Mary-Jo Hill

13 Jan 2021
Leading the VNET NQT community this year, as an online experience has been a real challenge. Welcoming news is the Early Career Framework and here I am pleased to introduce Dr Jonathan Doherty, lecturer in teacher education at Leeds Trinity University, whose guest blog is a welcome one.

Guest blog by Dr Jonathan Doherty

Education has changed dramatically because of COVID-19. There are calls to envisage a new education landscape; to embrace new challenges and seek out new opportunities.  In the pandemic and thereafter, schools will need help to re-align themselves, the curriculum and support their staff. Dylan Wiliam said, “every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.” Coaching and mentoring are vital ingredients here. These approaches to teacher development can support the profession to build capacity through critical self-reflection, increasing self-efficacy and a sense of agency.  

The situation is especially challenging for newly qualified teachers. The Early Career Framework (DfE, 2019), identifies core knowledge and skills early career teachers need to acquire at the start of their career journeys in teaching. It promises a new entitlement for 2 years of professional development to develop their practice and working habits in the classroom. Every NQT is to have a mentor to support their development who will be an experienced classroom teacher, skilled and able to support these teachers’ learning and development.

The importance of coaching and mentoring to NQTs

For many entering the profession, there will be anxieties around professional knowledge and their capabilities. Many NQTs and those still in training must be experiencing lapses in confidence and have what Blanchard and Diaz-Ortiz (2018) point out as high learning needs. To meet these needs will require skilled and often specific coaching and mentoring approaches. Focussed observations, constructive diagnostic feedback and the setting of appropriate individual development targets will be essential mentoring support to develop subject-specific and pedagogical skills. This will require a personalised approach that builds from each individual’s starting point.  It will need to include signposting to current research for these new teachers to become more reflective and more critical.  Coaching through the establishment of trust will be critical to build new teachers’ resilience and build confidence. Coaching questions that lead to deeper personal reflection guide these emergent teachers to own their issues and resolve them.

Both approaches are needed to optimize support for new teachers. What are the common factors in coaching and mentoring approaches and the differences? Too often the terms ‘coaching’ and ‘mentoring’ are used interchangeably in schools. Clearly the two overlap. They are both a two-way process to resolve problems that require a skilled other (i.e. the coach or mentor) to support to a solution that the individual would not be able to alone or unsupported. Earlier work by Zeus and colleagues (2007) highlighted the similarities in the two approaches. They see both roles:

  • requiring well-developed interpersonal skills
  • requiring the ability to generate trust, support commitment, and generate new actions through listening and speaking skills
  • aiming for the individual to improve his or her performance and be more productive
  • encouraging the individual to stretch, but can provide support if the person falters or gets out of his or her depth
  • providing support without removing responsibility
  • focusing on learning and development to enhance skills and competencies
  • stimulating personal growth to develop expertise

Essential attributes for both coaching and mentoring I’m sure you would agree. But there are essential differences. These were captured by the Brefi Group and are presented in the table below.

Mentoring is…………..Coaching is………….
An on-going relationship usually over a long period of timeA relationship with a set duration
More informal and can take place as and when the mentee seeks advice, guidance or supportStructured in nature and meetings
More long term and takes a broader view of the personShort term (sometimes time-bounded) and focused on one or more specific development issue(s)
Provided by a person usually more experienced and qualified than the ‘mentee’. Is often a senior person in the organisation (school) who can pass on their knowledge and experienceGenerally does not require the coach to have direct experience of the other’s job or role, unless the coaching is specific and skills-focused
(Adapted from Brefi Group, 2017)

How does coaching fits the wider picture?

Coaching as a tool for improvement is always a very structured conversation. It has a clear purpose and an end goal. It helps a coachee (in this case the NQT) know where exactly they are and where they need to be.  This might be to do with behaviour management in a class, raising attainment, developing leadership skills or reducing their stress. It facilitates the taking of effective action by the coachee. Van Nieuwerburgh (2017) concluded that coaching is a managed conversation that takes place between two people. It aims to support a sustainable change to behaviours or ways of thinking and focuses on learning and development. What it doesn’t do is to give answers. Good coaching doesn’t give out advice. It asks great questions!

Understanding the fundamental distinction between coaching and mentoring is important. Knowing that both have different goals and knowing when to use either approach is vital, since a blurring of the two can only serve to confuse. Both are part of essential professional development for our NQTS in and coming out of the pandemic and helping them thrive in teaching.

References

Blanchard, K. & Diaz-Ortiz, C. (2018). One minute mentoring: How to find and work with a mentor – and why you’ll benefit from being one. UK: Harper Thorsons

Brefi Group (n.d.) ‘Coaching and mentoring – the difference’ [Online]. Available at http://www.brefigroup.co.uk/coaching/coaching_and_mentoring.html {Accessed 15th December, 2020}

Department for Education (2019). Early careers framework. London. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/early-career-framework {Accessed 12th December, 2020}

van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2017) An Introduction to Coaching Skills: A Practical Guide, (2nd ed), London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Dr Jonathan Doherty is a writer, lecturer in teacher education and a coach.