Mentoring and coaching within teacher induction

What do the terms mentoring and coaching really mean? What role does a mentoring and coaching fellowship play in a teacher induction program? Why do experienced teachers take up a mentor–coach role? What is the impact of being a mentor–coach on experienced teachers’ professional learning, practice and well-being? And what is the impact of high stakes teacher evaluation within an induction context? These are the questions that sparked my doctoral research project, a qualitative case study of an established teacher induction program in the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB), a small English Language jurisdiction in the province of Quebec, Canada. The aim of this GCI article is to highlight some of my study’s key findings, especially those that have been most useful to teachers and leaders in the WQSB. Specifically, this study found that:

  • A clear and shared understanding of key terminology is essential 
  • Mentoring and coaching must be kept separate from teacher evaluation 
  • The quality of the mentor–coach matters to the effectiveness and buy-in of the induction program
  • Professional learning networks provide ongoing and meaningful collaboration and support for mentor–coaches but must be well structured, differentiated and well resourced. 
  • Effective teacher induction programs are iterative and seek out and respond to participant feedback 

I believe these findings will be useful to anyone interested in teacher professional learning, well-being and retention, as well as the development of coaching cultures within schools and jurisdictions. Although this article only offers a short summary, for those interested, my full dissertation is available here.

A focus on terminology

In educational research as well as practice literature, the terms mentoring and coaching are often ill-defined, conflicting, and even conflated. In fact, it is not uncommon in the induction literature to see coaching described as a component of mentoring or vice versa. As such, one of the most important successes of the WQSB’s Teacher Induction Program (TIP) was the collaborative work done with mentor–coaches to define the two terms in their specific context. In the district, mentoring and coaching are conceptualized as fluid and dynamic processes that together form a critical part of teacher induction (see this video for a more detailed explanation). In order to help support a collective understanding, the terms mentor–coach and the Mentoring and Coaching Fellowship (MCF) were adopted to emphasize how the two approaches were distinct yet complementary and the importance of the collaborative and reflective relationship.

Mentoring and coaching during teacher induction (Hollweck, 2017)

A focus on the mentor–coach

This study found that the success and positive impact of the Mentoring and Coaching Fellowship (MCF) was in large part due to the supportive, confidential and non-evaluative nature of the mentor–coach, as well as their individual experience and expertise. The most effective mentor–coaches knew when and how to use either a mentoring or coaching stance basing these decisions on the context, relationship and/or specific need(s) of their teaching fellow. For many mentor–coaches the mentoring stance was familiar and considered easier to implement whereas they reported it took them three years in the role to become fully confident and competent in the coaching stance. The district’s mentor–coach professional learning network (MC PLN) was cited as a supportive and collaborative community, as well as a space where new and experienced mentor–coaches could engage in ongoing, relevant and differentiated professional learning opportunities related to mentoring and coaching. This study also highlighted that to sustain the MC PLN’s ongoing success it must continue to be properly resourced in terms of time, money and support by district leaders.

A focus on well-being

We know that effective teacher induction programs that include mentoring and coaching can support early career teachers’ practice and well-being. What became clear in this study was that becoming a mentor–coach could also influence experienced teachers’ professional learning, practice and well-being. In a nutshell, participants in the study reported that overall, being a mentor–coach was a positive and rewarding learning experience and contributed to their well-being. Specifically, participants reported that the role provided them with an opportunity to: find moments of joy and inspiration (positive emotion), improve their own classroom practice through reciprocal learning with their teaching fellow as well as learn new skills like mentoring and coaching (engagement), build positive relationships in their school and district (relationships), support a colleague and give back to their school community (meaning), and feel satisfaction when their teaching fellow successfully completed their first year in the district (accomplishment). Of course, being a mentor–coach is not a panacea for well-being and for some participants who worked with a struggling teaching fellow, the role even contributed to a sense of ill-being. In these instances, the MC PLN was reported as a valuable space for mentor–coaches to get support and guidance from their community. The development of coaches for mentor–coaches is a likely next step for the district.

In the current climate of a global pandemic, I believe it has never been more important to invest in supportive structures like mentoring and coaching that have been shown to cultivate teacher well-being and flourishing. Ultimately, teacher well-being and growth leads to student well-being and growth and this should always be our goal.

Publications from my dissertation:

  • Hollweck, T. (2020). “Growing the Top: A Case Study Examining a Mentor-Coach Professional Learning Network” in the Professional Learning Networks: Facilitating Transformation in Diverse Contexts with Equity-seeking Communities (Ed. Schnellert, L). Emerald. ISBN: 978-1-78769-894-9,
  • Hollweck, T. (2019). “’I Love this Stuff!’: A Canadian Case Study of Mentor-Coach Well-being.” International Journal for Mentoring and Coaching in Education (IJMCE), Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 325-344.
  • Hollweck, T., Curry, A., Smith, K., Dubeau, M., & T. Kharayati. (2018). Prizes and Imperfections: Examining teacher evaluation within an induction program in Western Quebec. In M. L. Derrington & J. Brandon (Eds.), Differentiated Evaluation and Professional Learning: Policies and Practices that Promote Teacher Growth. New York: New York: Palgrave Publishing.
  • Hollweck, T. (June, 2018). A Pracademic’s Exploration of Mentoring, Coaching and Induction in the Western Québec School Board, pages 31-40, CollectivED [4], Carnegie School of Education, Leeds Beckett University.
  • Hollweck, T. (2017a). Threading the Needle: Examining the Mentoring and Coaching Fellowship of the Western Quebec School Board. In B. Kutsyuruba & K.D. Walker (Eds.), The bliss and blisters of early career teaching: A pan-Canadian perspective (pp.205-226). Burlington, ON: Word & Deed Publishing.


Coaching Resource Library