The big challenge for professional development is whether it results in teachers and others acquiring new skills and changing their practice where it counts – in the classroom. The tremendous groundswell of interest in coaching and mentoring owes much to the view that they are forms of professional learning that do indeed have this direct positive effect in changing practice.
Nevertheless, some notes of caution have been sounded. As interest in coaching and mentoring has increased, the range of activity taking place under these banners has proliferated. Within education and beyond, coaching and mentoring programmes abound, often varying in nature and quality greatly.
This has led to some lack of clarity, consistency and understanding about what is taking place and what we hope to achieve through an often confusing array of approaches. Indeed, this is particularly illustrated in the way coaching and mentoring are frequently lumped together with insufficient attention to their distinctive features. The articles in this KnowledgeBank will help address these issues and do justice to both coaching and mentoring as important forms of continuing professional development.
Philippa Cordingley squares up to the issue of diversity of practice in the quest to produce a national framework for coaching and mentoring. The Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence (CUREE) was commissioned by the DfES to build a mentoring and coaching framework for schools to use in their professional development activities. Philippa describes how she quickly understood that this meant not starting from scratch. In this case a ‘national’ framework would not be the usual single initiative rolled out to all schools but rather would acknowledge the wealth of current practice, engage with it and endeavour to make sense of this variety.
So partnership working was established with key agencies – the DfES, The Training and Development Agency, the National College for School Leadership, the General Teaching Council and the Key Stage 3 and Primary Strategies. Crucially, Cordingley and her colleagues spent a lot of time visiting schools and speaking to CPD coordinators. The aim was to align policy approaches ‘in a way that fitted with the grain of what was happening on the ground’.
Ten basic principles
What emerged was a concise framework of a few pages, firmly rooted in evidence and containing ten basic principles of coaching and mentoring. The Framework also articulates three main groupings of the kind of activity taking place on the ground under ‘mentoring’, ‘specialist coaching’ and ‘co-coaching’.
The article gives helpful examples of activity in a Manchester secondary school and a larger London primary school to illustrate what features of the Framework look like in practice. In the shaping of this Framework we have for the first time a powerful conceptual tool that can help bring clarity to this burgeoning area of professional practice.
Eileen Carnell takes elements of this national conceptual framework and examines implications for the links between coaching, mentoring and learning in depth. Carnell’s starting point is the view that whilst much has been said about the benefits of mentoring and coaching ‘there is surprisingly little on connections with learning.’ She considers various definitions of mentoring and coaching, explores the concepts that underpin them and then teases out the differences and the overlap between the two. In particular, she looks at the Cordingley et al. (2004) construct which maps the interrelationship between coaching, specialist coaching and peer coaching. It is this model that has formed the basis of the National Framework. For Carnell there are some important issues about how clear a view of learning such a framework has, and she argues forcibly that this needs to be made overt if mentoring and coaching are to help bring about new learning in any significant way. We are given three models of learning – the ‘instructional’, ‘constructional’ and ‘co-constructional’. The latter two are seen as focusing on learning rather than teaching and to be more conducive to coaching and mentoring.
Carnell then examines four dimensions to these models: ‘the learner’, ‘the learning’, ‘learning context’ and ‘learning about learning’. Throughout this exploration, Carnell’s persuasive thesis is that the role of the coach or the mentor in the constructional and co-constructional models is to help the person become more effective by making the learning explicit. This is done through a structured learning conversation which is more about facilitating a process rather than the passing on of expertise.
Jeff Jones’ article focuses on how leaders can use coaching to raise the performance of their staff. After considering some definitions of coaching and the benefits, particularly to team performance, he outlines six stages to the coaching cycle. Jones valuably emphasises that coaching does not just entail applying a number of techniques but, crucially, involves disposition, attitudes and behaviours – it is essentially about personal qualities and self-awareness.
The article provides the reader with the kind of characteristics required in becoming an effective coach, ranging from ‘creating a safe context in which to work’ to ‘developing an action plan and following up’. Then he gives a comprehensive guide to different styles of coaching for each stage of the coaching process. A vibrant picture of the effective coach is painted, in which the prominent features are a commitment to build trusting relationships and ‘investing in understanding before being understood.’ This helpful analysis of what it is to be a coach, particularly in a team context, demonstrates how vital a contribution coaching can make to the role of the CPD leader.
Reflection on the personal qualities of the coach, and particularly the emphasis on the partnership between the coach and the person being coached, is taken up Julie McGrane gives an account of her work on teachers’ experience of coaching within two practitioner networks. This was part of the National College for School Leadership’s (NCSL) ‘Coaching Development and Enquiry’ project. Each network had an enquiry question which probed the impact that coaching had on professional learning, drawing on the types of coaching outlined in the National Framework. A specific focus of the initiative was whether coaching could have an impact on schools and teachers working in a context of underperformance and underachievement. Through these accounts we gain a number of insights which includes how a joint focus like improving coaching skills helped to promote a collaborative approach across a number of schools.
Certainly, given the big emphasis on collaboration there would seem to be considerable value in investigating further what coaching can bring to professional development activity taking place within clusters of schools and networked learning communities. Another particularly intriguing learning outcome described in the article was that the benefits to the coach tended to outweigh that of the professional learner. McGrane suggests that this has implications for enabling underachieving teachers to become coaches as a means of improving their performance. In search of the ideal mentor The personal factor is also to the fore in Fiona Rodger’s research into the ideal mentor. Her investigation was shaped by four models arising from observation in schools and discussion with twelve trainee teachers and their mentors. Great demands are now made on trainee teachers during what Rodger calls their ‘emotionally turbulent year’ and she claims that their experience of mentoring has considerable impact for good or ill. The research revealed that the mentor is ‘a multi-faceted, multi-personality role’ requiring a whole gamut of skills ranging from good pedagogic practice to ability to give constructive criticism, and from skill in setting targets to the ability to look beyond the lesson to the person.
Four models of Mentoring
After giving a concise but thorough review of the literature on mentoring, Rodger relates how the research was carried out and what she discovered. She describes four mentoring models, each richly illuminated by quotes from trainee teachers’ mentors. The first three – ‘open and flexible’; ‘closed and inflexible’; and ‘open, flexible and challenging’ – are seen as positive and constructive, whilst the last – ‘closed, inflexible and negative’ – is regarded as a destructive model that no trainee should have to experience.
Clearly, conclusions drawn from such a relatively small-scale research study have to be treated with caution, but some very interesting features emerge. There was a concern about regression that took place in the second school training placement and this appeared to be linked to the combination of mentoring models experienced. If closed and inflexible mentoring experience followed an open and flexible one, then confidence and progress was adversely affected, and the opposite effect took place if this pattern was reversed. Despite the title no one model is found to be ideal and Rodger cautions that ‘”no one size fits all” in the mentoring field.’ The strongest factor was the crucial mentor/mentee relationship. In this, Rodger asserts that ‘personal qualities and acknowledgement that each individual is unique are of paramount importance to trainee teachers and their professional development.’
Barrie Joy considers a comprehensive manual on mentoring containing a mixture of principles and case studies and drawing from both key themes for development. What unites all the contributions to this KnowledgeBank is that despite the plethora of approaches to both coaching and mentoring the importance of personal qualities and the commitment to developing people are prevailing themes. Variety itself is not a bad thing as long as there is clarity about the professional learning to be achieved. The good news is we have a national framework which acknowledges and indeed celebrates the rich diversity of practice but also provides an opportunity to harness the energies of mentoring and coaching to make real and sustained gains in professional learning.
Professor Graham Hanscomb is attached to the Institute of education at UCL and is editor of Professional Development Today at TeachingTimes.