By Ellen Eisenberg

By Ellen Eisenberg, Executive Director of The Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC)

Monday, January 4, 2016


Happy New Year! In this time of renewed reflection and conviction, I’ve been thinking about the differences between coaching and mentoring and have come to the conclusion that while similar, there are definite differences. The differences are not so much in the qualities and attributes of the people but rather in the actual roles, responsibilities, and requirements.

A coach’s role is to help teachers implement effective instructional practices in non-evaluative ways. They help teachers identify their strengths and together, strategize ways to bolster practice. They help teachers recognize their voices and take ownership of their learning. They must coach on any given topic, not just in the coach’s area of expertise. They work directly with teachers at the level that makes a difference… the classroom. Sometimes, they are mistakenly identified as “fixers” even though they are not in the medical field! Many administrators think that coaches are the silver bullet addressing all the issues that plague our educational system. Boy, if that were true, we could bottle it and sell it! Some even think that because teachers went to college they don’t need coaches. What an ill-informed opinion!

In our instructional coaching world, mentors help coaches develop the skills necessary to support teachers in a collaborative and non-supervisory way. Mentors must be analytical and strategic in helping the coach. They need to help the coach understand adult learning and why not all teachers teach in the same way. They support the “overall” being of an individual and need to think about the coach’s learning style and how the coach can help the teachers. All of this is “from a distance” because the mentor is not on staff or “elbow partners” with the coach.

For us, a mentor is the coach’s coach, one who supports the coach’s learning and by extension, the teachers’ learning as well. They both work to ensure that effective instructional practices are implemented every day in every class; their roles are interconnected and provide an integrated approach to school wide improvement by working with the individuals and not just programs (although understanding programs and initiatives are part of coaching and mentoring). It is a multi-tiered approach with each “participant” component, i.e., students, teachers, coaches, administrators, and mentors, providing support and apprenticeship with the shared vision of building teacher capacity, increasing student engagement, and improving student outcomes.

In your experience, how are coaches and mentors similar? What are the differences in their roles and responsibilities?

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