What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Teaching?

All organisations, in almost every sector, are trying to get the best out of their people. Managers and senior leaders are responsible for ensuring teams are performing at their best in order to achieve optimal performance both for themselves and their organisation. 

Two ways of achieving improved performance are through coaching and teaching. There are some similarities between these approaches but also key differences that create different results and have a different impact. It is important to recognise these differences and how and when to use each approach when leading a team. 

Primary differences between coaching and teaching

Teaching is focused on the provision of new knowledge and skills. Coaching is focused on shifting responsibility for refining and developing knowledge and skills.

For example, a new employee may be taught how to use organisational systems and processes, but then coached through improving these processes or working on their own efficiency.

Teaching places ownership and responsibility on the teacher or the person with the knowledge. Coaching gives a lot more responsibility to the person being coached and encourages two-way communication between parties. 

For example, teaching may involve telling an employee the things they need to know or do in relation to their role and responsibilities, focusing on the basic duties and key performance indicators (KPIs, whereas coaching changes the conversation to being about how the employee can be accountable and take decisions to develop in the role further, improve their performance and own their KPIs.

What separates the coaching and teaching methodologies?

Both methodologies have the end goal of an individual developing skills acquiring knowledge or demonstrating new behaviours, but there some key differences between these two approaches when managing or supporting staff.

A teacher is usually considered a subject matter expert in their chosen field, they have more knowledge than the people they are teaching. A coach, on the other hand, whether in a school or business setting doesn’t need to be an expert at a particular skill or function, but they need to be an expert in being able to ask the right questions and listen to what is said and not said.  

A coach imparts knowledge and introduces learnings, but also makes adjustments and provides feedback based on real-time information. Those being coached generally have some underlying knowledge and an idea of how to go about the particular activity. The coach helps people “unlock” that knowledge and choose to use it in different ways by asking the right sort of questions. 

A teacher, on the other hand, introduces new ideas and topics to students who generally have little, if any, previous understanding of what is being taught. The teacher is dealing with more of a blank slate in this regard, where a coach is re-sculpting something that already exists. 

Another difference is the way in which a coach or teacher may communicate. Teaching is a generally a one-sided, directive and instructional conversation led by a ‘sage on the stage’, however, coaching is more two-way, ongoing and non-directive, where the coach is more the ‘guide on the side’, with the focus on the person being coached taking responsibility for their own decisions and actions. 

In a group situation, a facilitator might share a piece of knowledge and then leave it to the group to decide what it means for them, what’s their way forward might be and what they might do with that information now.

Teaching is generally done in a formal setting, roles are clear and tasks are set to achieve desired outcomes in a prescribed time. Coaching can be undertaken far more informally, in staffrooms, and in corridors, often without the need for formal recognition that it is taking place. In this way, coaching becomes a culture that is widely embedded with an organisation’s wider practices and activities. 

These two methods, rooted in similar goals by separated by approach offer alternative solutions to different circumstances and can be used for different purposes to great effect.

What is the ideal approach for a leader to utilise in their team management?

A leader’s role is to guide, direct, and influence employees in the most productive and effective way possible. A teacher is charged with helping students to become more independent in their learning. This means that a number of approaches and techniques may be used in order to achieve desired results.

Overall leadership is naturally more aligned with coaching, so it’s helpful for every leader to be a professional coach to some degree. 

Coaching encourages and empowers individuals to think through and overcome the challenges they face in the workplace, which not only helps them develop personally and professionally, but also takes the onus away from leaders taking on more and more responsibility. This empowerment of staff can also increase employee engagement, motivate employees, and improve overall organisational productivity due to the level of trust and sense of fulfilment for all parties. 

Coaching may not provide the solutions or outcomes the leader is expecting, but with the right support and structure, a coaching culture could mean stronger, faster, and even better solutions.

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