Written by Henry Sauntson. Edited by Paul Stevens-Fulbrook
Mentoring and Coaching Teachers.
Coaching and mentoring are the same thing right? Wrong.
Mentoring and coaching are have subtle differences. Mentoring refers to someone taking on the guidance of a trainee or new teacher. Whereas Coaching is usually directed towards a specific area of development for a more established teacher.
In a world of remote teaching, distance learning and uncertainty about the educational landscape of the future, there is a huge onus on those with a responsibility for the support and development of others to ensure that they do not fall behind or lose touch with their classroom practice.
The world of teacher education is one rich with ideas, theories and pedagogies.
However, it also has a very real place in the development of teaching standards.
Teacher education, although essential in the Early Career stages – ITT, PGCE and into NQT and RQT – has as valid a place in the development and progression of an experienced teacher as a novice.
What are the key considerations for the development of teachers from a Mentoring or Coaching perspective?
The purpose of this article is to summarise the definitions, look at the roles and intended impact and offer further guidance or suggested exploration.
What is Coaching and Mentoring?
Responsibility: What is the role of the Mentor or Coach and why are they there?
3000 years ago Telemachus had an advisor that Homer referred to as Mentor.
This person’s prime purpose was to offer advice to the younger man; the prefix ‘men’ indicates that there is a connection with the art of thinking – mentors – in whatever guise or shape – support and enable thought.
Thinking facilitates reflection and therefore evaluation, and memory is the “residue of thought” (Willingham 2009); we can we therefore argue that the role of the mentor is to facilitate deeper consideration of one’s own practices and in doing so improve them.
Mentorship in all its forms is as much about effective leadership as it is about effective collaboration for mutual benefits.
Mentoring is the best form of CPD as it allows a professional to reflect on their own practice, articulate their thinking and offer advice, models and guidance to others whilst improving and honing their own craft.
According to Weston & Clay in their excellent ‘Unleashing Great Teaching’, the aim of the mentor is to move the mentee “from being a complete novice to attaining some level of expertise“.
The journey starts with the acknowledgment of the novice status of the preservice or Early Career teacher and the provision of suitable support to enable that person to move to a position of greater expertise.
The Carter Review into ITT providers (2015) stated that mentors need to be “excellent teachers who can both articulate and demonstrate outstanding practice“.
The focus is on exemplifying, supporting and developing great teaching but also in doing so fostering an ethos of collaboration. This starts in preservice but must naturally continue throughout the career, as will be outlined below.
What is the Difference Between Mentoring and Coaching?
Purpose: How does a Coach differ from a Mentor?
Although Mentors and Coaches are supportive roles, they differ in their approach and their methodology; it is important to not confuse the two terms.
Mentors can still use coaching techniques but being a mentor does not automatically mean you are a coach as well; you may follow a slightly different approach.
According to the Centre for Use of Research in Evidence and Education (CUREE), Mentoring is a “structured, sustained process for supporting professional learners through significant career transitions” and consists of offering guidance through periods of induction, progression and challenge.
The role of a mentor is defined as one that brokers access to a range of self-directed learning opportunities and offers feedback and advice.
CUREE go on to state that Mentoring offers “activities which promote and enhance effective transitions between professional roles“.
Coaching is defined as a “structured, sustained process for enabling the development of a specific aspect of a professional learner’s practice“.
Coaches “enable professional learners to take control of their own learning through non-judgemental questioning and support“; the professional learner here is focussing on a specific aspect of their practice as opposed to a phase or transition.
Coaching “involves activities which promote and enhance the development of a specific aspect of teaching and learning or leadership practice”.
“instructional coaching involves a trained expert working – be it an external coach, leader teacher or peer – with teachers individually, to help them learn and adopt new teaching practices, and to provide feedback on performance.
This is done with the intent to both support accurate and continued implementation of new teaching approaches and reduce the sense of isolation teachers can feel when implementing new ideas and practices“.
To return to Weston and Clay, they use the following definitions:
“Coaching is the facilitation of a reflective conversation to stimulate learning and growth’ and Mentoring is ‘expert facilitation of a learning process for novices that includes modelling and exemplification in order to develop expertise“.
What must be understood is that there is both a need and a place for both roles, and they can be undertaken by the same person! – there is not necessarily a need for exclusivity!
It could certainly be argued that, as a good coaching model requires a level of expertise on behalf of the coachee in order to enable effective reflection, the use of coaching too early on in the career of a teacher may perhaps be ineffective or even damaging as they struggle to engage with the process properly or feel overwhelmed and unable to set appropriate and manageable teaching goals.
What Makes a Good Coach or Mentor?
Process: What are the ingredients that make up good coaching or mentoring?
As we can see from the definitions above, there are cross-over aspects but also distinct differences between the Mentor and the Coach.
It is more than feasible for a teacher, particular one in the Early Career Development phase, to have an official Mentor who manages their induction or transition, and a separate Coach who offers more focussed and specific guidance in identified areas of need.
In the Mentor / Mentee relationship there is clear identification of the Mentee as the Novice and the Mentor as the Expert. Novices have limited knowledge on the field of discussion, have less-developed schemata and less experience.
In a Coaching process this relationship is less explicit and often more equitable – the coachee is often beyond Novice phase as they have the ability to sensibly and critically reflect on their own practice, using their increasing experience and what they already know.
Coaching is used across career stages, whereas Mentoring – as cited above – is mainly an official role to manage a transition or support period. Coaching can be used to help improve in specific areas; Mentoring is often more holistic, less diagnostic.
Weston & Clay use the excellent ‘sum’ of coaching.
Coaching = dialogue + reflection + relationship.
It emphasises the need for ‘high quality dialogue’, ‘great questions’ and a ‘level of openness and honesty’.
Jones and Straker tell us that ‘the majority of mentors draw on their teacher knowledge without sufficiently taking into account the specific aspects of adult learners and the generic principles underpinning mentoring’.
By allowing this to perpetuate we are in danger of moving towards the situation that Hobson (2013) refers to as ‘judgementoring’ – essentially where the mentor inadvertently (or deliberately!) passes judgment out-of-place and therefore risks damaging the relationship.
He admits that ‘where appropriately employed, school-based mentoring is a highly effective – perhaps the single most effective – means of supporting the professional learning and development of beginning teachers’.
He is also careful to point out that ‘mentoring does not always bring about […] positive outcomes, and can actually stunt beginner teachers’ professional learning and growth.’
Coaches must remain neutral and open in order to ensure an effective relationship founded on mutual respect; this way the process will flourish.
Mentors may find themselves, especially in the Early Career stages, having to make judgements at key assessment points in order to determine competency and therefore sign-off on ‘passing’ an Induction Year, perhaps.
Again, honesty is essential – there must be no surprises for a trainee as they approach a key point in their professional qualifications.
What are the Responsibilities of Mentoring and Coaching Programmes?
Support: What are the respective responsibilities of teacher education programmes, schools and institutions?
Rightly so, there is a big focus on the use of positive coaching within and across institutions to help support teachers and raise standards of Teaching & Learning in a positive, non-judgmental way.
A lot of the success of Mentoring and Coaching programmes comes with the basics of all high-quality professional development (see my previous post!); expert delivery, support from leadership, planning, monitoring, opportunities for domain-specific practice and iterative input.
The other essential ingredient is that of culture – such a key part of the retention and support of any staff body.
Langdon et al (2019) cite that “professional development for mentors needs to be mandatory” and that “for [..] mentoring to have a positive impact it needs to be premised on all stakeholders in the school community being learners – including leaders. Expectations need to be explicit; aimed at harnessing the capacity of all to participate on a range of formal and informal levels.”
The capacity for this is not often there but schools – and the persons within them responsible for Mentor / Coach selection and training – need to place value on the process in order to foster the correct culture.
In 1992 Fullan had stated that “teacher development and implementation go hand in hand“, so the process must run in calibration and alignment with the training to support it.
Hargreaves (1994); “Teacher collaboration can provide a positive platform for improvement“, and established common goals “strengthen teachers” sense of efficacy’.
Hargreaves goes on; “Culture carries the community’s historically generated and collectively shared solutions” and that “it forms a framework for occupational learning“.
Essentially, if mentoring and coaching programmes want to fully embrace and support what a teacher does and why they do it, they must “therefore also understand the teaching community, the work culture of which that teacher is a part. Cultures of teaching help give meaning, support and identity to teachers and their work“.
Get the culture right in your school and the role of the mentor or coach becomes one of vital importance.
There is always the role of the providers to seek calibration with the next stage of teacher education, ensuring continuity of approach and understanding of methodology from ITT, through NQT, RQT and beyond but the likelihood is that the approach chosen will change from one of Mentoring to Coaching once the Early Career stages are complete.
Mentoring then is more likely to be used when a staff member perhaps identifies their own need for support (if the culture within the school is aligned to such proactive behaviour!) or when an area of practice is identified through monitoring as in need of further – initially informal – support.
If schools want to use coaching effectively as a follow-on from a programme of mentoring in the Early Career phases, then they will need to invest in what the quality of their coaching training, seeking external expertise.
Are There Misconceptions in Coaching and Mentoring?
In the first instance these will lie around the correct definition of the role and then assigning the appropriate responsibilities.
Coaching needs a specific culture in which to appropriately flourish, as cited above; there must be proper investment in it and also dedication to the training of the coaches.
If this is not provided or time not properly given then the integrity of a good coaching approach is undermined.
According to Hobson et al (2009):
“Mentor preparation programmes are extremely variable in nature and quality, often focusing more on administrative aspects of the role than on developing mentors’ ability to support and facilitate mentees’ professional learning; often they are not compulsory, and are poorly attended“…
“the preparation of mentors should be treated as a priority area“.
All too often, this is not the case and it does need to be prioritised and valued by school leaders and the teacher education programmes that call for them.
These programmes have a duty to provide training for those they wish to help ‘assess’ their trainees during their induction periods.
What are the Outcomes of Good Teacher Coaching and Mentoring?
Outcomes: What does a high quality programme of appropriate coaching or mentoring hope to achieve?
Mentoring can have a real impact.
Ingersoll and Strong (2011) show us that coaches and mentors can help enable specific teaching practices and retain teachers in the profession.
The implications are that mentors are primarily used, as cited above, as preparatory support mechanisms to enable progression through key stages of career development, whereas Coaches are used in a more targeted but perhaps informal way.
Teaching is hard and there is a lot to consider, particularly around the developing groundswell of evidence-informed pedagogy.
“Novice teachers face significant challenges early in their teaching and are unlikely to learn the skills necessary to overcome these challenges if their learning is left to chance” (Deans 2016). The Ambition Institute’s Learning Curriculum 2.0 (2019) states – “One important task for teacher educators is helping teachers to understand how students learn and to use this knowledge in their teaching“.
In whatever shape they come the mentor or coach must prepare and support a colleague, whatever the expert / novice balance, in a developing and functional understanding of cognitive science and effective learning strategies in order to maximise their own effectiveness as teachers.
Conclusions on Mentoring and Coaching.
To return to the CUREE document; “Mentoring is useful to a practitioner, at the beginning of her/his career, at times of significant career change or in response to specific, significant challenges“, and Coaching is useful “to a practitioner, at any stage in her/his career, in developing a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of existing and new approaches“.
Whatever choice a school, provider or institution makes it must ensure that it understands the differing aspects of each role and how support is best targeted; do judgments need to be made to pass key thresholds, or does support need to be offered to collaboratively improve practice?
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Andrew J. Hobson Angi Malderez, (2013),”Judgementoring and other threats to realizing the potential of school-based mentoring in teacher education”, International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 2 Iss 2 pp. 89 – 108
CUREE; National Framework for Mentoring and Coaching; accessed at http://www.curee.co.uk/files/publication/1219925968/National-framework-for-mentoring-and-coaching.pdf
Marion Jones & Katherine Straker (2006) What informs mentors’ practice when working with trainees and newly qualified teachers? An investigation into mentors’ professional knowledge base, Journal of Education for Teaching: International research and pedagogy, 32:2, 165-184
Ingersoll, R. M. & Strong, M. (2011). The impact of induction and mentoring for beginning teachers; A critical review of the research. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 201-233.
Deans for Impact (2016). Practice with Purpose: The Emerging Science of Teacher Expertise. Austin, TX: Deans for Impact.
Deans for Impact (2020); Learning by Scientific Design; Austin, TX; Deans for Impact
Expert and Novice Teacher Decision Making Journal of Teacher Education 1991 42: 292 Delores A. Westerman
The Learning Curriculum 2.0; Explaining the science of learning to teachers: A handbook for teacher educators; H. Fletcher-Wood et al; 2019; Ambition Institute
Weston, D., Clay, B.; Unleashing Great Teaching – the secrets to the most effective teacher development; 2018; Routledge; Abingdon