Coaching and Mentoring: Introduction

Think College Learn

What is a coach/mentor?

For many people with intellectual disabilities, there may be a need for supports above and beyond what is available through the college and its disability services office and tutoring center. While it is important to take advantage of the supports already available on the college campus, when more assistance is needed, a "mentor" or "educational coach" can be a valuable addition to the team. With the support of a mentor/educational coach, many students with intellectual disabilities have been successful in typical college courses.

In the field, the terms "coach" and "mentor" are used to describe these roles. We use both terms in this module with the understanding that each campus may define the roles slightly differently.

Coaches/mentors are often described as trusted supporters, counselors, or teachers who assist others by offering advice and serving as role models. Sometimes they are described as detectives and anthropologists: identifying a variety of strategies and methods that will allow the person to be a valued and accepted student, with the absolute minimum of support provided directly by the coach/mentor.

Successful coaches/mentors:

  • Help students to understand themselves as learners
  • Assist students to understand and express their support needs
  • Teach students how to advocate for themselves
  • Support the inclusion of students in typical college settings
  • Utilize available natural supports
  • Provide the absolute minimum supports possible
  • Fade support over time
  • Do not assume a parental or supervisory role over the mentee

What does a Coach/Mentor Do?
During class they may accompany the student to provide cues about expected behavior as well as interpret instructions and materials in a way that the student can understand. They may teach students to communicate their own needs to instructors and others. Coaches/mentors may also help students navigate campus activities and support students in residential life. Each student and situation is unique; this uniqueness determines the degree of support necessary.

Are Coaches/Mentors Paid?
Depending on the campus, the coach/mentor may be a paid or volunteer position, or a combination of both. Some coaches/mentors are students at the college. In other programs, coaches/mentors may be hired by a local public school or adult agency. Regardless of the type of position, training, communication, and clear expectations are keys to success.

A five minute video by Norman Kunc and Emma Vanderklift that uses words and music to highlight important concepts to remember when supporting people with disabilities.  Excellent training resource for educational coaches and peer...Read more

This 11 minute video describes the Mentoring Partnership Project of the Supported Higher Education Project at Northern Kentucky University.Read more

Think College Insight Brief #6 gives an overview of the impact of students with intellectual disabilities in postsecondary education opportunities on teacher education programs. Peer mentoring programs at four universities are described and discussed.Read more