Mentors: the “Coach’s Coach”

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While coaches guide and develop their peers in a positive direction for growth and development, we often wonder "who supports the coach with their development?" Today our guest blogger, Ellen Eisenberg, dives deeper into the impact of mentoring for instructional coaches.


Establishing positive relationships is what makes a difference with instructional coaching. Actually, it’s what makes a difference in any relationship or partnership.

In the world of instructional coaching, however, not every partnership is based on a shared vision or shared interests. These relationships are not “matched” or determined with an intentional design. In fact, these relationships occur simply because a coach and the teachers who are coached want (or are told) to work together and to make a positive impact on teaching and learning. And they succeed because coaches are skilled professionals who understand adult learning, build trust, honor their colleagues, and give meaningful feedback to improve practice.

But, what if the coach needs support? In the PA Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC) world, every “constituent” has a support system. Teachers support students, instructional coaches support teachers and administrators, and instructional mentors support coaches.

Instructional mentors are the “coach’s coach.” They are skilled, experienced practitioners who help coaches improve their practice so they can help teachers move their practice forward. They are non-evaluative and approach their role in a collegial, collaborative way, honoring the coach’s skills and enhancing their knowledge base through evidence-based instructional practices that are designed to promote growth. Mentors help coaches identify teachers’ strengths and collectively problem-solve around areas of concern. At the same time, they are helping coaches nourish their own professional growth and sharpen their skills as teacher leaders.

Mentors need to maintain a balance—they provide much-needed support to help coaches help teachers but are not supervisory; they provide guidance and support, not evaluation or documentation for school based administrators. Mentors are highly experienced educators, well-informed about content, pedagogy, professional development, and state standards. They are chosen for their expertise in working collaboratively with others and building trust with colleagues.

How do mentors help to change practice?

We've identified ten practical ways mentors are an integral component of effective instructional coaching. Mentors…

  1. focus on four essential components of instructional coaching: providing one-on-one and small group support to coaches and other school leaders; collecting, analyzing, and applying data; using evidence-based literacy practices across all content areas; and focusing on reflective and non-evaluative reinforcement of practice;
  2. provide one-on-one and “elbow to elbow” support to new and veteran coaches and their administrators;
  3. work with administrators to reinforce the coaching role;
  4. advocate for instructional coaching at the school, district, and statewide levels;
  5. understand schools and how coaching fits into the broader context of schoolwide improvement;
  6. research how teachers and their students learn and help coaches translate that research into practice;
  7. help coaches plan and facilitate small and large group professional learning opportunities for their schools and districts;
  8. model effective practices for coaches to apply in their own practice;
  9. help coaches and other school leaders build trusting and confidential partnerships; and
  10. inspire others to be learning partners, colleagues, teachers, collaborators, and guides to encourage innovation, creativity, and collaboration in a no-risk environment.

Mentors are change agents and the cornerstone of an effective instructional coaching approach. They ensure that ongoing, job-embedded professional development for teachers and other school staff responds to the needs of the practitioners in their schools. They emphasize a non-evaluative process that encourages coaches to try innovative ways to engage teachers in a risk-free environment. They very often provide a perspective that a coach “in the moment” cannot see. As one coach recently said, “Mentors make meaningful connections with coaches, just like teachers must make meaningful connections with their students, helping us see the larger picture of improving student learning.”


About our Guest Blogger

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Ellen Eisenberg is the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC). PIIC, a partnership of the Annenberg Foundation and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, is a statewide resource for developing and supporting consistent, high-quality instructional coaching in Pennsylvania schools.

If you've liked what you read from Ellen, please take a moment to check out PIIC's new book

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