Coaching vs. Mentoring as a Teacher

Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

This lesson explores the differences between coaching and mentoring in the classroom. You will see how teachers can both coach and mentor other teachers.

Coaching vs. Mentoring

What pops into your mind when you think of a coach? Is it someone with a clipboard and a whistle yelling from the sidelines? A sports coach is a good example of a coach, but when you're getting coached as a teacher the whistle might not be needed! Now what about a mentor? Do you picture a wise old man? Maybe Yoda? Those images fit a mentor, but in education a more experienced teacher probably fits the bill. Actually, the two roles are very similar, but each takes a different approach to how to provide guidance.

Let's define the terms and see if that clarifies things. To coach is to instruct or train. A mentor is someone who provides counsel or guidance. Do you spot the difference between the terms? Coaching is an active pursuit. A coach provides specific instructions, telling you what you need to do and how to do it. A mentor, on the other hand, is more reactive. A mentor provides you with feedback, answers your questions, and shares their experiences to help guide your decision-making.

So, let's look at some examples of good coaching and mentoring and some techniques you could use.

Coaching as a Teacher

Coaching as a teacher is different than the type of coaching you might think of from sports. Effective coaching is about providing people with the appropriate skills and knowledge for them to function their best.

Let's look at a strategy that many instructional coaches employ. The steps are:

  1. Observe
  2. Reflect
  3. Model
  4. Debrief

The first step in instructional coaching is usually to observe the teacher at work. The coach sits in the back of the classroom and takes note of how the teacher runs a lesson, connects with the students, asks questions, and how the students respond.

After the lesson is over, the instructional coach will sit down with the teacher and share observations. Maybe the coach noticed the lesson was well-prepared and the class was enjoying it, but some students were getting a little distracted. The coach suggests breaking up the lesson with some activities to make it more engaging.

The coach may then provide some good activities to keep the kids interested and run through one or two activities that the teacher could implement. In this way, the coach models the activities for the teacher.

Finally, they debrief the lesson, discussing what the teacher did well, areas for improvement, and specific steps for the teacher to take to make the next lesson better.

This methodology of observation, reflection, modeling, and debriefing is at the core of many instructional coaching strategies. Note that the coach is an active participant in the process. Coaching teachers usually involves being in the classroom with them, helping them to set goals and modify their techniques, and introducing new behaviors.

Mentoring as a Teacher

The mentor-mentee relationship has a different feel to it than the coach-teacher relationship. While the coach is actively trying to impart specific skills or knowledge, the mentor functions as a sounding board, answering questions, offering advice, and providing guidance.

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