“Meeting Students Where They Are: Mentoring as Teaching” featuring Tonja Murphy

This post was contributed by Emmi Sprayberry.

This week’s podcast features Tonja Murphy, Community Engagement Coordinator for the Mississippi Book Festival. Tonja is an amazingly passionate and talented woman who uses her skills as author, consultant, and motivational speaker to give back and invest in the community of Jackson, MS. I first met Tonja at a banquet for Red Door Jackson, an after school tutoring program for kids in JPS. I was serving as a coordinator and she had come as a community member and JPS parent to support the work that Red Door was doing within the community. From the moment we met, I was blown away by her heart to empower others to be their best selves. This theme is at the heart of anything she does, whether it is helping kids navigate what books they need to get and how to do online schooling in the middle of a pandemic, mentoring young teens, or promoting a love for reading. I could go on and on with her list of accomplishments and why you should know her if you don’t, but I’ll let the podcast speak for itself. I always come away from my time with Tonja inspired and challenged. I hope you too are able to come away with some strong nuggets of wisdom.  

During our conversation we discussed: 

  • The wonder of teaching middle school  (2:00) 
  • Guidance for middle school students vs. telling them what to do (3:00-4:00)
  • Expectations vs. rules (4:00-5:00)
  • Mentoring and tutoring in the middle of a pandemic, using the platforms that students already used to connect with them , and the power of meeting students where they are (6:20-11:00)
  • Using Tik Tok as a means to get students to analyze music, apply critical thinking, and engage in textual analysis  (11:00-13:15)
  • How Tonja came to do working in community, where passion met vocation (14:00-16:25)
  • The importance of having something outside of you to inform your work (17:00-17:30)
  • What do you wish educators knew? (17:45-20:)
  • What advice would you give teachers coming back into the classroom this year?(21:00-21:25)
  • Grace (21:25-22:40)
  • The importance of community engagement  (23:00- 25:50)
  • Instances that have stuck with Tonja (28:20-30:08)
  •  Was there an interaction that was a pivot moment that moved you to turn outward vs inward? (31:30-32:47)
  • Avoiding the scenario of “when helping hurts” and cultivating mental health (33:05-38:08)
  • Living what you preach and teach; fostering the skill of reflection. (38:08-44:10)
  • Socio-emotional-learning and the loss during a pandemic — getting to know the students and where they are at now (46:15-50:00)
  • Fostering community within a classroom and knowing who is in the room  (50:01- 52:05)
  • What book should every educator read? (52:20-53:25)
  • Don’t let your experience frame how you help them navigate theirs (53:45) 
  • Organizations to connect your students with (54:50-56:25)

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