Coaching and Mentoring

During Professional Review and Development (PRD) conversations, effective coaching approaches ensure the reviewee is appropriately supported and challenged.

Reviewers should receive training in coaching approaches to be able to provide appropriate challenge and support.

Reviewees should be familiar with the principles of coaching to understand that they will be challenged and supported through coaching questions to encourage deeper thinking and reflection, to avoid the sense of unease and threat.

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 professional learning.

What do we mean by 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 (coaching) to directive (mentoring).

A diagram showing the link between coaching and mentoring.
Coaching: helping the person find their own solution to problems. Non Directive.
Listening to understand
Asking questions that raise awareness
Giving feedback
Making suggestions
Offering guidance
Giving advice
Mentoring: can, when appropriate, involve offering guidance and giving advice to help solve problems. Directive.

A non-directive coaching approach works from the basis that the person who is seeking help and support also holds the answers. 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. Those colleagues can pass on their knowledge and provide solutions to issues as they present themselves. Later in the school year, the teacher and their supporter would move towards a stronger coaching approach. At this point, the supporter can help 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 education settings.

Coaching and mentoring defined

The terms coaching and mentoring describe a continuous two-way process through which the person in the role of coach/mentor, uses questions, discussion and guided activity to help the person being coached/mentored, to:

  • solve problems;
  • address issues and/or;
  • complete tasks to a higher standard than would otherwise be the case.

The aim is to improve performance 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;
  • support and challenge;   
  • confidentiality.

mentor should:

  • have relevant and similar experience to the person being mentored;
  • be able to act as a model; and
  • be able to offer advice.

coach need not share the knowledge base of the person being coached and will use questions to challenge thinking and promote reflection.

Characteristics of coaching and mentoring

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 an annual 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. 

Coaching as part of Professional Update, it is about enabling us to be more successful in achieving our goals. 

During a PRD conversation, the reviewer, trained in coaching, brings the skills of active listening and questioning to support the coaching conversation. 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 years?
  • What has contributed to that?
  • What impact, if any, has there been on:
    • Yourself as a learner?
    • On your pupils/ colleagues as 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. 

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.

© The General Teaching Council for Scotland - Registered Scottish Charity No. SC006187