Secrets to Successful Coaching and Mentoring Programs

Posted by Bridget Manley on Jul 17, 2018 3:45:00 PM

Do you make one-on-one professional development a priority for educators of all experience levels and abilities?

If you don't, you should. Research shows that coaching and mentoring programs can produce gains in teacher retention, student performance and productivity.

A study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that 92 percent of beginning teachers who were assigned a first-year mentor stayed in the profession. Another study showed that mentoring new teachers could help students gain the equivalent of up to five months of extra learning. Overall, Finally, research shows that people who receive career coaching in addition to training can be up to four times more productive than those who underwent training alone.

Mentoring Infographic BM-1

Coaching and mentoring can make a significant and lasting impact in your ESL school. However, they don't happen naturally. They're distinct forms of professional development that require careful planning, execution and evaluation. If you're interested in learning how succeed at every stage of that journey, keep reading.

Coaching and Mentoring: Similar but Different

Although the terms "coaching" and "mentoring" are often used interchangeably, they refer to different processes. The definition of each tends to vary. However, here are some core distinctions that most scholars and educators agree upon.

Transitions vs Ongoing Development: Mentor relationships are designed to transfer wisdom from an expert to a novice. Teacher mentoring programs are often designed to benefit new teachers by pairing them up with more experienced educators. A mentor program can also be helpful for seasoned teachers who are promoted to leadership roles. In both cases, the protégé looks to the mentor for help transitioning into an unfamiliar position that requires new skills or knowledge.

Coaching, by contrast, is designed to promote continual development throughout a person's career or provide support to under-performing employees. In the former case, the coachee is usually familiar with the role, but they want to sharpen their skills. In the latter case, a supervisor requires the employee to undergo coaching for performance reasons.

Skill-specific vs Holistic: In a coaching relationship, the coachee learns how to better perform a specific aspect of their job, such as public speaking, management or strategic thinking. It's a task-oriented process that focuses on strengthening the skills necessary to better perform the day-to-day responsibilities of a job. For this reason, coaching programs are often relatively short, ending as soon as the coachee or their manager feel they have mastered the target skill.

Mentoring, however, takes a larger view at the protégé's needs. In addition to helping the protégé master the essential skills necessary in the classrooms, a mentor might help them acclimate to the school's culture, discover stress management strategies and develop their professional identity. Because mentoring programs take a holistic approach to personal development, they often last much longer than coaching assignments.

Coaching and mentoring programs differ in important ways, but they also share some fundamental similarities.

  • They're both forms of job embedded professional development, or professional training that seeks to improve teachers' abilities by focusing on their day-to-day instructional decisions.
  • They're both bidirectional relationships. Traditional definitions of mentoring described the process as one-directional, with the mentor acting as the source of expertise and the protégé acting as the learner. However, new research suggests that effective mentoring relationships, like effective coaching relationships, allow the flow of expertise and ideas to go both ways. Effective mentors recognize that they can learn from their mentees as much as the mentees learn from them.
  • Mentoring and coaching programs also relationally based. That is, the quality of the results depends largely on the quality of relationships formed by the student and the teacher. For mentoring or coaching programs to succeed, they must be based on relationships in which trust and honesty thrive. For this reason, it’s a good idea to not use coaching or mentoring as a performance evaluation tool. Protégés should not feel that they are being judged during the process. Mentors do often act as liaisons between new teachers and administrators, but they should never be compelled to divulge details of their conversations with their mentees to a higher authority. This jeopardizes the mutual trust that's essential for a fruitful relationship.

Capable mentors and coaches must exhibit a wide range of competencies. For starters, they must prove that they are high-performing teachers. To that effect, they should a proven track record of producing student gains in a variety of settings. They should also be familiar with a wide range of teaching and learning styles. Effective mentors and coaches are also familiar with adult learning theory and how it applies to new teachers. Finally, they must also exhibit strong interpersonal skills crucial to sustaining a productive mentor-protégé relationship. These skills include:

  • Empathy and non-judgement. Skilled coaches try to remember what it was like to be a new teacher, and they use the lessons they learned early in their career to help their protégés. They accept their protégés for who they are, and they don't judge them for their deficiencies.
  • Adaptability to different personalities: Just as a seasoned teacher adjusts their instructional delivery to a student's individual learning needs, a skilled mentor adapts their method to best fit the protégés needs and personality. An effective mentor adjusts their approach to fit the mentee instead of expecting the mentee to adjust to their methods.
  • Commitment to continual learning: Mentors and coaches don't pretend to know all the answers. Instead, they're honest about what they don't yet know, and they constantly seek out opportunities to learn. In doing so, they model continual self-development, a crucial skill for becoming an expert teacher.
  • Confidence in the protégé's potential: Effective mentors continually express faith in their protégés' ability to overcome obstacles and realize their greatest potential. By showing confidence in their protégés, they help their protégés develop confidence in themselves.

Observation and Conversation: Keys to Successful Coaching and Mentoring

Coaches and mentors rely on two main tools. The first is observation, or watching the teacher in action. A fruitful observation usually includes three steps.

First, the mentor or coach and their pupil conduct pre-observational meeting. Here, they decide what the mentor or coach will observe during the observation. Second, the mentor or coach conducts the observation. Finally, the two parties debrief in a post-observational meeting. Here, the coach or mentor shares their observations and suggests areas for improvement. They also elicit self-reflection by asking probing questions, such as:

  • How do you think this class went?
  • What do you think went well?
  • What would you do better next time?
  • What are you going to do with what you learned today?

It's imperative to review the class while it is still fresh in everyone's memory. For that reason, the post-observational meeting should take place within 36 hours of the observation.

A coach and trainee sitting in front of a pink sunrise.

Mentees and coachees should also observe their trainers' classes. Just as an aspiring basketball player doesn't learn the best layup technique merely by listening to a coach's description of the process, developing teachers can't be expected to apply key skills without seeing them put into practice.

However, conversation still plays a key role in the mentoring and coaching process. Through it, trainers and trainees work through complex problems together. Coaches and mentors don't solve their learners' problems for them. Instead, they use deft questioning techniques to help their learners think through problems and weigh potential solutions. In doing so, they model key skills necessary for ongoing self-improvement, such as critical thinking and self-evaluation.

How can you form a highly productive mentoring or coaching program? The answer lies in mustering support for the program and carefully maintaining it in the long-term.

Laying the Foundation for Your Coaching or Mentoring Program

The good news: Skilled ESL teachers already have a good head start to becoming skilled mentors. That's because researchers have found an uncanny connection between mentoring and language learning.

In both cases, the teacher or mentor must acknowledge the learner's perspective and give them opportunities to recast their understanding based on new knowledge. The characteristics that define effective mentors — such as modeling, demonstrating an appreciation for diversity and promoting learning through questioning — also define effective ESL teachers. Quality mentoring looks a lot like quality ESL instruction.

How can you leverage your teachers' innate skills to create a successful program? It starts with careful planning and shared commitment. Addressing each of the following core areas in the coaching and mentoring process will help you start your program right.

Administrative commitment: You must be an outspoken supporter of your school's program. In addition to attending trainings, you should also ensure that the program gets the resources it needs.

Policies: Your school's policies should reflect teacher development as a top-priority goal. Set aside time in the school schedule to allow for professional development during the school day. This not only allows coaches, mentors and protégés to meet regularly, but it also invites all teachers to become part of a school-wide learning community.

Buy-in: In addition to involving teachers, administrators and licensed staff, you should also consider including board members, parents and even students in your development team. This group also performs an ongoing assessment of the program and makes modifications as necessary.

Program development: After you've assembled stakeholders into your development team, it's time to plan what specific skills or competencies your program should support. Consider the needs of your target learning group. New teachers will need help developing foundational skills like classroom management, lesson planning and assessment. Be sure to also address key skills unique to ESL teachers, including:

  • Using research-proven methods to support vocabulary retention
  • Ability to respect cultural differences and identify the role that culture plays in the ESL classroom
  • Understanding common barriers to second-language learning and best methods for overcoming them
  • Awareness of the role that the first language plays in learning a new language

More experienced teachers who are transitioning into leadership roles, by contrast, will need support in personnel management, business management and analyzing school performance indicators, to name a few.

Implementing, Maintaining and Evaluating Your Program

After you've set the groundwork, it's time to put your program in motion. The process starts with setting criteria for selecting mentors and coaches, then pairing them with the right protégés.

Choosing mentors and coaches

It's a good idea to create an application process for prospective coaches and mentors. Require them to submit recommendations from administrators and teachers to ensure you attract candidates who have a good standing with your school. Also, take a few moments to observe their classes. Do they demonstrate well-developed teaching skills, and are they able to form connections with students from a variety of backgrounds? These are good traits for a mentor to have.

Making the match

Even the best mentors or coaches will struggle to make progress if they're not matched with the right people. First, be sure that potential protégés are willing to accept feedback and correction. You can also match trainers and trainees based on shared characteristics, such as grade level and specialization. Be aware, though, that not every relationship will prove to be a good match, even with careful vetting. If this happens, don't force the two to work together. Instead, create a "no harm, no foul" policy that dissolves the relationship and forms a new match without holding either party responsible.

Providing professional development

Coaching and mentoring teachers are advanced skills that can take months or years to master. Their practitioners need frequent professional development opportunities. These include:

  • Orientation trainings that clearly outline the roles of mentors and coaches.
  • Ongoing training to develop communication, questioning and interpersonal skills.
  • Coaching from expert mentors, which includes observation and feedback

Make sure that you budget for these and other mentor development tools. Without them, your program has little chance of success in the long-term.

Evaluation

No program is complete without a system for evaluating its effectiveness. You can measure this using a couple different metrics. A participant satisfaction survey offers a subjective measure of how well the program is meeting the needs of coaches, mentors and their protégés. A mentor self-assessment allows experienced teachers to assess their own strengths and weaknesses. Tracking student progress over time offers a more data-driven look at how well the program is meeting its intended goals. You can easily gather and analyze this data using Your Agora. Finally, studying teacher performance using clearly defined competencies is a good method, too. Just remember that the purpose is to evaluate the success of the mentor or coaching program itself, not to reward or punish teachers for their performance during the program.

Be sure to review these metrics with your program development team regularly. This helps you identify early warning signs and mount a timely response. Also, consider using a rubric to measure the overall health of your program.

Experienced and skilled educators are some of your greatest resources for retention and training. With proper preparation, collaboration and ongoing maintenance, you can create a coaching or mentoring program that creates happy and fulfilled ESL teachers.


If you're ready to launch a professional development program, or if you want to take your existing program to the next level, check out Your Agora. Its user-friendly design allows you to easily gather and analyze vital data points to track the effectiveness of your mentoring or coaching initiatives. Plus, expert teachers can create, modify and share lesson plans with their protégés for a collaborative learning experience. It's an indispensable tool for teaching English language learners.

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