Coaching and Mentoring

Some footnotes and afterthoughts…

These notes complement my blog, Entitlement to Coaching:

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I’m going to self-indulgently quote from one of my own books, Leadership for Learning.  There’s a chapter in that book about the role of coaching and mentoring in education.

I start the chapter by distinguishing between coaches and mentors:

The words ‘coaching’ and ‘mentoring’ are often used interchangeably. Without doubt they are both valuable processes and are related. For example, it is not uncommon for the same individuals in schools and colleges to carry out or participate in both processes. But there are important differences.

The CUREE framework, for example, distinguishes between three related processes as follows:

  1. Mentoring is a structured, sustained process for supporting professional learners through significant career transitions.
  2. Specialist coaching is a structured, sustained process for enabling the development of a specific aspect of a professional learner’s practice.
  3. Collaborative (Co-) coaching is a structured, sustained process between two or more professional learners to enable them to embed new knowledge and skills from specialist sources in day-to-day practice.

The CfBT also provide this useful comparison:

Coaching:

  • Coaching is usually focused professional dialogue designed to aid the coachee in developing specific skills to enhance their teaching repertoire
  • For teachers it often supports experimentation with new classroom strategies
  • Coaches are not normally in positions of line management in relation to their coachee
  • Coaching for enhancing teaching and learning is not normally explicitly linked to a career transition
  • The focus of the coaching is usually selected by the coachee and the process provides opportunities for reflection and problem solving for both coach and coachee

Mentoring:

  • Mentoring usually takes place at significant career events, such as to support induction or taking on new professional roles
  • It has an element of ‘gatekeeping’ and the mentor is almost always someone more senior in the organisation
  • There is often an organisational motive for the process; for example succession planning
  • In some cases there is a requirement that the mentor provides documentary evidence of the mentoring process and its outcomes; for example demonstrating that the participant in mentoring has met certain competences

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Here’s what I say about the purpose of coaching:

The purpose of coaching is to bring out the best in people by helping them to unlock their potential. Coaching is about teasing out answers from the person being coached through questioning and through challenging their perceptions and understanding. Coaching is about getting the person being coached (the coachee) to explore a situation they’ve recently experienced (or a situation they are about to experience) from a range of different angles and perspectives so that they might learn from those experiences and so that they might find their own solutions. A coach does not need to know more about a situation than the person being coached; indeed, no expert knowledge is needed and the best coaches are often peers.

I go on to list 10 key principles of coaching taken from CUREE’s National Framework for coaching:

    1. A learning conversation: structured professional dialogue, rooted in evidence from the professional learner’s practice, which articulates existing beliefs and practices to enable reflection on them.
    2. Setting challenging and personal goals: identifying goals that build on what learners know and can do already, but could not yet achieve alone, whilst attending to both school and individual priorities.
    3. A thoughtful relationship: developing trust, attending respectfully and with sensitivity to the powerful emotions involved in deep professional learning.
    4. Understanding why different approaches work: developing understanding of the theory that underpins new practice so it can be interpreted and adapted for different contexts.
    5. A learning agreement: establishing confidence about the boundaries of the relationship by agreeing and upholding ground rules that address imbalances in power and accountability.
    6. Acknowledging the benefits to the mentors and coaches: recognising and making use of the professional learning that mentors and coaches gain from the opportunity to mentor or coach.
    7. Combining support from fellow professional learners and specialists: collaborating with colleagues to sustain commitment to learning and relate new approaches to everyday practice; seeking out specialist expertise to extend skills and knowledge and to model good practice.
    8. Experimenting and observing: creating a learning environment that supports risk-taking and innovation and encourages professional learners to seek out direct evidence from practice.
    9. Growing self-direction: an evolving process in which the learner takes increasing responsibility for their professional development as skills, knowledge and self-awareness increase.
    10. Using resources effectively: making and using time and other resources creatively to protect and sustain learning, action and reflection on a day-to-day basis.

And I share five key skills in which coaching is grounded:

    • Establishing rapport and trust
    • Listening for meaning
    • Questioning for understanding
    • Prompting action, reflection and learning
    • Developing confidence and celebrating success

…concluding that:

A coach must: establish high levels of trust; be consistent over time; offer genuine respect; be honest, frank and open; and challenge without threat.

A coach must not: give answers or advice; make judgements; offer counselling; create dependency; impose agendas or initiatives; and confirm long-held prejudice.

I outline the benefits of coaching and mentoring as follows:

The benefits of coaching and mentoring for the individuals being supported are perhaps obvious: they will become more motivated and their confidence will grow; their knowledge and skills will be enhanced and their experience will be enlarged – because they will learn more about themselves and more about their jobs as a result of the process.

But coaching and mentoring also benefit the organisation: staff who are motivated and confident in their work will show greater degrees of loyalty towards their school. This, in turn, will improve levels of recruitment and retention and aid the development of sustainable leadership – in other words, schools can grow their own leaders. But coaching and mentoring can also foster effective and genuine sharing between colleagues, as well as between departments and faculties. Sharing best practice helps to reduce inconsistencies and helps improve performance across the school.

And, finally, I emphasise the need to take coaching and mentoring seriously by investing time and money into them:

Coaching and mentoring will only be effective in these situations if the school invests in them and takes them seriously. Coaching and mentoring need to be a part of a school’s everyday working practices. There need to be appropriate structures and systems in place which encourage coaching and mentoring and which ensure it is a long-term solution. If this is so, coaching and mentoring will reap longer-term benefits.

In practice, this means investing time and money into coaching and mentoring and creating links with other organisations and networks. For example, coaching and mentoring should be linked to performance management. Coaching and mentoring should also be linked to the school improvement plan: developing coaching and mentoring can be an objective in its own right and the act of coaching and mentoring can be listed as a resource to bring about the completion of other objectives in the plan.

Coaching and mentoring should also be a part of the school’s planned programme of CPD, perhaps even a whole-school INSET event because staff may need training before being coached/mentored or indeed before becoming a coach or mentor. This training may be around the notion of ‘contracting’: of agreeing the terms of the coaching/mentoring sessions and agreeing the intended outcomes; or it may be around the skills needed to question and challenge, to persevere and press for firm commitments.

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