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A Leader .. A Mentor .. in a Continuum

Updated: May 22, 2020

A leader wears many hats. The working environment is fluid and at different situations ... it calls for a different hat to be worn.

Creating a culture to grow and learn in the workforce is in the hands of those who are responsible to create that culture of growth and learning.

I also feel a great sense of pride and joy when I see my officers growing and becoming good and effective leaders in their teams.”

Mentoring and Coaching terms are often used casually in school settings. Although I had a better understanding after a workshop that there is a difference between the two, I still found it difficult to identify which role I was performing for the staff under my supervision and the younger officers working with me. After pondering upon this issue, I found myself playing both roles, Mentor and Coach, to an officer depending on the situation. If the officer is familiar with his/her job scope, I am more a Mentor; leading by example, having informal chats to find out how he / she is coping, focusing more on personal development and playing a supportive role. However, if the (not-new-to-the-job) officer is new to a particular task / project or a new officer who is new to his / her job, I am more of a Coach; (also) leading by example, having formal conversations to set goals and plans, focusing more on professional development and playing a “monitoring” role.

As a young HOD in 2006, I remember focusing on building up my department and developing my personal capacity and not on mentoring and coaching yet. When these areas were more or less accomplished (about 4 to 5 years later), I began to focus on developing the capacity of my officers under my charge (mostly coaching approach). Finally (when after another 3 years) I progressed to toggling between mentoring and coaching as I guided my officers along. In these last few years, I actually enjoyed the process of mentoring and coaching them. I guess with seniority and experience, it makes the process easier and less painful.

As much as teachers feel the satisfaction when their pupils do well in school, as a Mentor and Coach, I also feel a great sense of pride and joy when I see my officers growing and becoming good and effective leaders. I was glad I had the opportunities to develop and witness the growth among my officers.

Looking back, it was a challenge to juggle so many responsibilities as a teacher, a HOD, a mentor and a coach. I believe School Leaders recognise the importance of leaders growing leaders but I feel they need to make provisions (eg. time and space) for HODs (or supervisors) to mentor and coach their education officers too. Thoughts must be translated to concrete actions. Mentoring and coaching is a long process … certainly time is an important factor. Finally, I also feel that schools in general are lacking in good mentors / coaches role models for younger leaders to emulate. Role models to show us that it is just as important to mentor and coach (apart from teaching and admin work) younger education officers so that we have excellent leaders in the education system.

Above is a reflection that I did after attending a mentoring and coaching workshop at MOE, Xinghua Primary School in 2011.

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