Coaching and Mentoring
Approaches to support the Professional Update process
A coaching and/ or mentoring approach has become the cornerstone of a range of approaches to teaching and learning and to the way our education establishments are led and managed. Professional Update talks about Professional Review and Development (PRD) as not just a meeting, but part of a supportive process which places an emphasis on coaching and mentoring support (GTCS 2012).
It is important that those who are required to undertake a line management or reviewer role as part of the Professional Update process have had the opportunity to engage in in depth, substantial high quality professional learning in order to develop their coaching skills.
"Mentoring and coaching skills enable much more effective dialogue and learning to take place within groups of teachers and with stakeholders and partners."
In the specific context of teachers' PRD, it is widely recognised that a coaching/ mentoring approach is best suited to productive PRD meetings between line managers and their staff.
Teaching Scotland's Future endorses the more general applicability of mentoring and coaching.
What do we mean when we speak about coaching and mentoring approaches?
The literature on mentoring and coaching is vast but essentially they share common ground and work along the same continuum of professional support from ‘non-directive’ to more 'directive' approaches.
A non-directive coaching approach works from the basis that the person holding the enquiry, problem, issue.... also holds the answers, whereas mentoring often involves working with a more experienced colleague and gaining from their knowledge and experience.
This continuum can perhaps be exemplified in a school based context through the experiences of a Probationer Teacher in their induction year. At the start of the first term the teacher may need to call upon the mentoring skills of their supporter and the school team, to gain knowledge and provide solutions to different issues as they present themselves. However, later on in the school year the teacher and their supporter would move towards a stronger coaching approach with the supporter helping the teacher to draw upon their growing experience, knowledge, skills and abilities to look for solutions to issues as they present themselves. This would look very similar in most Further Education settings. Hook et al. (2006) put it this way: "mentors know lots of answers, while a coach knows most of the questions".
Coaching and Mentoring Defined
The terms coaching and mentoring describe a continuous two-way process through which the person in the role of coach, or mentor, uses questions, discussion and guided activity to help the person being coached, or mentored, to solve problems, address issues or do tasks to a higher standard than would otherwise be the case. The aim of the process is to improve performance in "getting the job done" and make a direct contribution to the person's learning and development.
Coaching and mentoring are different activities but the key principles are similar. Common elements, in an educational context, include:
- a learning conversation;
- reflection and sharing;
- agreed outcomes;
- focus on learning and teaching;
- mutual benefit;
A mentor should have relevant and similar experience to the person being mentored, can act as a model and may offer advice. A coach need not share the knowledge base of the person being coached and will use questions to challenge thinking and promote reflection.
Core Characteristics of Coaching and Mentoring
There are three core coaching and mentoring characteristics that support our PRD process - Relationship, Being and Doing.
"The results are in the relationships."
Robert Holden, Authentic Success (2011)
Relationship is at the heart of every successful coaching and mentoring conversation. In a relationship where we build trust, we can have open and honest conversations and our contribution is valued. These conversations should be challenging and the supportive nature of the coaching relationship allows for deep reflection and enquiry - encouraging, stretching and pushing others to take responsibility for their development, to set goals, take action and grow. The PRD process has a formal meeting once a year, however, coaching and mentoring is essentially part of the ongoing supportive PRD professional relationship and dialogue a teacher has though out the year.
This calls upon the coach/ mentor to drop their "to do" list and create a "to be" list - to focus on being fully present to support the thinking of their coachee, to be clear about their role in creating a successful, structured dialogue and to bring self-awareness and reflection on their impact of using coaching and mentoring approaches.
According to Authentic Success (2011), coaching and mentoring ultimately has one purpose, which is to help an individual or organisation be more successful, and as part of our Professional Update, it is about enabling us to be more successful in achieving our goals.
A coach or mentor brings accomplished skills (listening, questioning, etc) and tools/ methodology to support the coaching dialogue. "Our quality of listening determines the quality of the conversation we inspire" according to Ben Renshaw, co author of Supercoaching (2005) and coaching calls upon the coach to fully (actively) listen to support the other person's enquiry. A second key skill is questioning, Danah Zohar in "Rewiring the Corporate Brain" talks about the questions we ask in any situation determining the answers we get....and the answers we don't get!
Imagine the following questions as part of the PRD process and the rich conversations that might ensue:
- What changes to your professional thinking and practice have you made over the last year?
- What has contributed to that?
- What impact, if any, has there been on:
- yourself as a learner?
- on your pupils/learners?
- on your wider professional community?
- How do you know?
The tools a coach or mentor can bring to a coaching conversation vary but in essence the coach often follows a framework and brings a clear structure and methodology to the conversation which helps centre on the teacher as learner, helping them to think critically about their own professional learning, development and impact on practice.
Benefits of Coaching/ Mentoring
Hook et al. (2006) describe the benefits for teachers as:
- thinking more clearly about things;
- feeling valued and listened to;
- recognising and appreciating their skills and resources;
- increasing their range of options;
- clarifying how they’d like things to be as they get even better;
- understanding what they need to do to get there;
- becoming more creative and optimistic;
- feeling more positive and confident about change.
If used effectively, there is abundant evidence that coaching and mentoring empowers individuals, builds teams, enhances collegiality and improves morale across the team or establishment. As a result of feeling more in control individuals are more likely to accept responsibility both for their own learning and behaviour and for the aims of the organisation (in this context the school/ education establishment) as a whole.
Climate for Effective Coaching
An absolute prerequisite for effective coaching/mentoring is a climate of trust. Schools/ education establishments where effective coaching/ mentoring takes place tend to be environments where morale is high, management/ staff relationships are good, a climate of openness pervades and people at all levels feel valued.
Sheppard/ Moscow (2007) state that a positive coaching climate requires you (the coach) to:
- believe in the client's potential;
- accept mistakes as long as the client is learning;
- be open to feedback;
- regard this as an opportunity to learn yourself;
- acknowledge the importance of feelings as well as facts in the workplace;
- give support and encouragement.
The foundation for this process is the quality of the relationship between the coach/ mentor and the person being coached. This is why it is not enough for a coach to possess the required skills and techniques. The person being coached needs to know from their behaviour, attitude and consistency that the coach is a person to be trusted.
Coaching/ Mentoring Capacity in Scottish Schools and Education Establishments
As a result of investment in this area, there is now considerable capacity in Scottish schools, Universities and Further Education settings in terms of the numbers of teachers with training in the relevant skills.
Further development of the relevant skills and dispositions would enhance the quality of PRD for all teachers and would support the cultural shift that will encourage and empower teachers to take responsibility for their own professional learning.
Further information on Coaching and Mentoring
Mentoring Matters is an online resource designed to support educators as they self-evaluate the quality of their mentoring practice and reflect on the impact of mentoring on learning and teaching, providing exemplification and access to recent research into the use of mentoring at all stages of a teacher's career research.
There are a number of great resources on our PU employers sharing section on the use of coaching to support PRD.
As part of MyGTCS you have access to a wide range of articles and books which has a very helpful section on Coaching and Mentoring.