A solid case full of jargon

13th May 2011 at 01:00

Mentoring and Coaching in Schools

By Suzanne Burley and Cathy Pomphrey


3 out of 5

Practising teachers wanting to extract the juicy bits from this book will first have to negotiate an introduction in which working with colleagues is called "collaborative practitioner inquiry" and banalities are held up as profundities: "The fact that teachers collaborate will do nothing to improve a school. The pertinent question is not `Are they collaborating?' but rather `What are they collaborating about?' (Dufour et al 2006)."

If I am critical of the overly academic sections at the start, it is for various reasons. First, academic jargon is off-putting to anybody but academics, often obscures more than it enlightens and masks emptiness of content. It creates a barrier to senior managers and classroom teachers who are interested in the practical application of, in this case, mentoring and coaching. But third, and most importantly, it discourages tired people at the end of difficult days from engaging with texts that might improve their professional lives and the teaching and learning in which they are engaged.

If the authors believe that mentoring and coaching "has the potential for dynamic, wide-scale transformation of professional practice throughout the teaching profession", those beliefs need to be packaged more accessibly. How much can anyone take of sentences like this: "Hulme and Cracknell (2010) use `third space' and `hybridity' theories in order to conceptualise a space for the exploration of `professional cultural exchange and the development of trans-professional knowledge'"?

The core of what the authors have to say is important and, in the latter stages of the book, very accessible - if readers get that far. In an increasingly stressful profession, teachers have to find ways of supporting each other and senior managers have to find ways of supporting staff, whether personally andor via institutional change.

The old in-service models - go on a short course, enjoy it, return to school and forget it - have proved limited. Mentoring and coaching, with their close professional bonding and sustained communication, appear more lasting. The examples given here range from two teachers working together to set up an after-school Latin course to a department head with trainee teachers to a head being asked to take responsibility for another school as well as her own. They differ widely but what they have in common is their participants' confidence that the changes made were lasting.

It is refreshing to find the authors drawing on experiences beyond education. One case study is based in Kafkaesque manner on "the organisation", a second on an adult training firm and a third connected to the NHS. The conclusion drawn from these studies is that the range of skills needed for successful mentoring is part and parcel of most good teachers' daily repertoire: an ability to remain impartial and non- judgmental, emotional intelligence, critical reflection, self-directed learning and high-level listening skills.

If these are skills teachers use in their day-to-day management of students, you would think they could be harnessed for professional and institutional development. By the end, the authors have made a solid case for the transformational possibilities of coaching and mentoring for both teachers and schools.

About the authors

Suzanne Burley is academic leader for teacher education and professional learning at London Metropolitan University. Cathy Pomphrey was academic leader for initial teacher education at London Metropolitan University and now works as an education consultant.

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