Coaching Practices to Promote The Project Approach

by Karrie Snider & Maggie Holley updated 7-30-2017

Coaching, as professional development, works to develop and retain effective teachers; which is an important consideration in the equation of maintaining quality ECE programming (Barnett, 2011; Vartuli et al., 2014). Coaching provides a supportive framework for helping teachers acquire knowledge, improve existing practices, and implement knowledge, skills and instructional methods in their classroom with increased proficiency. Thus, the research team selected an evidence-based coaching model as the project’s foundation.

Project ABC2 coaches supported capacity building by focusing on teachers’ implementation of curriculum, instruction and assessment practices. More specifically, the model integrated The Project Approach (Katz & Chard, 2000; 2014), the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (Pianta, Hamre & LaParo, 2008) and the Desired Results Developmental Profiles (WestEd, 2015) with evidence-based coaching practices (Rush & Shelden, 2011); a combination for rich outcomes (Vartuli et al., 2014). As stated previously, an emphasis was placed on The Project Approach.

Project coaches implemented five research-based coaching practices (Rush & Shelden, 2011). These are joint planning, observation, action/practice, reflection, and feedback. As teachers entered the project with a variety of background experiences and needs, the coaches utilized the coaching model to guide their individualized, yet standardized coaching. This coaching cycle builds “the capacity of parent, caregiver, or colleague to improve existing abilities, develop new skills, and gain a deeper understanding of his or her practices in current and future situations” (Rush & Shelden, 2006, p. 1). This is an expert-based approach reflective of goal-orientation and adult development, contextualized to individual ECE programs (Rush & Shelden, 2011). Finally, Rush and Shelden (2011) asserted that this coaching model develops teacher self-efficacy, self-improvement, self-assessment and self-corrective capabilities to catapult current and future endeavors.

Coaching has been a priority in early childhood education settings nationally. Local programs participating in Project ABC2 employ educational coordinators who routinely provide supervision to classroom teachers. Project ABC2 employed the methodology of recruiting content-specific coaches, who were not already employees of the sites, in order to remove the aspect of evaluation and supervision from the teacher-coach relationship, and to be able to focus coaching activities keenly on three aspects of classroom structure and processes.


“Examination of another person’s actions or practices to be used to develop new skills, strategies or ideas.” (Rush & Shelden, 2011, p. 9)

This can include observation by the teacher of the coach as the coach models a specific strategy, or observation of the teacher by the coach, as the teacher tries a new strategy. Debriefing should occur afterwards regarding what worked or did not work, and what could be done differently. Below is a video clip of teacher reflecting and considering feedback after observing collaborative the work of teachers and children.


“Spontaneous or planned events that occur within the context of a real-life situation that provide the coachee with opportunities to practice, refine or analyze new or existing skills." (Rush & Shelden, 2011, p. 9)

This can include practice by the teacher with the coach present, or active participation on their own.


“Analysis of existing strategies to determine how the strategies are consistent with evidence based practices and how they may need to be implemented without change or modified to obtain the intended outcomes.” (Rush & Shelden, 2011, p. 9)

This is an analysis, after an observation or action, of what the teacher already knows and is doing to determine where to go next. Initially the coach asks questions to help the teacher reflect; later, the teacher can do this on their own. This can occur in join planning, spontaneously in the classroom, or after an action, but it always happens before the coach gives feedback.


“Information provided by the coach that is based on his or her direct observations of the coachee, actions reported by the coachee, or information shared by the coachee and that is designed to expand the coachee’s current level of understanding about a specific evidence-based practice or to affirm the coachee’s thoughts or actions related to the intended outcomes." (Rush & Shelden, 2011, p. 9)

There are four types of feedback explained in The Early Childhood Coaching Handbook (Rush & Shelden, 2014).

  • Informative feedback– When the coach shares information directly related to an observation or action (after reflection), the feedback is informative; that is it informs the coachee or provide knowledge beforehand (before reflecting or planning) because it is important to build the coachee's background knowledge.
  • Affirmative feedback - When a coach utilizes active listening, most often using "I" statements or reflective statements, the coach provides affirmative feedback. This type of feedback sends the message "I hear you" or "I understand". Within such statements, a coach may embed information to help the coachee see their success, "The small group really responded to the questions you prepared today".
  • Evaluative feedback – Although evaluative feedback may be a part of some coaching relationships or models, it is best to avoid evaluative feedback. These feedback statements include judgments made by the coach. Even positive evaluation can undermine the trust and roles within the coach-coachee dyad.
  • Directive feedback – When teachers are told what to do, their coach is using directive feedback. This should be avoided, unless there is a concern for safety.

Joint Planning

Joint planning is an “agreement by the coach and coachee on the actions they will take or the opportunities to practice between coaching visits.” (Rush & Shelden, 2011, p. 9)

Joint planning is used in all coaching sessions. Joint planning occurs when coaches and coachees determines actions or steps to be taken in between coaching visits. Coaches in Project ABC2 would begin coaching conversations by revisiting the previous joint plan. Then again at the end of a conversation, the coach and teacher determined together what would happen before their next meeting.

Project ABC2 Research Examples of Joint Planning

What might we plan together about?

Coaching Cycles. Each of the five coaching practices completes a coaching cycle within the evidence based model (Rush & Shelden, 2014). Project ABC2 Coaches noted the practices they believed they implemented during each session. The action practice included brief identification of the action. When examined holistically, the action practices organized around themes. Coaches supported teachers through demonstrating and modeling instructional practices that supported project work. They brought in resources and assisted in planning for project work. Coaches assisted in the development of anticipatory project webs. Coaching actions sometimes focused on holding discussions and interacting with children (e.g., “begin talking about Dumpster Truck” (and other topics). Actions also focused on planning expert, parent and field site visits.

Action Steps Determined. At the conclusion of each inquiry cycle (coach-teacher conference) coaches and teaching teams mutually created action steps through joint planning, which included tasks for teachers, children and to a lesser degree coaches. Out of 462 weekly coach reports, there were 920 action plans generated. These themes are not mutually exclusive. See Figure 5.

Teachers' Activities as a Result of Plans. Most action plans (78%) reflected teacher activities related to project work both inside and outside of the classroom. Outside of class time (35%), teachers made plans to contact experts to come work with the children, arranged field trips, gathered resources, prepared documentation panels, contacted families, did paperwork and created anticipatory webs, and reflected. In-classroom teacher action plans (43%) included helping children learn to formulate questions, asking children questions, direct teaching of project concepts, doing research with children, revisiting concepts, building vocabulary, brainstorming, practicing specific CLASS techniques and strategies, supporting children in various ways, and planning culminating activities. Plans directly for children (20%) included items for exploration or problem solving, making books, comparing/contrasting activities, work in the dramatic play area, voting, representation and children researching for information in books, photos, or videos.

Coaches' Work Within Plans. A very small percentage of action plans (2%) were plans for the coaches to carry out. Generally, coaches made plans to bring in materials, such as cardboard, books or topic items they had handy, but occasionally they modeled or planned a co-teaching event. This evidence is consistent with the purpose of the coach supporting the coachee in developing and carrying out next steps (Rush & Shelden, 2011). See Figures 4, 5 and 6.


Barnett, W. S. (2011). Effectiveness of early educational intervention. Science, 333, 975-978.

Katz, L., & Chard, S. (2014). Engaging children’s minds: The project approach, 3rd ed. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Rush, D., & Shelden, M. (2011). The early childhood coaching handbook. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Vartuli, S., Bolz, C., & Wilson, C. (2014). A learning combination: Coaching with CLASS and the Project Approach. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 16(1).

WestEd. (2015). Desired Results Developmental Profile, DRDP: A developmental continuum from early infancy to kindergarten entry—preschool view. Camarillo, CA: Center for Child and Family Studies and the California Department of Education.