Mentoring, coaching or ‘moaching’?

‘Moaching’ is a form of professional development that involves mentoring and coaching – it is neither one nor the other, but rather a combination of both. It is a term one of my colleagues adopted when she learnt about the ETF’s approach to mentoring and coaching.

At the ETF we are not the first people to coin the term ‘moaching’ and my colleague definitely thinks it will catch on (I am not so sure). However, it does raise a question I am keen to address: what do we really mean by mentoring or coaching, or indeed ‘moaching’?

I have spent the last 15 years working in the field of mentoring/coaching in Further Education and Training, including three years studying a full-time PhD on the subject. In this blog post, I am going to share with you three lessons I have learned about definitions of mentoring and coaching and three recommendations for future practice.

Lesson 1: Definitions vary greatly; one person’s definition of mentoring, can be another person’s definition of coaching

Some people are taught there is one correct definition of mentoring and another correct definition of coaching. Having extensively reviewed international literature on mentoring and coaching, I can state with some confidence that universal definitions of these terms do not exist. [1] In fact, there is so much variation that sometimes one person’s definition of mentoring can be another person’s definition of coaching and vice versa. Within a particular setting, it is possible for individuals to share a common understanding, but it is important to be aware that meaning is context-specific, and as such, definitions of mentoring and coaching change from place-to-place.

Recommendation: Recognise that while you may hold strong beliefs about what constitutes mentoring or coaching, these may not be shared by your colleagues. It is not that one person is correct, and the other is mistaken; there are just many different interpretations in existence.

Lesson 2: In reality there are blurred lines between mentoring and coaching; mentors often draw on coaching techniques and coaches often draw on mentoring techniques

Even if we accept that in some settings some techniques may be more associated with mentoring and others with coaching, in reality, the practices are blurred. I have observed many mentoring and coaching conversations taking place. It is usually not possible to classify them as being entirely one approach or another. In reality, these kinds of conversations draw on a range of techniques which often cannot be neatly categorised as mentoring or coaching.

Recommendation: Do not worry about whether techniques are ‘mentoring’ or ‘coaching’ – the more important question is whether the needs of the mentee are being met. Mentors and mentees can benefit from training and CPD to enable them to tailor the process to meet the needs of the individual. It’s also worth considering the benefits of external mentoring/coaching schemes which can enable mentees to speak more openly about their professional development needs.

Lesson 3: Some people have a fixed view of mentoring vs coaching and may be reluctant to deviate from it

As stated above, because some people have been taught there is a correct definition of mentoring and another correct definition of coaching, they can sometimes be reluctant to accept the ‘messy’ realities I have described above. Indeed, I regularly meet resistance when presenting these points and that is to be expected if they are contrary to what people have previously learned.

Recommendation: Co-develop a shared language and understanding of mentoring that is appropriate for your setting and bring people with you. Whether you call it mentoring, coaching, ‘moaching’ or something else, the most important thing is that everyone involved has a shared understanding of the purpose, the process and the intended outcomes of the relationship. I will be publishing another blog post shortly on how to establish this shared understanding, but in the meantime, I can recommend Brockbank and McGill’s (2012) book Facilitating Reflective Learning which provides a useful framework. [2]

At the ETF we have developed a shared language as described above. We define mentoring as: a one-to-one relationship, over a sustained period, which brings about professional learning and development.

We use the term mentoring in a broad sense, which includes coaching. [3] Most importantly we advocate an approach which is:

  • developmental and nurturing in nature
  • rooted in collaboration and support
  • adaptable to the individual needs of the mentee.

So to answer the question I set out at the start of this blog: what do we really mean by mentoring or coaching, or ‘moaching’? My response is: it varies, a lot. Instead of becoming preoccupied about whether something is mentoring or coaching – it is far more beneficial to ensure everyone involved in a scheme engages with a shared language; a common understanding of the purpose, process and intended outcomes; and is appropriately trained for their role.

Dr Catherine Manning
Deputy Director – Design and Development

Applications for the ETF’s mentoring training programme for 2022–23, which includes courses for those new to mentoring and those with more experience, are open until 12 noon on 30 September.

The programme is part of the wider support we offer for mentoring in the FE and Training sector. Further details are available on the Mentoring page of our website.

Endnotes

[1] For an interesting review of research on this topic see: Hobson, A.J. and van Nieuwerburgh, C.J. (2022), “Extending the research agenda on (ethical) coaching and mentoring in education: embracing mutuality and prioritising well-being”, International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMCE-11-2021-0099.

[2] Brockbank, A. and McGill, I. (2012) Facilitating reflective learning, London: Kogan Page.

[3] These definitions of mentoring are based on ideas presented in Hobson, A J and Maxwell, B (2020). ‘Mentoring substructures and superstructures: an extension and reconceptualisation of the architecture for teacher mentoring’. Journal of Education for Teaching, 46 (2), pp. 184–206. https://research.brighton.ac.uk/files/6869242/Mentoring_substructures_and_superstructures.pdf.

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