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Coaching Vs Mentoring - what's the difference?

Coaching is a buzzword that has been used in business leadership for many years but has taken some time to become part of education culture for many schools and teachers. Most teachers will have been ‘mentored’ at some point in their career and recognise how it has supported them in their teaching practice, but very few will have been ‘coached’.  So what is the difference between mentoring and coaching?    

 Mentoring is long term relationship between a more experienced mentor and a less experience mentee with advice and knowledge being passed on.  It is a structured way for schools to support teachers through significant career transitions, ensuring that teachers are fulfilling standards.  It also offers a good indication of when mentees are capable to ‘fly solo’ or take on more responsibilities.   

Coaching on the other hand is the opposite of mentoring.  The coach will not offer answers to problems or lead discussions.  Instead, by using open-ended questions, they will guide teachers to reflect on their own practice, help them to identify problems, create their own solutions and encourage them to accept responsibility for their own professional development and teaching practice.

So an example scenario could be:

You are have taken part in a lesson observation for an NQT.  The NQT thinks that the lesson went really well, however you have some concerns about student engagement.  How do you approach this?

An example of mentoring conversation style could be like this:

“I am observed your teaching today and although there were some really positive elements, I think that we need to look at specific areas of your teaching particularly student engagement.   I will email later this week to go through the action points and give you some ideas of how you can improve this.”

An example of a coaching conversation style would be more like this:

“How did you feel it went today?   How do you feel the students engaged in the lesson?  Can you give me some examples of good engagement?  How do you think they could have engaged more? What do you think are the next steps to improve this aspect of your teaching?  When would you like meet next?”  

I know this is a rather basic example, but can you see the difference?   The coaching conversation made the NQT reflect much more on their practice and pushed them towards thinking about how they could improve for themselves. 

Coaching not only has a powerful impact in the classroom but it can really impact on whole school improvement such as: 

  1. Coaching fosters a team spirit – Coaching is non-hierarchical and non-judgemental.  It is also grounded in the belief that everyone can improve and get better and encourages future leaders.
  2. Coaching develops a ‘Growth Mindset’ –staff feel more confident about solving their own issues and feel less overwhelmed by workload.
  3. Coaching grows self-esteem, develops pedagogy and encourages innovation – Supporting teachers with developing their own practice leads to innovation and the development of new and exciting teaching strategies. 
  4. Coaching provides a personalised CPD that is sustained – The ‘one size fits all’ approach to CPD i.e. all sitting in a hall listening to the same message, is not necessarily an effective use of time.  Coaching allows teachers to focus on what they want to improve. 
  5. Coaching gets tangible results teachers will have a committed to a plan of action and know that they will be questioned about ‘how it has been going’ when they next meet up with their coach.

Try some coaching questions yourself and see how this can change the dynamics and results that you have when you’re talking to your colleague and your students!

Chris Giles – Coaching Lead – South Bromsgrove High

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Tagged Coaching