Which skills do Student Progress Coaches and Learner Mentors need to help learners progress?

I have already written one blog about the role emerging in the FE sector, labelled Student Progress Coach or Learner Mentor. See link below:


To me, this is a valuable role and could yield great benefits in supporting learners, but the multi-faceted nature of the role makes it a challenging one. This may be why I am being invited into many colleges at the moment to provide skills training for this group of staff!

So, which skills do Student Progress Coaches/ Learner Mentors need?

1.Target setting

A sophisticated skill-set around target setting and review is needed as they may be required to set targets from work other staff have set and marked or follow up on targets drafted by another teacher. In setting targets the skills involved seem to me to be:

  • Spotting the key priorities then chunking them down into smaller steps that are doable but involve enough challenge to engage the individual learner. This process means you need to get to know your learner, note how they respond to different motivational approaches and action planning methods.
  • Phrasing targets in language learners can understand and engage with, so they are not turned off by academic jargon, if not appropriate or useful for them.
  • Persistence, patience and an ability to pay attention to detail, as they will need to follow up targets and action plans over time, adjusting time frames and steps to suit reality.
  • Being confident enough to raise issues with the class teacher if targets are vague, huge or seem unachievable.
  • Working collaboratively with the class teacher so that you are both serving the learner’s best interests; fostering enough communication to make this possible.
  1. Communication and rapport building skills

Coaches and mentors need to build trust and relationship with the learners so that communication can be open and productive between them. Recently, mentors talked to me about the importance of finding a point of contact with the learner, of sharing personal stories, experiences of learning both good and bad, as part of this process. They spoke about the delicate balance involved – you are not the learner’s friend but there is a closeness and intimacy when personal information gets shared as the relationship develops. They feel it helps if the learner sees you as a person who cares about them and wants the best for them. In some cases, the learners haven’t had many people in their lives who fitted that profile.

  1. Coaching skills

Coaching skills such as active listening and the use of solution-focused questions are also invaluable, in helping the learner think for themselves about their progress and consequences of their actions and start to own their own learning. This skill-set involves learning to give space in conversations and using questions to create deeper and broader thinking. It is about asking more than telling. It is about judging when to ask an assertive/challenging question to stretch the learner positively.

  1. Mindset for learning and motivation

Not all learners will come into their sessions feeling positive, motivated and able to progress. There is an important role for coaches and mentors to play in modelling a positive mindset to learning and fostering that in their coachees/mentees. In the training I have run recently, coaches and mentors have shared their own stories of people who supported them, challenged them or believed in them and how significant that was in their progress. Finding out about the learner’s prior experiences and role models is a useful part of learning about their mindset and considering how this might affect future work together.

Some colleges are now explicitly teaching learners about different mindsets related to learning and how they can develop a positive one, so an understanding of this area can really benefit coaches/mentors. For more on mindset, click here:


Understanding the different ways that people can be motivated can also be useful for coaches and mentors. Across a year many learners will lose momentum or motivation so having a varied toolkit of approaches will help the coach/mentor. Knowledge of motivation theories plus motivational dialogue strategies can be a good addition to their skill set.

  1. Administrative skills

There is normally a logging or tracking aspect to the coach or mentor role so it is helpful to develop good habits in updating paper based or online systems regularly. This may require some IT training or system familiarization in some contexts, plus building time into the day for doing the record keeping.

I am delivering training days on all the areas above so if you need some support, I hope you will get in touch. See link below:


This entry was posted in Advanced Practitioners, Coaching, Coaching students, FE, High grades for learners, Mentoring Students and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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