Is there a difference between mentoring and coaching?

Dave DarwentThis discussion aims to develop a conversation around the differences and similarities of the mentoring and coaching roles.

In the case study for Workbook 1 of the SHOOC we explore the distinction between mentoring as a structured sustained process for supporting professional learners through career transitions, including entry to the profession; and coaching as a structured sustained process for enabling the development of an aspect of a professional learner’s practice (Lofthouse, Leat, & Towler, 2010). We wanted to pay particular attention to how mentees understand and experience this as a starting point to help us reflect on our mentoring roles. 

Coaching and Mentoring

One significant difference is that a mentor normally encourages their mentee to take risks and be innovative, creative, and consider the widest possible range of options for completing the task or process facing them, whilst a coach usually wishes to ‘train’ their coachee to carry out particular tasks or processes in a specific way which is the accepted ‘correct’ method.

It was interesting to see the responses that colleagues give when we asked them to think about their own experiences as mentors or mentees.  Significantly, several participants commented about how they had quite recently been mentees themselves and now, as mentors, are modelling themselves on either their own mentor or on what they wished their mentor had been. Another very significant recurring comment was about the relationship between mentor and mentee and the need for this to be trusting and non-judgemental. Weare (2004) comments that being judgemental and / or punitive “…does nothing to build up trust that is the bedrock of relationships.” This is something which many mentors and probably coaches too are all too familiar with as they understand that when they give judgemental feedback to mentees / coachees, only too frequently this results in ‘barriers’ developing between them (Hobson & Malderez, 2013).

Some of the participants gave sage advice on this area, such as “don’t rush in with what you perceive is the correct way of doing something” and “Listen without judgement” and a good number of the Top Tips posted to our Padlet included remarks to the effect that Mentoring someone helps the mentor to reflect on their own practice and develop themselves further too.

So, some questions to think about as we move towards the end of week one of the programme:

  • Reflecting on your own experience, are you acting as a mentor or a coach?
  • When you have been a mentee, have you actually been a coachee?
  • How can you foster a reflective attitude in your mentees?
  • and perhaps most importantly, how can you facilitate the building of that ” trust that is the bedrock of relationships”?

Further Reading

Coaching and Mentoring: Approaches to support the Professional Update process (General Teaching Council Scotland) (link)
Aspfors, J., & Fransson, G. (2015). Research on mentor education for mentors of newly qualified teachers: A qualitative meta-synthesis. Teaching and teacher education, 48, 75-86. (download)
Hobson, A. J., & Malderez, A. (2013). Judgementoring and other threats to realizing the potential of school-based mentoring in teacher education. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 2(2), 89-108. (download)
Lofthouse, R., Leat, D., & Towler, C. (2010). Coaching for teaching and learning: A practical guide for schools. United Kingdom: CfBT Education Trust. (link)
Weare, K. (2003). Developing the emotionally literate school. Sage, London (link)

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