A good question – one we like to ask and help clients answer often because there are distinct differences and justifiable needs for both. The key is in knowing the difference and assessing your needs as an organization.
A simple way of distinguishing between the two is to think of a consultant as a way of addingstaff capacity and a coach as building staff capacity.
Here’s how it looks:Many organizations need a task completed for which they lack adequate staffing. This could be a numbers game (everyone’s busy) or a capacity issue (nobody knows how to do this). Often it’s in the best interest of everyone to bring in an expert to complete the task and hand it off, particularly if the expertise needed is likely to be sporadic or very specialized – such as strategic planning. This calls for a consultant: someone who comes in from the outside to do internal work, temporarily adding staff capacity… and then departing.
A coach, however, is called for when there are ongoing needs within an organization, yet the skills are not present within current personnel. This is where an organization would be better served to build the capacity of existing staff so that they are able to take on the task into the future.
This might be a completely new area (such as a new approach to literacy or numeracy that calls for an instructional coach), fine-tuning practice as might be the case with a leadership coach, or preparing and implementing a major change initiative where there is anticipated resistance.
We see very few schools and districts that would not benefit from additional support. The trick is to make sure it’s a good match for the task at hand. Coaches teach you to do the work. Consultants do the work for you. It’s as simple as that.