Dr. Rose Blackman-Hegan – Propelo Senior Associate

Rose is a successful school leader and leadership development specialist - as National Head of Programmes with Ambition School Leadership, Rose oversaw the design and delivery of leadership programmes nationwide.

I was recently asked about my mentor in school when I was completing my teacher training. I honestly could not remember if I ever had had one. This may say more about me than anything else but it did make me question, was it so insignificant that I simply had forgotten? More recently, as a senior leader, I certainly do recall inviting teaching colleagues to take on the role of mentors to PGCE students. I am certain they had significantly more impact than mine clearly had on me. I must add this is no reflection on my perceived judgement of the quality of this forgotten colleagues professional performance, more a question of how school based mentoring has changed over time. One change is how mentoring is often used alongside a more recent addition to professional development adopted in schools, namely coaching.

I am a strong advocate for the use of mentoring and coaching in school settings but from experience believe it is necessary to establish a margin of clarity on what is meant by each of these terms. Both involve dialogue and conversation but there is often a lack of understanding in what the activity actually looks like in the day to day operations of a busy school or other educational institution. Experiences can range from a structured, professional learning conversation or practice, to a shoulder to cry on, or even a poorly hidden attempt to manage an individuals perceived inadequacies. A more unified approach across the sector to these two terms and how they are applied in school communities can only lead to a greater confidence in their use. Thus resulting in better conversations from which colleagues are able to flourish and grow and ultimately impact positively on student outcomes.

There are many definitions of coaching and mentoring and often a unhelpful lack of distinction between the two terms. John Whitmore’s definition of coaching is often referenced. He states; “Coaching is unlocking people's potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” (Whitmore, J. 2008). For mentoring, The International Coaching Community defines it as follows; “Mentoring is when a senior colleague, seen as more knowledgeable and worldly wise gives advice and provides a role model” (ICC). The International Coaching Community (ICC) also presents a helpful guide on how coaching and mentoring differs from similar activities such as counselling, therapy, training and teaching. Summarising that both mentoring and coaching are concerned mainly with achievements in the present and the future. Additional descriptions can be found through the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), who in partnership with the International Coach Federation (ICF), have developed ‘The Professional Charter for Coaching and Mentoring’. The Charter has been adopted by a number of leading coaching organisations and establishes strong guidelines for professional and ethical practice by coaches and mentors. However, there is evidence of an ongoing debate and subsequent difficulty in achieving a consensus for definitions between three key international organisations, the EMCC, the ICF, and in addition, the Association for Coaching (Gomm, J. 2017). Gomm sets out that a ‘definition of sorts’ has been achieved and agreed between these three professional bodies describing a professional coach/mentor “as experts in establishing a relationship with people in a series of conversations with the purpose of serving the clients to improve their performance….”

I would suggest it may be more helpful to explore the use of a spectrum of coaching and mentoring rather than become embroiled in lengthy discussions on specifics of each term. At one end of the spectrum is mentoring where more directive language is used and at the other end a less directive approach through coaching (Downey, M. 2014).

Current practitioners are being encouraged to explore what it may mean to apply a spectrum of coaching in practice as outlined at a recent CollectivEd conference, “…. mentoring is a diverse practice, as is coaching and we get ourselves into all sorts of interesting arguments and discussions about what we actually mean when we say coaching. …..We could spend a lot of time unpacking the spectrum but for me it is an important starting point to recognise that a spectrum suggests all sorts of variability, all sorts of connections and relationships, but also an opportunity to be distinguishing and distinct about what we are doing” (Lofthouse, R. 2019).

Once a school has established a approach to coaching and mentoring and have a coherent view of where their activities sit on the spectrum, they are then able to focus on developing the right skill set. Developing teaching skills, techniques and competencies alongside greater resilience and solution focused optimism in our school leaders and classroom practitioners that will ultimately impact positively on pupil learning outcomes.


To find out how we could support you, call 01904 567818 or email hello@propelo.co.uk