Coaching and Mentoring: A Double Helix Approach


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Author: Judith Hunt

Coaching and mentoring share a central purpose of human development (Cox, Bachkirova & Clutterbuck, 2014) and can be powerful in developing leadership capacity within teachers. In the current economic climate of education, expensive training courses are no longer a realistic option (Parsloe & Leadham, 2009), for many schools and establishments are turning to internal coaching and mentoring programmes to develop their staff. There is confusion surrounding the difference between coaching and mentoring yet both are equally useful processes (Atkinson, Lord & Mitchell, 2008); I would argue that there is no need to choose between the two, it is possible to combine them for maximum impact. In response to this I developed a double helix model that allows leaders at any level, acting as a coach-mentor, to personalise the approach they take with individual colleagues depending on the identified need. 

The double helix model proposes that coaching and mentoring are intertwined and interconnected approaches to teacher development. The key to maximising impact, I believe, is to skilfully manoeuvre through the different stages on the most appropriate strand. Mentoring has long been associated with education; for example, PGCE students and NQTs often have mentors (Wright, 2018). Coaching is a newer concept but is growing (Law, 2013); it focuses on creating conditions in which people can flourish (Whitmore, 2010).  Many authors see mentoring as an exchange between a more experienced person and a less experienced person (Law, 2013; Garvey, 2011) whereas coaching is seen as learner driven improvement supported by a coach (Megginson & Clutterbuck, 2005). Furthermore, there are other authors that discuss the two as overlapping processes (CUREE, 2005; Garvey, Stokes & Megginson, 2018).

The double helix model suggests that coaching and mentoring are parallel approaches featuring points of overlap and as well as points of distinct separation. When combined, the helix creates a person-centred process focussing on maximising the individual’s potential by taking the best route. To maximise impact on teacher development may require movement from coaching to mentoring and vice versa; the structure of a helix allows this movement to occur organically. Both processes share a common focus which is that of wanting to facilitate development in the most pragmatic way (Garvey, 2011); the double helix allows this to happen.  The challenge for the leader is to identify which style of intervention is required at which point and to be able to navigate between the two approaches.

Coaching and mentoring can be useful for teachers at any career stage regardless of whether they are a new teacher or an experienced leader (Weston & Clay, 2018; Crawford, 2014). There are numerous models that can be used for coaching and mentoring sessions such as GROW and REGROW (Grant, 2011) or the cyclical mentoring model (Brockbank & McGill, 2006). If we see coaching and mentoring as a helix, the chosen model does not dictate the process; the needs of the individual are the driving force and it is the leader, in conjunction with the coachee-mentee, who should identify the developmental needs. Models should serve as a guide but not a prescription; deviation may be needed to achieve the best outcome for the teacher. All approaches to coaching and mentoring should be based on evidence and coach-mentor expertise (Grant, 2016). All decisions should be based on what the leader believes is the most appropriate route for the coachee-mentee; any deviation from a model should be based on this premise.

I believe that using the double helix as a guide provides leaders with an ethical approach to coaching and mentoring within their organisation. It focuses the development firmly on the individual and their needs rather than the needs of the establishment. It does individualise professional development which potentially raises issues in terms of time and budget but it embodies the developmental purpose of coaching and mentoring. When leaders prioritise ensuring maximum student progress and meeting the needs of the School Development Plan, the easy approach would be to use their coaches to develop their teachers solely to meet the needs of the school. Such a tactic would meet the needs of the organisation but not necessarily the needs of the individual. This approach could be seen as unethical and incongruent with the spirit of person-centred development embodied in coaching and mentoring (Passmore & Mortimer, 2011). Furthermore, it could place the coach-mentor in a conflict between the organisation and the teacher (Garvey, Stokes & Megginson, 2018). The double helix steers the process between coaching and mentoring thus maximising the impact and ergo teacher development. Hopefully the needs of all parties are met this way.

A school leader has to create a culture where coaching-mentoring occurs and where the feedback that is given drives improvement forward (Drago-Severson & Blum-DeStefano, 2016). This is what will ultimately develop teachers, improve schools and have most impact on learner outcomes. The double helix model allows improvement to happen in the way that best fits the needs of the teacher; they are central to the development process.

Judith Hunt a Faculty Leader for Languages in an 11-18 school in Worcestershire. She is also completing her Master's in Educational Leadership at the University of Gloucestershire.


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