Early childhood programs have traditionally focused most of their professional development efforts on opportunities such as inservice days, workshops, and continuing education. As wonderful as some of these learning opportunities can be, recent research has shown that coaching can actually be a much more effective approach to professional learning in early childhood education. In fact, in 2016 Head Start released new performance standards that require coaching as an element of every programs’ professional development and training efforts. Although Head Start allows for some programmatic freedom around how coaching happens, there are a few key components that are clearly dictated:
- Coaches must have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a directly related field
- A program’s approach to coaching must be research-based
- Every education staff person must be assessed
- Opportunities for intensive coaching for those who need it are provided, and
- There are links to traditional professional development opportunities for those who might need a “light touch” approach
In order to maximize the benefits of coaching, it cannot be a process that simply checks a box because it is required. There are significant benefits for teachers, and subsequently for children, when coaching is reflective, practice-based, and facilitated with someone with whom the educator has a trusting relationship. Unfortunately, education directors may not always have the resources, capacity, personnel, or the know-how to effectively coach their teaching teams. So how do programs meet this requirement when faced with such challenges?
If your program has the resources…use them! While some programs operate on a shoestring budget, there are programs that have the gift of financial resources just waiting for a worthwhile initiative on which to be used. An education coach is a programmatic investment that will pay dividends; as a coach not only allows directors to focus on the administrative leadership of their programs, but it’s a role that touches all layers of the organization. In addition, it is one of the few programmatic roles that can be tied to concrete data that can measure its impact: environmental rating scores, CLASS scores, and child assessment data (something potential funders will love).
Share resources with other organizations. Perhaps your program does not have the resources to support a full-time education coach, or your program is small and does not require someone to work in that capacity for 40 hours per week. Sharing a coach with another organization that’s in a similar situation may be the best way to tap into the specialized expertise required to be an effective education coach without absorbing a full-time salary and benefits.
Tap into community resources. In some communities, there are early childhood councils, resource and referral agencies, and other non-profit organizations that have the capacity to provide coaching supports on a limited basis. These organizations often provide minimal numbers of hours of coaching, however, this could be a great resource for organizations that need targeted support in a specific area, or might otherwise not have access to coaching. If your program is funded by Head Start, it will be important to ensure that any external coach that is used still meets the minimum education requirement.
Outsource. If your program does not have the resources or need for a full-time coach, sharing personnel is too complicated, and community resources are simply not enough or not accessible, or if your curriculum or program philosophy is unique to your organization, outsourcing may be a great option. Utilizing a consultant that specializes in coaching or your program’s curriculum will allow you to create a coaching implementation plan that’s specific to your organization. In addition, the use of technology further allows you to tap into expertise that may not be readily available in your own community. Outsourcing can also provide access to a wealth of other resources such as professional development, and administrator coaching. Lastly, using a consultant can be more cost-effective than hiring your own personnel.
Regardless of your approach to coaching (or funding source/regulatory agency, like in the case of Head Start), the pedagogical leadership that having an education coach in your program provides is immensely valuable. Education coaching will have a significant impact on teachers and their classroom practices, and as a result, will have an impact on the children served in those classrooms.