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Unlocking the Potential of Reverse Mentoring in Education:

The Educational Coach

11 Apr 2024

A Win-Win

In education, where learning is not only a daily endeavour but also a cornerstone of professional growth, the concept of mentoring has long been a vital tool. Traditionally, mentoring has followed a top-down approach, where experienced educators guide younger colleagues. However, The Educational Coach is here to mix things!

What is Reverse Mentoring?

Reverse mentoring flips  traditional mentoring on its head, allowing younger or less experienced individuals to mentor their more senior counterparts. This innovative approach fosters a reciprocal learning environment where knowledge flows freely in both directions, instead of being top down (Browne, 2021). Within educational coaching, we've witnessed firsthand the transformative power of mentoring.

Understanding Reverse Mentoring:

Reverse mentoring is more than just a passing trend; it's a strategic approach to professional development that capitalizes on the diverse skill sets and perspectives within an organization. In essence, it's about recognizing that learning knows no hierarchy. As John Watkins, employability director for The University of Law, aptly puts it, reverse mentoring enables senior leaders to appreciate the perspectives of those they lead, resulting in improved performance and satisfaction for individuals and organisations alike. The image below shows how reverse mentoring differs from traditional mentoring: 

(for more see Murphy, 2012). 

But how does reverse mentoring work? Here's a roadmap:

1. Identify Good Mentoring Partners:

Selecting the right mentor-mentee pair is crucial for the success of reverse mentoring. Both parties should bring complementary skills and knowledge to the table, fostering chemistry and mutual respect.

2. Set Clear Objectives:

Before diving into the mentoring relationship, establish clear objectives and expectations. Alignment between mentor and mentee ensures a focused approach towards skill sharing and professional development.

3. Work on Communication:

Communication lies at the heart of any mentoring relationship. Be open to various communication channels and adapt to each other's preferences to facilitate seamless knowledge exchange.

4. Be Patient and Open-Minded:

Reverse mentoring requires a willingness to learn from one another without preconceived notions. Cultivate a culture of respect and active listening to maximise the benefits of the relationship.

5. Measure Your Progress:

Regular check-ins allow both parties to assess the effectiveness of the mentoring relationship and make adjustments as needed. Tracking progress ensures that goals are being met and knowledge gaps are being addressed.

(for more see Murphy, 2012). 

Theoretically speaking: 

Reverse mentoring operates within the framework of established theories in organisational psychology and leadership. Drawing from social exchange theory and leader-member exchange theory (LMX), reverse mentoring fosters high-quality relationships characterised by mutual respect and trust (Murphy, 2012). In traditional mentoring, leaders provide strategic advice and support to their mentees, who reciprocate with commitment and cooperation. However, in reverse mentoring, the dynamic shifts, with mentees often offering strategic advice to their mentors. Wanberg, Welsh, and Hezlett (2003) identify three types of learning resulting from mentoring relationships: cognitive, skill-based, and affective-based. Organisational context also plays a crucial role in motivating participants to engage in reverse mentoring. Schools that prioritise knowledge creation and continuous learning (like schools) cultivate an environment conducive to successful mentoring relationships. As the relationship evolves, both parties exchange psychosocial functions, fostering mutual sharing and learning from each other's life experiences. This process often leads to the development of friendships, creating a supportive environment where mentors feel like peers rather than junior employees, thus reinforcing cross-generational understanding and respect within the school.

Traditionally, the flow of information is top to bottom. But there is another flow too where learning moves from bottom to top, in reverse mentoring. Costanza and Finkelstein (2015) emphasise the importance of understanding the life experiences and decisions of older leaders, shaping their motivations for participating in mentoring relationships. The leadership gap highlights mentees' awareness of hierarchical structures and cultural norms isolating them from younger colleagues, hindering innovation. Furthermore, the shift towards lifelong learning reveals gaps in organisational provisions for skill development and feedback, exacerbated by hierarchical barriers (Browne, 2021). These principles can be summarised as learning for life, minimising the leadership gap, and just being good people!  

Benefits of Reverse Mentoring:

The advantages of reverse mentoring extend far beyond individual growth. By embracing this approach, educational institutions can:

1. Reverse mentoring facilitates mutual knowledge exchange, aiding in employee attraction, retention, and advancement by enabling managers to understand the needs of younger staff, benefiting the organisation.

2. It fosters a cooperative relationship between young and senior employees, promoting organisational development.

3. Reverse mentoring enables senior employees to refresh their knowledge and stay current, enhancing their leadership credibility.

4. It unites closed, hierarchical organizations, breaking down barriers and facilitating open knowledge sharing.

5. Reverse mentoring addresses the knowledge gap between junior and senior staff, promoting skill development across all levels.

6. It sparks innovation across all areas of the company, generating fresh ideas and perspectives.

Closing Thoughts:

Reverse mentoring is a powerful tool for fostering inclusive learning environments and promoting mutual growth within schools. By flipping the traditional mentoring model on its head, schools can harness the diverse perspectives and expertise of both younger and senior employees. Through effective communication, clear objectives, and a commitment to continuous learning, reverse mentoring bridges generational gaps, fosters innovation, and promotes leadership development at all levels. Reverse mentoring is more than just flipping the power dynamic; it's about harnessing the collective wisdom and experiences of individuals at every level. As we embrace this innovative approach in education, we pave the way for a brighter future where learning knows no bounds.


Marcinkus Murphy, W. (2012). Reverse mentoring at work: Fostering cross‐generational learning and developing millennial leaders. Human Resource Management, 51(4), 549-573.

Zauchner-Studnicka, S. A. (2017). A model for reverse-mentoring in education. International Journal of Educational and Pedagogical Sciences, 11(3), 551-558.

Browne, I. (2021). Exploring Reverse Mentoring;" Win-Win" Relationships in The Multi-Generational Workplace. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching & Mentoring, 15.

Costanza, D. P., & Finkelstein, L. M. (2015). Generationally based differences in the workplace: Is there a there there?. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 8(3), 308-323.

Wanberg, C. R., Welsh, E. T., & Hezlett, S. A. (2003). Mentoring research: A review and dynamic process model. Research in personnel and human resources management, 39-124. 

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