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Is There a Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring?

November 6, 2009

I am often asked about the difference between coaching and mentoring. In education, the primary difference is the client served. Coaching is all about the teacher partners with whom the coach works. On the other hand, mentoring serves several clients: teachers, yes, but also school districts, the curriculum, the profession, and others.

 For instance, mentors in many educational settings have their positions due to an attempt to reduce teacher attrition. In such situations, mentors serve the district and the profession in attempting to prevent teachers from leaving as much as they serve the teachers they work with.

 Or, another example, mentors frequently have a list of tasks to accomplish while working with mentees who are new teachers. These tasks include explaining the district’s evaluation system, reviewing particulars of the curriculum, and instructing newcomers on pedagogical moves. These are valuable tasks, but they are not necessarily the topics on the minds of new teachers at any given moment.

 Unlike mentors, coaches always begin with the teacher, who is their only client. They listen to teachers, help teachers identify high-priority topics, and partner to inquire and problem-solve with teachers. This is not a laissez-faire role; coaching requires strong process skills, especially questioning and planning skills, which move teachers to productively approach challenges and interests and to be thorough in thinking about the information upon which they base their decisions.

 Mentoring appears useful in many situations. However, it is different from coaching.

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