Investing in the future: The importance of mentorship in education

Uriel Iglesias and Mark Estrada pose together.

By Tasha McKinney

Uriel Iglesias, a 4th-grade bilingual teacher, sits in a chair as his student run up behind him for a group hug. All of them are smiling.

An early-career, bilingual teacher demonstrates the power of leading as your authentic self.

The first time Uriel Iglesias and Mark Estrada met, they bonded over their mutual love of soccer and stories of family at a Mexican restaurant in Austin. Now, Iglesias, a Charles Butt Scholar Alumnus, is in his third year of teaching at Alma Brewer Strawn (ABS) Elementary under the leadership of Superintendent Mark Estrada. How did Iglesias and Estrada go from casual conversation over chips and salsa to collaborating as colleagues?

The Charles Butt Scholar Mentorship Program.

The Charles Butt Scholarship for Aspiring Teachers encourages and supports promising Texas students to pursue a career in teaching through one of the state’s best university-based teacher preparation programs. The Charles Butt Scholarship selects talented and diverse aspiring teachers who demonstrate leadership potential, and ensures they are supported financially and professionally throughout their journey to becoming a teacher. 

Iglesias connected with Estrada through the Charles Butt Scholar Mentorship Program, a personal and professional development opportunity offered to all current Charles Butt Scholars and Scholar Alumni. The program connects Scholars and Scholar Alumni with Charles Butt Foundation Leadership Alumni – current and former participants of the Raising School Leaders and Raising Blended Learners programs – who are experienced educators, principals, and superintendents. The mentorship program provides Scholars an opportunity to refine professional skills, receive feedback and coaching, and share their thoughts and concerns with a professional who understands the field. Mentorship benefits both the mentor and mentee in numerous ways, Iglesias and Estrada’s story is the perfect example of the full potential of this program. 

Produced & edited by Anne Bannister; cinematography by Anne Bannister, & Brian Diggs; assisted by Christina Dunigan, Taylor Harrison, & Briana Mascitelli

Common ground

Estrada decided to become a Charles Butt Scholar mentor for the chance to give someone the support he wishes he had received. “I really connected with the first-gen aspect of it being the first person in my family to go to college and trying to navigate not only going to college, but once I completed college, what do I do now, how do I enter the profession of teaching, those types of things.”

Iglesias describes himself as someone who likes to make the most of any opportunity, so when he learned he could receive a mentor through the scholarship, he jumped right in. As part of the mentorship program, mentees have the opportunity to select their mentor based on what’s most important to them. “I’m going to feel more comfortable with a male, so I went for that first,” Iglesias says, describing the selection process. “I narrowed the list down, and then I wanted someone who was interested in sports … I also wanted someone who had the same visions that I did and who went through the same path that I want to go through. I landed on Mr. Estrada.”

Like Estrada, Iglesias was the first in his family to attend college and values that they share this life experience.

Estrada says he appreciates that the program gives new and aspiring teachers a sense of agency in selecting their mentor. He believes when people have common ground, real connection can happen. “Having a choice on who their mentor is and someone that they value their opinion, they can go to and talk to, and the relationship is reciprocal, their thoughts and opinions are heard as well, is critical to retain the early career professionals that we have in education,” Estrada says.

Iglesias was nervous the first time he and Estrada met up, but it didn’t take long for them to connect over their similarities. For Iglesias and Estrada, their shared interests extended beyond the classroom. 

“He was just a person,” Iglesias says. “He immediately started talking to me about his family, his life, and so that just brought a lot of comfort to me.”

Reciprocal learning

One of the greatest benefits of mentorship for a new or incoming teacher is the ability to tap into the knowledge of a leader who has spent years in the field of education. Iglesias’ learned that leadership is showing up as your fully human, authentic self. 

“You can ask anyone in this district, “How would you describe Mr. Estrada?” and they’ll tell you the same thing,” Iglesias says. “He’s such a great leader, he knows what he’s doing, but at the same time, you can see the person in himself. That’s the most important lesson that I’ve learned.”

Iglesias’ not the only one gaining new insight. Estrada shares the benefits he’s experienced from connection with a younger professional in the field. “He reminds me of what I want to be and what I strive to be, which is a person who brings positive energy to any room that I go into, a person who is laser-focused on the goals that I have for myself and for the students that I serve and for all the staff that I serve.”

The Charles Butt Scholar Mentorship Program intentionally encourages mentors and mentees to learn from one another. Mentors are trained to learn about the experiences and knowledge their mentees have to offer through structured discussion guides and collaborative goal-setting. Participants report gaining fresh insights, diverse perspectives, and a deeper understanding of their respective fields. This reciprocal learning approach empowers both mentors and mentees to continuously grow and thrive, creating a mutually beneficial learning experience that enriches everyone involved.

Connection and opportunity

The mentorship program also creates networking opportunities. Graduating teachers need Texas school leaders to hire them, and Texas principals and superintendents need educators. Many Scholars are able to make valuable connections through the mentorship program, but some Scholars get hired directly by their mentor. When Iglesiasl graduated from the University of Texas in Austin, Estrada didn’t skip a beat.

“Immediately, he didn’t waste any second. He was like, ‘Are you ready to work for me?’” Iglesias says. Iglesias had been planning to return to Houston, the city where he grew up, to teach after graduation. Nonetheless, he decided to take Estrada up on his offer to visit the ABS campus. The rest is history. “I realized that home was actually here instead of over there in Houston. This is where I find my peace, where I find my happiness, and all thanks to that connection that I had with Mr. Estrada.”

Estrada and Iglesias now have the opportunity to learn from each other not just as mentor-mentee, but as colleagues. “To be in our school district, and to continue that relationship, and supporting him to grow in his career is a special thing to me. It’s been a great tool for me also to ensure that every first-year teacher has what they need in the district,” Estrada says. “Iglesias’ willingness to speak openly, to tell the truth about the good things and the things we need to improve on, not only helps him, but it helps every new teacher…”

To Estrada, who hasn’t worked in the classroom or on campus for a number of years, having the voice of the practitioner, especially an early-career teacher, is critical for retaining teachers. Mentorship has a ripple effect: well-supported teachers means a higher quality, more stable learning environment for the 5.5 million students in Texas schools.   

“There’s no greater time than now to ensure that we have a great teacher in every classroom in the state of Texas. That’s going to take effort. It’s going to take people intentionally investing in teachers, and especially first-year teachers,” Estrada says. “I just encourage everyone across the state who’s in a leadership capacity who can provide support and time to invest in our young teachers.”

For Scholars, the connections made during mentorship can open doors that they never knew existed. “I didn’t even know where Lockhart was, but thanks to Mr. Estrada, I’m able to be here now and be surrounded by a lot of people that I love, especially the staff, the students in this school, everything has been amazing, but everything happens for a reason.”

Iglesias and Estrada have a lot in common – their love of Austin FC soccer team, their close ties to family – but their greatest connection is their passion for education. “I think we’re similar in that this is not just a job, it’s almost like an addiction,” says Estrada. “We’re constantly trying to figure out what we can do to ensure that our kids are at an advantage because he’s their teacher and I’m their superintendent – ensuring that they have everything and more to be successful.”

Join the Charles Butt Scholar Mentorship Program

If you are a current Charles Butt Scholar or Scholar Alum, please check your email for instructions on how to find a mentor through our new CBF Connect Platform. If you are a Leadership Alum, please check your email for instructions on how to become a mentor. Opportunities to match are available throughout the Fall semester.