What is a Minecraft Mentor, anyway?

As 2017 pulls on its slippers and prepares to settle itself in for the night and the young upstart that is 2018 starts playing its loud music and spreading its enthusiasm for life all around the place to entice us onwards, I find myself in reflective mood.  It usually happens between Christmas and New Year but has decided to creep up on me and get in early, in the form of Minecraft Mentor applications which are now open for 2018.  This was undoubtedly the year that Minecraft: Education Edition finally emerged as a mainstream classroom learning tool, helped in no small part by 60 Minecraft Mentors drawn from across the globe.  2017 has been my second year as a Mentor and as it draws to a close I find myself questioning what it means to be a “Minecraft Mentor” and why I will be reapplying for 2018.

“Minecraft Mentor”

I start rolling the words around in my head trying to tease out some inspiration from them to add to my application for a third year.  What does being a “Minecraft Mentor” even mean?  Why would anyone want to be one?  What’s the pay like?

I searched for a definition to help me along:

mentor

noun

  1. an experienced and trusted adviser.

“he was her friend and mentor until his death”

synonyms:   adviser, guide, confidant, confidante, counsellor, consultant, therapist

verb

  1. advise or train (someone, especially a younger colleague).

“both trainees were expertly mentored by a site supervisor”

It all sounds a bit too grown up to me.  How on Earth can I be trusted to advise colleagues about deep game based teaching and learning when I’m sitting beside a half-finished Lego Death Star and am waiting for a field of Minecraft wheat to mature so I can turn it into bread in readiness for an epic cave system exploration?  I will turn 40 in 2018 and have been teaching for almost half my life, so why am I so excited about the future of a video game in classrooms?

We need to break this down and think about some core principles.

What is a Minecraft Mentor?

There are currently 60 Minecraft Mentors drawn from all corners of the globe, all areas within education and all levels of experience. So effectively there are 60 different definitions of what a Minecraft Mentor is. Some excel at teaching their students to code The Agent to carry out all manner of tasks. Others create engaging and motivational training experiences that develop the skills of novice and expert Minecraft Educators alike. Some are masters of the inner workings of Minecraft itself while others are masters of wider learning platforms like the Office 365 suite. Then there are the Mentors for whom Minecraft is a new journey of discovery that simply hooked their own (or their students’) imagination and are masters of passion for teaching and learning.

So, if every Mentor is different, what do Mentors do?

Mostly we educate.  We educate our students, our colleagues and each other but we educate at our absolute core.  In our development of our educational offering, we innovate, collaborate, challenge and support each other and the Minecraft in Education community in general.  Every Mentor brings a different set of skills to the group so while one might be working with an educator to develop a resource for their next Maths lesson, another might be connecting with a group of students via Skype to explore cultural differences between the classes.  Things were not always as organized as this.

But I already “mentor” colleagues using Minecraft.  Why do I need a badge to do this?

Before becoming a Mentor, I spent countless hours on Skype with colleagues, helped them develop resources, shared my experiences and trained those new to Minecraft in the classroom.  I wasn’t alone in this, but I felt very much that I was.  I sought out similarly minded colleagues and informally connected with them to share ideas.  We had no organized collaboration space that we could call our own and each had their own personal network of likeminded educators that they connected with to share and support.  Minecraft Mentors now have that organized space to collaborate, share and support each other.  I still do all the things I did prior to becoming a Mentor, but now I have a support network behind me and a guidance system in front of me directing those in need of support in the right direction.  But Mentoring isn’t just about supporting other educators; it’s about shaping the future.

One of the most important and significant things Mentors do is provide feedback to the Microsoft team developing the platform.  And I don’t mean a sub team set up to pay lip service to the group and placate Mentors with a “your feedback is noted and will be passed on to the appropriate team” auto response.  The core team behind Minecraft: Education Edition are fully hands on, open to any and all feedback and actually do whatever Mentors do in person themselves.  Don’t take my word for it on this one; Tweet them a question, share an idea with them or reach out and show them what your students are doing and see the connections for yourself.  And please don’t judge your own Day 1 against someone else’s Day 1000.  A sharing community is stronger than the sum of its parts so if you can offer valuable suggestions for Minecraft in Education, no matter how “outside the box” these may seem, then Minecraft Mentors is the space for you to explore those ideas within a likeminded community that will challenge you, support you and celebrate your innovations in equal parts.

Why re-apply to become a Mentor?

“Minecraft Mentor” is not a “badge for life” position.  Circumstances change, interests shift, and engagement may falter.  Quite rightly, in recognition of this, Minecraft Mentor status is something each individual must apply for each year.  It is an organic community with fluctuations of involvement and engagement throughout the year and is a stronger community for it.  I have my own application to become a 2018 Mentor open as I type this.  As a result, year on year, the wider educational community can be certain that the Mentors they are connecting with are current in their engagement, committed to their involvement in the program and validated by the Microsoft team.  I became a Mentor by invitation in wave 1, was successful in my re-application for 2017 and will be applying to re-join the ranks of Minecraft Mentor for 2018.  But why?

Why apply to become a Minecraft Mentor?

Just as every Mentor brings a different set of skills to the group, every Mentor applies for different reasons.  At this time of year, I get two questions more than any other:

  • “Am I good enough to be a Mentor?”
  • “Do you think I should apply?”

My answer is usually “Yes, but why do you want to be a Mentor?”  The pay is lousy (there is none), the holidays suck (there are none) and we are exposed to the “dad jokes” of Neal Manegold (there are many).

I can’t possibly comment about why you should apply to be a 2018 Minecraft Mentor so I will leave you with my top 5 reasons I will be applying having been part of the community for 2 years.

  1. Answers to Questions – The Mentor community is the most giving and selfless community of educators I have ever been a part of. Whatever the question, someone will have the answer and no matter what the problem you are working through, someone will be close at hand with a different perspective and a fresh idea.
  2. A Listening Ear – The core Minecraft: Education Edition team are actively and openly listening to all feedback and share a genuine passion for the development of Minecraft in Education. My constructive feedback is always listened to and sometimes even makes it into the full version of Minecraft: Education Edition.  I never feel as though I am shouting into the wind.
  3. Critique for Improvement – I have benefited from the collaborative efforts of the community in pushing my ideas to be the best they can be in the classroom. That collaborative approach has pushed and supported each of us to develop our practice in a supportive and collegiate way.
  4. Validation – Achieving the mark of Minecraft Mentor is no easy thing. Wearing the badge and displaying it proudly adds validation and recognition to the work we have done with Minecraft in Education previously and in the future.
  5. Pay It Forward – The path we have trodden towards unlocking game based learning via Minecraft is a path that others could benefit from. Minecraft Mentor gives us a global forum to share our journey and develop the path for those that follow.

For me however, my decision to reapply for Minecraft Mentor is because of my son.  Minecraft unlocked learning for my Autistic son like no other tool, platform or strategy has ever done before or since.  He has friends today that he wouldn’t have without exploring and creating stories in Minecraft.  I have seen the spark of learning ignite many times in many students because it was brought to them in a language they can understand and relate to.  I will continue to tread a path and share the journey of learning through Minecraft in the hope that I can help others unlock the same opportunities in their students.  2018 will be an amazing year and it looks very blocky indeed!

 


Simon Baddeley (@SimBadd64) is an English teacher based in Castleford, England. He is the founder of LearningBlocksEdu.co.uk, a Minecraft: Education Edition Global Mentor, and a Microsoft Innovative Education Expert.