Coaching – Mentoring – Supervision
I admit to initially being quite uncomfortable with the idea of coaching. What was wrong with mentoring? I certainly didn’t want to be a counsellor. I am a specialist in my field and I advise others, they listen and we find solutions together. On further exploration however, are they led by what I think should happen rather than independently finding a direction which will work for them in their setting? Was I empowering teaching staff to find their own route to success?
I now recognise the benefits of coaching and realise, particularly in my field, as an advisory specialist that it builds capacity in schools by allowing leaders to create their own strategy in schools. This also recognises the finite time I have with staff so they must have ownership.
But what of a specialist coach? Is it acceptable for example to have someone coaching a Head who had never been a Head? A skilled coach might be preferable to a Head who may impose their own ideas and values which don’t necessarily align. Coaching it seems, is more about drawing out decisions from within rather than giving advice. It doesn’t replace mentoring which draws on the skills and wisdom of an experienced Head.
For me as an advisory specialist in Inclusion and Literacy however, why would coaching help? Because, for the majority of the time, the answer is within the professional. The difference in inclusion and literacy difficulties however is that I also use the advisory part of me to dispel myths, give advice and signpost to evidence. My experience must count for something, of course. Switching between these roles is tricky and fighting the urge to jump in with the answers when it’s not appropriate is a skill in itself. Coaching skills have taught me when to advise and when to ask questions.
And what of supervision? Penny Sturt and Jo Rowe, authors of ‘Using Supervision in Schools’ give a framework for staff dealing with child protection roles such as designated safeguarding leads, supervision is implemented with the intention of ultimately protecting children and guiding staff in an accountable but not judgemental climate to adhere to their professional code of practice.
I was first introduced to supervision when I hot desked with Educational Psychologists (EP) and this practice was embedded with their profession. The EP service also introduced regular supervision sessions for teaching assistants who were ELSAs (Emotional Literacy Support Assistants) in schools.
So how can we separate these three distinct but overlapping roles of mentor, coach and supervision for teachers? Which is the best route? There are opportunities for all three; skilled coaching allows growth in staff and gives them space and time to explore the direction they wish to go down, supporting them to have the confidence to make decisions. Mentoring is an experienced colleague who can give advice and wisdom; they’ve walked in your shoes and their experience will be invaluable to help develop staff developing into a new role. Finally, supervision is a space to provide guidance, support and the opportunity for professional reflection. It is set within a structured and accountable framework ultimately to ensure issues are taken seriously and acted upon such as adhering to the code of ethics within a profession.
I see myself as a specialist coach where I am supporting Inclusion and Literacy to make informed decisions and develop their strategic role within a school. For a new SENCO as an example, the pressure of a multifaceted role can be explored with a specialist coach but their role is also likely to become a coaching role for teachers too. Another article entirely!
As leaders, whatever you choose to offer your staff in way of support and professional development, one of the most important elements is allowing undisturbed time to do it properly. Some staff have told me they take their sessions off site to ensure dedicated and uninterrupted space. It is certainly worth exploring the difference between these approaches and deciding what is most appropriate for your setting and staff. Finally, ensuring it is implemented correctly and valued as a process will make sure is is successful.
Inclusion & Literacy Specialist
Assistive EdTech/Parent Partnership
Co-founder & National Leader @WomenEd