Discover how to overcome the barriers to coaching so you can effectively embed this practice in to your school from coach, Toria Bono.

If you consider your place of work, how embedded is coaching? Is it part of the organisation’s framework? Does everyone receive coaching? Does everyone know how to coach? For quite some time now, it has been asserted that building coaching cultures in school will benefit both staffand students, but my question is: do people really know and understand what a high-quality coaching culture looks like?

Over the course of my career, I have mentored and coached many teachers and, if I am honest, before I undertook my coaching apprenticeship, I wasn’t too sure of the distinction between the two. Bizarrely, I had certificates showing that I had been on ‘coaching training’ but these short one-day courses didn’t even begin to touch the surface of what coaching actually is and how it differs from mentoring.

Mentoring is very much at the heart of teaching. When we train, we are mentored. When we are an Early Careers Teacher (ECT), we are mentored. As new subject leads, we are mentored. In fact, each time we take on a new role, we are mentored. Mentoring comes so naturally to teachers as it is supporting others through sharing our experience. Mentoring and teaching go hand in hand.

Coaching is considered as just as important. However, before my apprenticeship my ‘coaching’ was pretty much just mentoring with a little less advice.

Coaching and mentoring: similarities and differences

Both coaching and mentoring serve a purpose in our schools and, if used effectively, can lead to great changes. If you look up scholarly articles on the similarities and differences between coaching and mentoring, the differences far outweigh the similarities.


  1. Both coaching and mentoring are dialogic tools used to enhance performance.
  2. Both are based on one-to-one relationships.
  3. Both typically involve a series of meetings. Because of these similarities, outwardly they appear the same. This is one of the reasons why the terms are often used interchangeably and sometimes misunderstood.


The differences are subtle in nature, but they mean that a coachee and a mentee have entirely different experiences.

1. Directive nature

Coaching is a non-directive approach based on the premise that the coachee has the answers within them. Mentoring is a directive approach based on the premise that the mentee does not yet have the knowledge/skills/ needs to develop them. Gallwey defines coaching as ‘helping an individual to learn rather than teaching them.’1 Mentoring is more of a learning relationship founded on the sharing of knowledge and experience.

2. Nature of a coach and a mentor

For a mentor to be effective, they need to have knowledge of the mentee’s line of work to effectively share knowledge and skills. Coaches, however, do not need first-hand experience of the coachee’s line of work as they are not sharing their knowledge and skills but eliciting them from their coachee.

3. Nature of dialogue

In mentoring, it is likely that there will be an equal exchange of views in the conversation and at times the mentor will do most of the talking. There will also be more instruction, advice-giving, suggestions and telling. In coaching, the coach’s role is to raise the coachee’s awareness. They do this through listening intently, asking powerful questions, giving feedback and supporting the coachee to reflect. In these conversations, the coachee is the person who speaks predominantly, with the coach only interjecting at appropriate moments, to help the coachee move closer towards their goals.

4. Length of relationships

Mentoring often takes place over a longer period, for example, supporting new teachers and those with developmental needs. Mentors often remain with their mentee for a year or longer, focusing on future progression. Coaching relationships are present focused, so they are shorter term. Within educational contexts, coaching usually finishes once the coachee’s goal is realised.

Creating a coaching culture isn’t always easy. If it was, then every school would have one

What are the barriers?

1. Perception

Historically, coaching was used to support underperforming members of staff and so it is often perceived as a deficit model. Developing a coaching culture, driven by the leadership team, will help to change perceptions and enable all staff to see coaching as a positive development tool rather than an indicator of poor performance. If school leaders talk positively about coaching, it is more likely that staff will view it in the same way. Clarifying what coaching is and creating a common language and approach to it will also help to change any negative perceptions.

2. Budget

Often, mentors are asked to coach but lack sufficient training. However, employing external coaches can be expensive and, given school budgets, this may not be a solution. Having a strategy for the implementation of coaching would overcome these issues. Ensuring that coaches have adequate training to carry out the role effectively would mean that the coaching is of a high standard and would not move into mentoring. Embedding coaching into the School Development Plan and budgeting for it would enable the organisation to build a strong and sustainable coaching culture. My coaching apprenticeship was funded through the Apprenticeship Levy and this is something that all schools can tap into.

3. Time

At an individual level, the greatest barrier from potential coachee’s point of view is time. Every potential coachee that has approached me has worried that they simply haven’t got the time to be coached. Rather than seeing coaching as something that might help them find more time in their week, it has been seen as an added extra thing to try and fit in. Ensuring that potential coacheesunderstand the benefits of coaching will enable them to recognise it as a positive developmental tool.

4. Resistance

There could be complete resistance from the coachee, if, for example, they have been told by their line manager to have coaching. This can create challenges, as coaching works best when the coachee is willing to work with the process. If coaching is positively built into a school’s performance management model, it is less likely that it would be used or seen as a deficit model. If the school has policies detailing what happens when a member of staff has capability issues, then managers would be clear about whether coaching would be appropriate in those circumstances.

Coaching has been used for years in the world of sport, and for good reason: it benefits not only the organisation but also the individual. These shared benefits are undoubtedly the reason why more schools are developing coaching cultures.

Educators’ learning and development underpins school improvement and is a vehicle for raising achievement and attainment. Coaching can enhance this professional development, pushing that vehicle to go even further.


1 Seligman, M. E. P., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: positive  psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 35(3), 293–311.

2 McCallum, F. (2021). Teacher and Staff Wellbeing: Understanding the Experiences of School Staff. In M. L. Kern & M. L. Wehmeyer (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Positive Education (pp. 715–740). Springer International Publishing. 030-64537-3_28

3 Rehal, B., & Nieuwerburgh, C. van. (2022). Understanding the factors that contribute to Educator Flourishing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 12(2).

4 Cann, R. F., Riedel-Prabhakar, R., & Powell, D. (2021). A Model of Positive School Leadership to Improve Teacher Wellbeing. International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology, 6(2), 195–218.

5 Working lives of teachers and leaders – wave 1. (n.d.). GOV.UK. Retrieved April 17, 2023, from

6 Whitney, D., & Cooperrider, D. (2011). Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change.


  • Toria Bono

    Toria Bono is a teacher who has worked in a variety of educational roles over the past 20 years and is a fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching. Toria is also the founder and owner of ‘Tiny Voice Talks’ which includes a podcast, a book and a Twitter space for educators to find their voice and connect with others.
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