Many school districts and professional development entities use coaches to “tighten the connection between the training they provide in external institutes and teachers’ application of the strategies in their classrooms” . To that end, training coupled with coaching and mentoring opportunities – which involve modeling positive instructional approaches and allow for feedback on implementation – have been found to be most effective in supporting and reinforcing teaching and learning in the classroom.
In the early childhood field, coaching is increasingly emerging as an evidence-based method for teacher professional learning and development. Programs across all funding types, Head Start, public pre-kindergarten, community based child care, and charter school settings are including coaching as an investment to strengthen teacher practice and improve outcomes for children. However, even with widespread buy-in, districts and programs have met significant challenges in implementing and realizing impact as a result of coaching programs. Many have not developed a systematic way to select, prepare, or provide ongoing support to early childhood coaches and are often lacking adequate evaluation activities to ensure that the coaching program is being implemented effectively and with fidelity.
School Readiness Consulting has been building coaching models and processes, embedding preparation and support for coaches, and evaluating the effectiveness of early childhood instructional coaching for over a decade. Through our work in multiple contexts, we have learned the following lessons and important questions that must be considered when scaling effective coaching models:
- Districts or programs should create a logic model or a theory of change relating to their coaching program. What is the anticipated result and what are the ‘key ingredients’ that will lead to this?
- Districts or programs must have a clear structure that results from the theory of change. How many teachers or how many schools will coaches work with? How often should coaches be visiting teachers? What are the expectations around reporting back to teachers, administrators, and the District or supervisor? Are coaches responsible for all early childhood teachers in a school or program, or just new teachers? Are coaches also responsible for coaching administrators? Is coaching for both groups/team and individuals within the classroom context? Will coaches also be providing other types of professional development (i.e., workshops, institutes, grade level planning, etc.)?
- Coaches and the programs they work in need a structured model to conduct coaching work with teachers. This ensures that coaching is consistent and can be refined at a program level. What will coaches do in classrooms? Do they have specific guidance about using strategies such as modeling, observing, using video etc.? Are there norms for group facilitation, leadership, etc.?
- Coaches need formal induction and “pre-service” preparation before coaching in classrooms or schools. Coaches may have been great teachers, but what additional preparation do they need to develop the skills needed to be a great coach of peers? How will coaches learn the model that has been selected/created by the District? What opportunities will coaches have to see seasoned coaches in action prior to being asked to coach on their own?
- Coaches need an ongoing support system, which we often term a “lead coach” or a “coach manager,” who has expertise in coaching, to focus on the coach’s developmental trajectory. How can a lead coach observe the coach in action, provide the coach with ongoing feedback and support, help assess the coaches strengths and areas for growth, and work on individual development planning?
- Coaching programs benefit from a developmental or implementation evaluation in the first several years of the program. Before determining the impact of the program, what data should the institution or program be collecting that informs the questions of consistency and implementation? Is the coaching model/program being implemented as intended? What tweaks need to be made to assist the program and the implementers to do so?
Scaling an early childhood coaching program is an important investment that research demonstrates can be impactful for young children’s outcomes. Building a coaching program is complex work that requires a clear vision, intentional approach, ongoing support and continuous improvement. In order to ensure that the return on investment provides value, particularly in contexts with limited resources, districts and programs can be thoughtful about the cycle of planning, implementation and evaluation. With these structures in place, districts and programs can be confident that coaching programs will lead to significant impact and that their youngest learners will achieve the outcomes needed to succeed in school and beyond.
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 Yoshikawa, H., Weiland, C., Brooks-Gunn, J. Burchinal, M.R., Espinosa, L.M., Gormley, W.T., Ludwig, J., Magnuson, K.A., Phillips, D., & Zaslow, M.J. (2013). Investing in our future: The evidence base on preschool education. Retrieved from http://fcd-us.org/sites/default/files/Evidence%20Base%20on%20Preschool%20Education%20FINAL.pdf
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