Tutoring: the Overlap Between Teaching, Coaching and Mentoring

October 07, 2013 by Mark Maclaine
Image Often when I’m called upon to explain the role of a tutor, I say that our main goal is to unlock whatever is standing in the way of a student achieving. In that respect, I see the job of a tutor as a combination of teacher, coach and a mentor.

After discussing this idea with a set of successful tutors, teachers, life coaches and psychologists, these seem to be fairly good descriptions of each:


A teacher imparts knowledge and understanding, usually following some form of curriculum or lesson plan. Most often they will teach a group of students (can be done one-on-one) and will work over a pre-determined time period.

Examples include: school teachers, driving instructors, IT training.


A coach will support an individual to achieve a specific goal, often it will be immediate and over a defined time period. The coach does not need to have any personal experience in that particular field, but instead challenges that person to grow and find answers for themselves. This work is mostly done one-on-one but can be done in groups too.

Examples include: life coaches, sports coaches, personal trainers.


A mentor usually works one-on-one, and their approach is usually less structured and more organic than the other two. They share their own specific experience to help guide an individual who is setting out, or struggling, on a path that they themselves undertook in the past. A mentor is generally more long-term in their approach, and they will usually take a broader view of a person.

Examples include: Corporate mentors, Obi Wan Kenobi from Star Wars*, university peer mentors.

In hindsight, when I was at school…
…some of the best teachers I had not only taught their subjects but were also like coaches and mentors to me.

My belief is that the best tutors are those who, to varying degrees, undertake all three of these roles. At times, your job may be simply just to teach.

You have identified a topic that needs to be covered and you teach it. You plan your work and work this plan. You test to assess what your student has taken onboard and create new plans based on this testing.

Other times your job is to work out why a student has not been learning in school. They’re sitting in the same class as 30 other students who seem to ‘get it’ and they’re the only one who’s not. This kind of work requires a combination of mentoring and coaching.

Coaching when you’re focused on why they may not have understood a particular topic, and mentoring when you’re helping them negotiate the tough world of being a student and also helping them understand why they might want to do well in school.
Tutoring is the hybrid of teaching, coaching and mentoring because it involves imparting knowledge and wisdom to students, coaching them to reach their full potential and sharing specific personal experiences with them so they can grow as people.


The question to ask now is why is it on the increase?

Some would argue that Tutoring is merely more visible right now. That is true, but there does seem to be a marked increase. With numerous studies indicating that the return on investments for business coaching are 6 times the initial investment, it’s no surprise why so many companies are now offering coaching to their employees (1.)

Results are seen in improved teamwork, morale and many other ‘soft’ skills. (2.) Mentoring programmes are equally popular with 71% of the 500 largest American companies which offer them (3.)

However, coaching and mentoring programs haven’t always been so popular and it is only recently that they are becoming widely accepted, especially as people are appreciating the importance of a more subtle model of human development.

As more adults receive coaching and mentoring, they may be wanting the same for their children and this is where tutoring comes in; because it helps children to improve academically whilst (when done well) very much preparing them for the challenges of life.

An extra note from Mark:

Thank you for taking your time to read this blog. Over the coming months I’ll be producing a number of blogs that will outline skills and tips for both parents and tutors, compiled from my notes and interviews I have conducted over the last few years.

I’ve had the great fortune to interview a large number of highly successful and well-regarded tutors, as well as educational psychologists, teachers (the ones who are actually in schools) and parents to produce these blog posts.

Please keep a look out on the Tutorfair blog to read more.


1. 2004 MetrixGlobal Study – 689%, 2001 Manchester Group Study on Coaching – return almost 6 times investment – both http://leaderfuledge.com/resources-podcasts-papers-a-links/articles/101.html

2. 85% managers say enhancing team morale is the main value of coaching – chartered managers institute. http://leaderfuledge.com/resources-podcasts-papers-a-links/articles/101.html

3. 2007 Lydell Bridgeford on http://www.insala.com/Articles/leadership-coaching/mentoring-current-trends.asp

* Visit www.management-mentors.com to find out more about mentoring and of course more importantly, see why Yoda is a coach and Obi Wan is a mentor.
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