Mary-Jo Hill

10 Nov 2020
Coaching and mentoring are terms that are still misunderstood and often interchanged in school environments.

Coaching, instructional coaching, mentoring, counselling. How do they interplay?

Coaching vs. Mentoring

Coaching and mentoring are terms that are still often misunderstood and often interchanged in school environments. But, indeed, what is the difference between them? There are many differences between the two process, the main one being the focus of each technique. While mentoring is “development driven” rooted in the future, coaching is rooted in the present and “is more performance-driven” (Kent State University, 2017). In the similarities, both are a trickier and more conscious meta-cognitive process than a cosy conversation, which is a common assumption about these practices.


In education, for example, coaching generally follows the ‘Instructional Coaching’ model. This specific style of coaching has been proving to be more appropriate and effective in achieving clear results with school staff. To Knight* (2019, p. 7) “Instructional coaches (a) partner with teachers to (b) analyze current reality, (c) set goals, (d) identify and explain teaching strategies to hit the goals, and (e) provide support until the goals are met”. Knight goes on, stating that coaching “in action it is an individualized process, uniquely co-constructed by each coach and teacher” (2019, p. 7).

Knight (2019) also highlights the fundamental importance of a partnership between coach/coachee to effective professional development, a characteristic that resonates, for instance, with the mentoring practice.


Like coaching, mentoring is also a victim of a variety of misconceptions. To Cullingford** (2016) “mentoring has become such a global phenomenon in a number of social spheres that it needs a careful scrutiny”. Merriam (1983, cited in Gosh, 2013, p. 145) when reviewing the conceptualizations of mentoring concluded that “the phenomenon of mentoring represented different things to different fields”. Her research reveals that “while the developmental psychologists saw mentoring to be an intense emotional relationship contributing to adult development in all aspects of life, the business world primarily focused on how the mentor can guide the protégé’s career, and the world of academia viewed the mentor’s role to be similar to that of a teacher” (Gosh, 2013, p. 145).

Such an open definition and the different approaches the practice seems to have in different fields makes mentoring a very particular type of practice (Gosh, 2013).

The importance of clarity

There are many differences between coaching and mentoring. It is really important and useful to be clear about the distinctions and to acknowledge their particular strengths and place within a wider Continued Professional Development programme. Coaching and Mentoring are different practices, with different goals, and that does not exclude the other. However, the common interchange of the practices creates confusion, which ends up hurting both techniques.

Zoom Session

On November 12, I will hold a Zoom Session introducing Coaching in Education in which I will talk about his topic and some others. We still have places, register here.


*Knight, J. Instructional Coaching for Implementing Visible Learning: A Model for Translating Research into Practice. Educ. Sci. 20199, 101.

**Cullingford, C. (2016). Mentoring in Education: An International Perspective (2nd ed.). Oxon: Routledge.

***Ghosh, R. (2013). Mentors Providing Challenge and Support: Integrating Concepts From Teacher Mentoring in Education and Organizational Mentoring in Business. Human Resource Development Review12(2), 144–176.