**As you know, I am in the midst of starting a school–Odyssey Leadership Academy–that will open in Oklahoma City in August, 2015. The goal of Odyssey is to help shape “wise, virtuous, and compassionate architects of repair in the world.” I thought I would take some time in the next few posts to explain a little bit more about the vision and values for Odyssey.

In a previous post, I spent some time unpacking the three cardinal tenets behind the vision and values of Odyssey Leadership Academy: Wisdom, Virtue, and Compassion. In this post, I want to address what lies at the heart of everything we do to foster those tenets: Mentoring.

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Having worked with students in a variety of capacities over the last twenty years, the thing that I believe is the single most important thing to fostering healthy identity, wisdom, and virtue in students is mentoring.

We all know the statistics related to students who grow up without a healthy role model: students without positive role models (particularly fathers) are much more likely to drop out of school, become teenage parents, join a gang, experiment with drugs, and end up in prison. The longitudinal research on high school dropouts across the board, shows that the top two reasons students drop out of school come down to feeling like the curriculum did not matter and feeling that no one cared about them. This does not even get into the ugly realities of teenage bullying, school violence, peer pressure, identity issues, body dysmorphia, etc. that plague our schools. Combined, these two factors point to the deep moral chasm we must address when it comes to how, systemically, we educate our children.

**One caveat here: as a lifelong educator who has spent thousands and thousands of hours in the trenches of the classroom, I know full well that there are many wonderful teachers who, everyday, in countless, sacrificial ways, give of themselves to make a difference. Believe me, I know all too well the thankless job teachers face in often hostile, violent environments to make a difference in the lives of their students. I am addressing mass schooling as a systemic institution, not the many wonderful teachers who swim upstream against that system to change lives!!!

If the system of education views students as little more than test scores, data walls, grades, rankings, statistics, or categories, it should not surprise us that 30-40% of students drop out nationally every year (in fact, I’m always a little surprised that this number is that low). If students do not feel cared for, why should they stick around?

If the research is clear on the tragic consequences of not having a proper role model or mentor in one’s life during those formative years, the research also points to the great transformation that can happen in a student’s life when a mentor is present (http://www.mentoring.org/mentoringeffect).

According to John Sowers, President of The Mentoring Project, and author of Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the StoryMentors can provide for students: love, presence, involvement, consistency, celebration, modeling, coaching, identity, blessing, and the invaluable sense of worth that all students crave.

It is for this reason that Odyssey Leadership Academy seeks to change the story in and for education even in how we talk about teachers. It is for this reason that we do not call our instructors “teachers,” but rather “Mentors”. At Odyssey, we are after nothing short of the formation of agents of transformation in our communities. Asking teachers to be mere transmitters of information (often via pre-fabricated worksheets) demeans their work and dehumanizes their identities. In an age where Google can now provide more access to content in a mouse click than any source in human history, we no longer need teachers to rule the fiefdoms of their particular subject area, lording over the content like a medieval despot; we need teachers who can help students grapple with the content in dialogical, relational ways (something I have yet to see a website or worksheet do). For this reason, true “teachers” (in the deep historical sense of Rabbi, Sensei, Junzi, Maestro, Sage, etc.–those who modeled and mentored wisdom and virtue for their pupils by their example in life, speech, and action) are needed now more than ever.

**In fact, in an age where online learning (MOOCS, online college courses, Kahn Academy, iTunes University, TED talks, etc.) is providing access to content never before imagined, I would argue that, if teaching colleges and universities do not adapt their education of future educators more in line with these ancient models, they will become irrelevant or even obsolete.

The moral center of Odyssey Leadership Academy revolves around the idea that, in order to educate fully flourishing human beings, there must be people who speak life into one another in caring community. Aristotle taught that virtue did not come about by birth or by happenstance but only as a consequence of a devoted community intent on shaping moral discourse. We take our cue from the great philosophical and religious communities who devoted themselves to caring for one another in wisdom, truth, and love over long periods of time, including Plato’s Academy, Aristotle’s Lyceum, and the early Judeo-Christian communities who practiced charity, hospitality and sacrificial living.

At Odyssey, our Mentors walk with a small number of students from the student’s first day to their last. Each Mentor is responsible for mentoring a small number of students of the same gender, beginning with the student’s first year at Odyssey. As the student moves up, so does the Mentor. The Mentor is not only a scholar-practitioner teaching Odyssey Exploration courses, he or she is also helping shape Odyssey Expeditions, leading Odyssey Excursions, advising students on course selection, getting to know the needs of each student’s family, helping out with college advising, and being there to offer encouragement and support throughout the student’s journey. We also believe in fostering a spirit of mentorship in our students by asking older students to mentor younger students both one-on-one and in small groups.

At Odyssey Leadership Academy, mentoring happens in the spaces carved out between instruction time, eating together around the lunch table, sitting outside on park benches, sipping cappuccinos in coffee shops, helping each other rappel down a mountain, sitting around a campfire at 13,000 feet, while serving the homeless, teaching guitar, on a poverty simulation…in a word: everywhere!

We hope that, by surrounding students with wise, caring Mentors whose job it is to speak life and encouragement into each student, we can help students navigate the often murky waters of adolescence and help them point their lives in the right direction.

Find out more at www.odysseyleadershipacademy.org