By Julie Weatherington, Consultant and Trainer
Practice-based coaching is a professional development strategy for guiding early learning providers’ use of evidence-based best practice to improve teaching methods and promote positive child outcomes. It is a powerful tool grounded in a collaborative partnership between the coach and the teacher, using focused observation and reflective feedback to accomplish shared goals and action plans and to enhance program quality. In our work with child care and Head Start/Early Head Start programs we have experienced first hand how small changes through coaching can yield dramatic improvements in a classroom – all with the goal of improving experiences for young children!
If your program is considering implementing practice-based coaching, you might have questions about how it works, what changes will take place, and when you might see results.
Who can benefit from practice-based coaching? Practice-based coaching can take many forms and will look different from program to program depending on factors such as the length of time over which coaching will take place, the number of teaching staff participating, and the positions of those staff members. You might be wondering, who is the best candidate for coaching? Everyone! Teachers who need assistance in the classroom can benefit from coaching, yet just because a teacher isn’t having challenges in the classroom doesn’t mean they wouldn’t also be a great candidate. Some of the most remarkable outcomes have come from highly skilled teachers who were motivated and engaged in the coaching process.
Typically, we work one-on-one with teachers within a program to provide individual coaching over the course of several months. Other times, we form small cohorts of 3-4 individuals to leverage the collaborative approach of small group interaction. This approach also works particularly well for family child care providers, who benefit from the ideas of others in similar set-ups. Whatever the program type or schedule, there is a place for practice-based coaching!
Reframing observation as an opportunity for collaboration is one of the first keys to success. A supportive approach to practice-based coaching is essential for teacher buy-in into the coaching process. Observation is a tool for gathering information to inform the coaching process, and is not intended to be an “evaluation” of performance. Rather, observation in the coaching setting is about gathering information about individuals’ strengths and finding areas where they could further develop their skills to improve practices. Being clear with teachers about the importance of and purpose of observation is critical to building trust that will open the door to impactful coaching. It’s also important to balance observation information with feedback from teachers about areas where they would like to further develop their skills.
Small changes can yield big results early in the coaching process. Coaching takes time; often months and sometimes up to an entire program year. Although, that doesn’t mean that it will take that long to see the benefits of coaching. Coaches spend time in the classroom of a teacher whom they are coaching, observing changes, modeling practice and demonstrating new skills. They have reflective conversations about classroom observations and the teacher implements changes with support from the coach. The amount of between classroom visits varies – usually about two weeks in between.
We have experienced first hand teachers who have made great strides in improving classroom practices. We encourage teachers to start with easier changes. These small changes can make a big difference in how a classroom runs! Examples of small changes with a big impact might be changing the set up of a room, reframing behavior guidance to positive reinforcement, or introducing new approaches to building children’s language (e.g., asking more open-ended questions).
Reflection and celebrating successes is just as important as the process of change.Taking time to reflect on accomplishments from coaching helps to re-affirm the importance of the work and solidify these changes into the teachers’ daily routine. Teachers and staff working in early learning programs are enhancing the development of children and making a life-long impact in their lives. The changes made from coaching are felt within classrooms and across programs. It is important to acknowledge and celebrate the hard work put into improving practices.