Coaching & Leadership Development
March 19, 2018

Why Even the Best Mentor is no Replacement for a Coach

Why Even the Best Mentor is no Replacement for a Coach


When you step into the Head teacher role, it is quite common for you to be offered a Mentor. An individual who has been there before, who can show you the ropes and who will share their wisdom, knowledge and experience with you.


But… a Mentor is different from a Coach.


A lot of people think that they do pretty much the same thing, but actually, a coach takes care of crucial support needs that a mentor simply isn’t trained for. Even the best school leadership mentor can’t replace the support you can get from a coach — and here’s why:


You’re not your role; you’re a person in a role.


Mentoring is fantastic for developing yourself in the context of your role. It’s largely focused on the external things, like developing your skills for operations, navigating your first governor’s meeting, preparing your reports. But it doesn’t focus on the inner growth that’s necessary to really step into your new role and make it your own. At best, it’s a fantastic way to learn strategies and skills.


At worst, you end up with a mentor who’s just there to inform, and not to guide. Mentors have typically been very successful in their own schools — that’s why your governors or others, chose them to be your mentor. But the thing is, the skills, techniques, and leadership style that worked in their school during their Headship may not be suitable for your school, now.


Most mentors simply don’t have the skills to address the doubts and internal turmoil that come up during Headship, even if you are willing to talk to them about what’s going on inside.


Of course, most Heads are not. It’s hard to be truly open with your mentor, since you feel like you’re supposed to be colleagues now, so you don’t want to share how you’re really feeling, especially with someone who may still be accountable to others for your performance. So, you are naturally guarded about how much you share.


This can leave you feeling lonely, and more often than not, you’ll start comparing yourself to the mentor, thinking that they’ve got it all worked out and you’re just fumbling around. And if you buy into that, you’ll be missing a huge opportunity to grow and come into your own as a Head.


A coach, on the other hand, works with the “you” inside the role.


Coaches focus on the internal, on helping you develop into the best version of yourself that you can be, instead of a very good imitation of someone else. While a mentor primarily comes from the stance of “This is what you should do and how you should do it,” a coach works from the inside out, starting with how you want to show up in the role, who you want to be. From there, they guide you through the process of determining how you want to make that happen in a way that’s true to yourself and your values.


What’s more, your coach is always on your side — they have no agenda to advance except yours, which is a rarity in the school system. They are there to support you no matter what’s going on, whether you feel like you can’t do one more day in the role or you’re flying high on a victory.


What’s more, coaching really is effective. That’s why successful business people, athletes, and people in high performance roles around the world all use coaches to develop themselves and grow into their potential.


If you’re still not sure whether or not you need a coach, ask yourself these questions:

— “If my mentor left tomorrow, would I feel completely at sea? Or would I have the inner resources to step up and the confidence to know that I can figure things out for myself if I need to?”

— “How have I grown, both personally and professionally in my role? Do I increasingly feel like I’m becoming a cookie cutter version of someone else, instead of the school leader I want to be?”


If you find that actually, you would be lost, and that you don’t feel like you’re growing as a person (even if you are getting better at the outside aspects of your role), then it’s a good idea to think about getting a coach.


Ultimately, it’s about getting the support you need, inside and out to grow into your potential and make the role your own. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, it’s best to be yourself — everybody else is already taken!


Would you like to work 1:1 with a Coach?


If the answer is “Yes” and you are an NEU member then why not apply for a fully subsidized place on the NEU’s forthcoming coaching programme for Head teachers. The deadline for application is the 27th April. Further details are outlined below.


As part of this programme, NEU Heads will be offered:

– A Half Day Introductory group session: Three course meal, breakfast, lunch and overnight accommodation if required.
– Face to face support: Six, 2-hour coaching sessions across the duration of the school year
– Telephone Support: Three coaching telephone support calls
– A Half Day closing group session: Three course meal, breakfast, lunch and overnight accommodation, if required.


How to Apply


If you want to be supported to:

–  Overcome the isolation of Headship
–  Build your resilience
–  Maintain your passion and commitment for your role

Then saying “Yes” and taking advantage of this amazing opportunity couldn’t be simpler.


All you need to do is fill in the form below answering the Following two Questions (In no more than 750 words)

1.  What are the key challenges that you are currently facing as a Head teacher?

2. What are your hopes for the coaching relationship and what do you see as being potential benefits for yourself and your school?




Alternatively, if you’d like to find out more about the programme, what’s involved and whether it could support you in your role, simply follow the link below…

Learn More

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