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When we talk about self-directed learning, it may sound as though you as the learner are solely responsible for every phase of the learning process. That impression would be incorrect. While people learn best when they have a voice in what they learn and when and how they learn it, no one would learn very well without help from others or advice or other kinds of feedback to guide us along the way.

I’ve had a lot of mentors in my life. Some were professional teachers whose caring interest has enriched my life. Others may not have known that they were my mentors. Each of my brothers (I have three) and sisters (I have five) has taught me more good things than I can count, and as I’ve gone through life, I have followed their good examples, of the younger siblings as well as of the older ones.

One of the great mentors in my life has been my sister Kathleen. She was the oldest and set a rigorous, energetic, and enthusiastic course for us to follow. And each of us followed that path in our own ways. She was an inspiration to us, and she frequently offered us encouragement as we faced trouble or other challenges.

When I first enrolled at the university, I had no idea how to proceed. I didn’t know the first thing about how to make the transition from my good-sized high school to a major university. How do you register? What do you register for? How do you choose a major? What is a bachelors degree? What is a masters degree? What is a doctorate?

I knew so little, and I was very overwhelmed. I’m not sure how people figure all that out without a big sister, but I know some do. Kath did. And she helped me. She not only helped me register, but we took a class together even though she was a senior and I was a freshman. And throughout that year, she offered help and encouragement when I faced especially difficult challenges or problems.

I appreciate her helping me figure out how to register. I appreciate her showing me the way through the tangled complexity of higher education. I appreciate the direction she gave me each time I got lost. But most of all, I value all the time we had to spend together that year as we learned together, sometimes in class and more often out of class.

More than 20 years after she helped me through that first year of college life, my sister Kath passed away from cancer. She was a professional teacher and spent her life helping others learn. If she were still alive, I’m sure she would have a thing of two to add to this Web site. But even though she has passed on, she left a legacy of learning.

Every mentor does.