorship, on the other hand, goes beyond mentorship by actively advocating for and creating opportunities to help educators progress in their careers.

Sponsorship in education nurtures confidence and strengthens professional identity. When educators have sponsors who believe in their abilities, advocate for their growth, and provide opportunities, it instills confidence, enabling them to take on new challenges and assume leadership roles. This support also helps educators develop a strong professional identity, recognizing their value and potential in shaping the future of education.

Here a few ways you can embrace opportunities to provide sponsorship to a
colleague:

  • Publicly Endorsing Their Work: Acknowledge and publicly recognize your colleague’s accomplishments, skills, and contributions, highlighting their expertise and promoting their visibility within the education community.
  • Advocating for Opportunities: Advocate for your colleague’s participation in leadership roles, building/district projects, training programs, conferences, or workshops opportunities that can enhance their skills and knowledge.
  • Creating Platforms for Visibility: Help your colleague increase their visibility by providing opportunities to present at conferences, publish articles or blog posts, or lead workshops or webinars within the education community.
  • Nominating for Awards and Recognition: Nominate your colleague for awards, grants or other forms of recognition that celebrate their achievements and contributions to the field of education.
  • Building Networks: Introduce your colleague to key decision-makers, leaders and policymakers who can support their career advancement and advocate for their ideas or initiatives.
  • Sustained Support and Advocacy: Continuously champion your colleague’s career growth by offering ongoing support, advocating for their professional development and actively engaging in their journey as a sponsor.

Sponsorship is particularly crucial for female and diverse educators who aspire to advance their careers. By committing to sponsorship, both female and diverse educators can overcome barriers, biases, and systemic challenges that hinder their progress.

Sponsors play a vital role in advocating for opportunities, amplifying their voices, and creating pathways to leadership and advancement. With sponsorship, female and diverse educators can gain visibility, build confidence, and experience a new trajectory for their career. This will begin to accelerate positive change in the profession and foster a more inclusive and equitable educational landscape.

Mentorship and sponsorship are essential for empowering career growth in the education profession. Sponsorship, in particular, creates pathways to leadership, amplifies impact and influence, and nurtures confidence and professional identity. By providing mentorship and sponsorship to colleagues in education, we can create a genuinely supportive environment that cultivates the next generation of educational leaders and innovators.

Next time you get a reference check or an administrator inquires about someone’s ability, be ready to proudly showcase all that amazing things they have not only done, but are capable of doing with a new opportunity.

Marlon Styles
Marlon Styles
Marlon has served as an educational leader for seventeen years. He started his career as a Middle School Mathematics teacher on Team Ambition. In 2017, he was named a Top 30 Digital Trailblazer by the Center for Digital Education. Under his leadership at Middletown City Schools, the district was awarded the International Society for Technology in Education Distinguished District Award in 2019. He testified before the United States Congress in 2020 to advocate for access and opportunity for all students. K-12 Dive recognized him as the Superintendent of the Year in 2020 for his advocacy and leadership to close equity gaps on a national stage. Styles has had the honor to inspire educators across the country through presentations at conferences. Styles is a Unifier in education who works to create cultures which people win. His mission is to inspire educators to see themselves as empowered Unifiers capable of creating the types of learning experiences today’s modern learners need to thrive.