Issues Related to Coaching

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

Building Relationships

o How to build relationships at the start of the coaching process.

We recommend starting relationship building by getting to know each other as people first. Chat, find out about each other’s’ families, past experiences, dreams, plans, favorites, birthdays, etc. Look for commonalities, similar paths or goals. Then the coach can begin asking what the teacher really needs to become a better teacher and how the coach can support that.

o Importance of Trust

This cannot be understated. The teacher and coach MUST trust each other. Both must believe that the other is a capable individual, worthy of their time, being honest, working hard and trying new things. Both must trust that confidentiality will be kept, except of course in the case of the safety of the children.


o Changes in Classroom Teaching Team

If a coach is lucky enough to have both the assistant and teacher in coaching sessions, then when one teachers moves to another classroom or leaves the program it is much easier to blend in another teacher or assistant and get them up to speed. If not, it can be necessary to go back to square one in the coaching process; starting with building new relationships and trust.

o Changes in Coaches

When possible, the new coach should attend a planning session or two between the leaving coach and the teacher, to understand the flow of their session, and to help build trust with the new coach. Keeping the routine mostly the same initially is wise, so the change is not so jarring, however the new coach /teacher relationship must also develop its own character and pattern, due to different expertise on the part of the coach, and different personalities.

o Changes in Children

During the course of a school year, there may be a natural flow of children in and out of early childhood classrooms--whether for continuity of care reasons, or due to families moving in and out of the program area. Sometimes, changes in the student make-up can present challenges for the teacher. Coaches and teachers can work together to problem-solve these challenges as they would any other perceived barrier that pops up during their time together. As for project work, not all classroom children may be involved in the project, or at least at the same level. Introducing a new student to the classroom to the project topic, some project provocations and including them in small group conversations will provide the child several experiences to get started with the whole group.

Collecting Data

o Official, objective observations

Objective classroom observations of the targeted coaching intervention can happen just a few times during an academic year, to provide official perhaps numerical feedback to a teaching and coaching team. Often an instrument such as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) is used to help provide more reliable, valid and objective information to the coaching and teacher learning process.

o Classroom / program improvement / action research

Small action research studies can be very beneficial to include. “What if I rearrange the furniture in this way and we both observe how the flow of the children’s play changes this week?”

o Unofficial yet objective feedback for teachers

This can happen every week, as the coach spends time alongside the teacher in the classroom, and takes notes about things seen and heard by both children and teachers in the classroom. The coach can make general notes, or focused on some specific skill or strategy that the teacher is trying out with the children. It is important that the coach always remain objective, citing examples and actual words and phrases rather than opinions or judgments. “Your new strategy to calm the children in circle time really worked. It only took them 5 seconds to settle down, compared to 5 minutes last week!” Remember to provide positive descriptive feedback often, and not focus exclusively on challenges or teacher growth areas.

Special situations

o Children with special needs and project work?

Not all classrooms fit a model of containing all typically developing children. When coaching in a special needs classroom, it is even more important to maintain flexibility. Use a strengths based approach. Follow the policies of the classroom and center, as you would in any other context. Most importantly, work sensitively together. As coach and coachee, work to highlight children's marvelous capabilities and growth opportunities within projects. Foster new ideas and new insights about

o How much to do for a teacher? (modeling, organizing resources, phone calling, etc)

There are phases of teacher development. At earlier stages, some teachers may benefit by more actual modeling of strategies by the coach, but then gradually the coach will be wise to pull back gradually, weaning themselves out of actual full activity modeling, and move to more incidental comments or questions in the classroom, or by planning together possible scenarios in the classroom. “Over time, feedback by the coach becomes more affirmative and less informational" (Rush & Shelden, 2014, p. 12). Keep in mind that information is provided typically at the beginning of a project or intervention, when the coach definitively knows that that coachee has had limited experience with the coaching topic (e.g., first time to implement project work, so the coach and coachee would participate in shared reading activities about project work to build the coachee's background knowledge).

o Sometimes teachers or administrators may feel threatened by outside coaches

Occasionally a regular full time school coach can feel threatened by specially assigned content coaches. It’s important for all of a teachers coaches to communicate and determine areas of focus for each, as well as all parties agreeing to maintaining professional standards when discussing.

o How to maintain confidentiality

It is important for coaches to maintain confidentiality with their coachees. The trust that needs to be in place for teachers to honestly process reflections about their practice necessitates that teachers share honestly their ideas about teaching, take risks with new strategies, and perhaps take risk in light of potential failing. These need to not be shared with an administrator who is in a position to evaluate or judge, promote or fire teachers. Sometimes a coach will need to explain to a director that she will certainly report if a teacher is doing something to harm children, but otherwise the journey of the teacher needs to remain confidential.

o How to focus on projects when the teacher needs basic skills

Find a way to embed the basic process skills into project work. For example, children will be more able to attend to a small group observational drawing activity, if they have had prior experience in small groups, as well as practice with observing (that is the children learning to observe). Some of the essential basic skills helpful to enhancing project learning are: small group, building with cardboard/tape/paper, clay, asking questions, researching in books, cooperating with peers, independent working, etc.

o Use of technology as a tool in coaching

The iPad can be used in many ways: Record the teacher doing an activity or using a specific strategy, then teacher and coach analyze the video together; teacher records herself on a field visit, in case a trip cannot be approved for the whole class; teacher puts together clips of children’s work in the classroom using iMovie or other editing program for showing to families / children / administrators; photos or videos of children working can be sent to families to demonstrate learning; cameras can be given to children to have them document learning or experience with a topic.