Coaching Tools and Resources

Types of questions coaches use to foster collaborative conversations with teachers. These are published in The Early Childhood Coaching Handbook (Rush & Shelden, 2014, p. 66):

        • Awareness – These questions promote the teachers understanding of what they already know. “What have you tried”
        • Analysis – These questions support the teacher in comparing the current state to the desired future state. “How does what just happen compare that what you would like to have happen?”
        • Alternatives – These questions provide the teacher with an opportunity consider a variety of possible options. "What are all the ways you can think of to try this?”
        • Action – These questions assist in developing the joint plan of what the teacher is going to do next. “Who is going to do what before our next visit?”

Reflective Questioning with Adults

by Maggie Holley and Karrie Snider

Questions that the coach asks of the teacher mirror those the teacher asks of the children. Such as, “What questions do you have today?", "How could you research that?", "Who else could help you with that?, etc.”

How to foster the teacher asking more questions of the coach. At the start of the coaching relationship, building mutual trust and respect is key. Teachers will feel freer to ask questions, if they know that they will not be judged. They will feel safe and comfortable to share freely and tackle tough questions if they know that their information is safe and private (especially from school administrators). Because coaches may be seen as “experts” in their field, they can be intimidating to teachers, especially novice ones. Consequently coaches should practice active listening techniques, and learn to listen more than they speak. Ask more questions, rather than giving answers. Answer questions with more questions – to turn the focus back on the teacher. Finally, give positive descriptive feedback to teachers whenever possible. “You really figured that problem out yourself!”

How to foster the children asking more questions of the teacher. As with fostering more coach questions above, teachers can similarly be encouraged to listen more than they talk, refrain from answering a question that the child could possibly find out on their own, trust the children to be able to follow through and believe that they are capable of asking questions and researching answers, and finally help teach them what a question is and how to ask them. Observe children’s play and ask “Is that something you would like to know more about? How could we word that as a question?”

What about the Children's Questions?

Project Approach expert, Judy Harris Helm, Ed.D., organizes key information regarding children's questions in "Getting Good Questions", a training handout. She stated in training, "you don't have to ask a question--to ask a question". This is a good reminder that young children are constantly telling us what they are wondering about through their play, interactions with us and peers, and also through their non-verbal and verbal cues. As we learn to watch children closely, we can being to uncover all the questions being asked by children.

In Phase I, Helm states that questions often reveal the depth of a project. They assist in determining the topic and often determine the direction you will go at the project. Often, the questions predict the aspect of the topic that will be most productive. In Phase II the teacher reviews and analyzes the questions to plan for field site visits and expert visits. Questions shape these experiences. Teachers work to help children further develop initial question or go deeper into one aspect of a question with new questions for experts. Questions are primary ways to build and stay connected to experts. Revisiting questions is essential when conducting project work. Phase III of course is all about the fact that the children are satisfied with the answers they have gathered, so the questions that remain deal with --"how will we share with others what we have learned?"

Because the ability to ask questions for investigating and researching happens as children cognitive development increases, Helm & Katz have worked to help us make sense of children's questions and what they do or don't tell us.

o Fact Questions – These cannot be answered through children’s independent investigation “What is the name of your dog?”

o Comment Questions– Not real questions but really statements. “Why are spiders so smart they can make webs?” p.77 Helm

o Inquiry Questions – Appropriate questions for projects because they are able to be researched by children doing independent investigation or close observation. “What is eating the pumpkin in the garden?”

o Complex Questions– These require complex explanations “How does a car motor work?”

For further reading on children's questions in The Project Approach:

Collaborating with others

Coaches, particularly guest-coaches, that is expert coaches who are hired outside of regular program staff, often need to be skilled at collaborating not only with their coachee but with other early childhood program staff.

Other coaches in the school – It is important to keep in mind that each coach has an area of focus and expertise, therefore when coaches keep their work centered on their own area, and do not tread on other coach’s topics, it is less confusing for the teacher. It can be awkward and challenging for a teacher to have to balance potentially conflicting information from two coaches.

Teacher / assistants – When at all possible, it is very important that the teacher assistants be included in the coaching experience. This allows for continuous consistent flow of information, smoother classroom experience for children , as well as empowering teacher aides to grow in the profession.

Administrators – It is essential that the coach’s work be aligned with the philosophy of the school, that communication between coach and administrator be open, but that confidentiality is maintained between coach and teacher. (i.e., the coach should not share information about the teacher with the administrator that is private or that could be used against them, unless the safety of children is at stake). In this way, evaluation and mentoring / coaching can remain separate.

Other programs – It is helpful if the coach can be in contact with coaches from other centers, to help build bridges throughout the community. Coaches can arrange joint trainings, encourage teachers across the community to share ideas and support each other.

The coach’s supervisor / PI of the grant / etc. – The coach should always alert their program leader / supervisor to any potential problems, as well as sharing successes or special observed growth of their teachers.