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Teacher coaching boosts early childhood education

Coaching has surfaced as a key quality improvement strategy for early childhood instruction, according to a recent report by Bellwether Education Partners. District administrators have hired full-time, in-house coaches, some of whom had previously been in a PD or education leadership role.

Coaching can be delivered in person, using email or a platform such as Skype, or via the evidence-based model, where teachers upload a video of themselves teaching for coaches to assess. “Being able to see the teacher in action can be particularly important in early childhood coaching because the interaction between children and teachers is so important,” says Bonnie O’Keefe, author of the report.

Building relationships

The relationship between teachers and coaches is also critical, says Angela C. Baum, associate department chair of instruction and teacher education at the University of South Carolina. She recommends identifying someone in-house as a coach.

“It should be someone who understands the students, the community, the teachers and what they need to improve on. Someone who is able to individualize coaching in a way that is beneficial to those receiving it,” she says.

Strong trust between coaches and teachers can prevent stigmatization. “Sometimes it’s perceived that only ‘bad’ teachers are coached,” says O’Keefe. “You run the risk of coaching being perceived as a punishment, unless you have the trusting relationship and buy-in.”

A positive approach

Logistics can be another challenge because coach and teacher must be together, either virtually or in person, at some point during the school day. “Someone has to be watching the kids,” says O’Keefe. “Staffing can be tight and finding that time in the day to dig into the work can be an unanticipated challenge for folks.” Funding also can be a hurdle, O’Keefe says.

Head Start requires coaches, as do 25 states. “There is sticker shock since coaching can be a very labor-intensive approach,” O’Keefe says.

She recommends clearly defining the coach’s role and not leaning on those in supervisory positions. Ultimately, successful coaching should have a lasting effect, both on teachers and students. “Some of the takeaways can extend into the later years of schooling,” O’Keefe says.