The terms ‘mentoring’ and ‘coaching’ are often used as if they are interchangeable but they are very different. Both are important if we genuinely believe that teachers are our greatest assets; they provide ways of investing in the well-being and growth of staff.
Mentoring occurs when someone more experienced gives someone the right steer or when there is an aspect of work about which someone else has more expert knowledge or skill which could benefit others. One person shares knowledge, skills and experience to foster the personal and professional growth of someone else. The power of mentoring is that it creates a real opportunity for collaboration, goal achievement and problem-solving. Having advice and guidance from more experienced staff is helpful. This could be useful in several instances such as when:
- NQTS are at the start of their careers
- new Curriculum or Achievement leaders are partnered with more experienced members of staff
- teachers are struggling with a specific issue and may be mentored by a teacher who is more experienced in a named approach or topic.
As Crosby comments:
‘Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.’
Coaching is a sharing of ideas and experiences between equals in an attempt to work things out for oneself. Coaching is the development of a person’s skills and knowledge so that their job performance and enjoyment of their role improves. It involves a sharing partnership in which both parties support each other. Both participants are equal and learn through discussion. The coach does not need to be an expert in the subject under discussion but does need to have a sense of what coaching demands. A good coach develops qualities which can help someone else to face and to change situations which are not working. For this reason a good coach is optimistic and non-judgemental. The use of the word ‘problem’ is in itself problematic, suggesting that people who are coached are those with difficulties. This is the wrong approach to coaching as it is more like Joni Mitchell’s assertion that:
‘It seems we all live so close to that line
and so far from satisfaction.’
McNiff puts this into context when she speaks of professionals as ‘living contradictions’. We know the ideals of our jobs but sometimes we just need to step back and ask ourselves how closely are we living to those ideals and what steps can we put in place to make ourselves even more effective. In such circumstances a coach can be a sounding board, a critical friend and supporter. At different stages of our careers we need different types of support.