How to be a maths specialist part 3: Coaching and mentoring

|5 min read

This post is part of our ‘How to become a maths specialist’ series. Here, you’ll find tips and advice to help you upskill, improve subject knowledge, and raise standards across your school.

You’ve put in the hours to complete your maths specialist skill set. But with great power comes great responsibility. Share your newfound expertise and support your colleagues with these coaching and mentoring tips.

Effective coaching is an important skill in any maths specialist’s toolkit. Maths specialists need to have the leadership skills to raise standards across their schools and foster a positive culture around mathematics. The distinction between being a coach and being a mentor is an important one.

In The Little Book of Big Coaching Models, Bob Bates explains the differences using a ‘learning to drive’ analogy.

He says that:

  • A consultant will advise you on the most appropriate car to drive
  • A counsellor will address any anxieties you may have about driving
  • A mentor will share their own driving experiences with you
  • A coach will encourage you to get in and drive the car correctly

Coaching involves providing feedback on strengths and development points. A coach unlocks potential, facilitates growth, and gives the coachee space to reflect.

The goal of coaching is to boost confidence to improve performance. A coach should suggest goals and measure performance periodically.

Coaches focus more on getting people to develop specific skills. Coaching isn’t blowing a whistle and barking directions.

COACHING with a capital C

Bob Bates uses the COACHING acronym to get at the nitty-gritty of coaching and what is involved.

Clarify the role
Find out who does what, when, where, and how.

Organise goals and objectives
Get the coachee to create a vision about what they could be and set goals that will support them get there.

Act with conviction
Choose the most appropriate coaching method and follow through with commitment and confidence.

Confirm that expectations are being met
Get feedback on the process and be prepared to edit as needed.

Have a strategy for dealing with setbacks
Accept that things won’t run smoothly and have plans for dealing with them.

Inspire creative thinking
Encourage your coachee to think outside the box.

Never be afraid of failure
If someone fails at a task, they have failed the task — they are not a failure.

Get to know the person you are coaching
Relationships count for everything. Build the coach–coachee relationship and establish trust and respect.

How you can help

When you coach someone your conversations need to be focused, realistic, and effective. This is about helping someone to learn rather than teaching them.

1. Focus on growth

Coaching isn’t about finding fault either, it’s about growth. Every teacher, no matter how experienced, has strengths and areas to improve. It is these areas of improvement that are coaching opportunities.

2. Coach in the classroom

Working with colleagues in their classrooms can be very useful. This allows you to focus on issues relating to teaching, learning and assessment. This relies on an open relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

3. Set goals that matter

Coaching is most effective when the coachee has a goal that matters to them. If teaching fractions keeps them awake all night, then they will readily share this with you.

4. Join the dots

Coaching is an art and a science. It involves crafting questions with active listening and not pretending you have all the answers. The coachee is really the expert because they know their class best. The coach only helps them to join the dots. Sometimes the coachee has the ‘answers’ but doesn’t realise it until a coach steps in to help.

5. Facilitate reflection

Coaching others is a skill. You are helping others hold up a mirror to themselves so they can be more reflective of their own craft. Get the coachee to do the work by asking questions that prompt reflection.

For example:

“What did you notice happened when you said…?”
“Why did you make that decision?”
“Why did you do it that way?”
“How else could you have approached that situation?”

and so on.

6. Go slow

Coaching others requires plenty of time and patience and cannot be rushed. As a coach, sometimes you need to slow down to help someone else gather speed.

Don’t hurry a colleague toward action if they haven’t had a chance to explore on their own. It’s not your job to dictate the ‘right’ course of action.

Another easy mistake is to think ahead of your colleague. Try not to interrupt and second-guess their responses. Avoid the temptation to share tips with someone when you haven’t listened to what they need.

Successful coaches listen more for the What, How, and Where. They add value by asking searching questions, giving advice, suggestions, or helpful hints. When we listen for passion and strengths as well as barriers and uncertainties we get a view into what our coachees actually need.

7. Get a complete picture

Footballers get caught up in the moment and can lose perspective because they can’t see the whole pitch. This is the same for teachers in the thick of the action. An effective coach can rise above the play to get a more complete picture.

A great maths coach has perspective, experience, and knowledge.

Every teacher, regardless of their experience level, needs a coach. There is always room for growth and coaching others can help you become a better teacher too.

Anyone who teaches maths can be a maths specialist. Yes, it requires putting in some serious CPD hours, but it also means nurturing your maths development, ploughing lots of fields, and sowing lots of seeds.

For more maths coaching ideas, take a look at the guidance report Coaching for teaching and learning: a practical guide for schools by Rachel Lofthouse, David Leat and Carl Towler.