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Professional Coaching in the Early Learning Workplace

When you think of the word “coach,” what comes to mind? Many of you might think of sports teams while others might think of trending occupations like life coaching. Regardless of what category you put this word in, a coach is probably someone who you link with ideas such as leadership, growth, and encouragement.

In early childhood education, professional coaching is becoming more and more visible; especially in Head Start programs. The difference between professional coaching and other types of coaching is that professional coaching focuses on the development of job specific goals. No matter where you are at in your career, professional coaching can support you to provide more effective services to the children and families you serve, develop a specific skillset, or advance in an area of practice.

So what exactly does professional coaching look like in an early childhood setting? A professional coach can be a supervisor, a peer, or an external content expert. Effective professional coaches will build an authentic and trusting relationship with their coachee (or person being coached). They center their coaching around the coachee’s self-identified needs and support them to develop time bound goals that are attainable and strategic. A coach will meet with their coachee to give feedback and reflect about what worked and what didn’t in the coachee’s practice. They may even recommend alternatives and ways to continuously improve the coachee’s skills.

When a coach is a supervisor, there must be clear division between the two duties. Coaching is never meant to be initiated because of a performance issue or as a means of punitive action. However, in an instance where the coachee struggles to improve in an area that relates to children’s health or safety, the coach must take corrective action as a supervisor. While sometimes it might feel as though the roles of being a coach and a supervisor are not clear, there are ways to communicate with your coachees as to what role you are playing. For example, a coach/supervisor may wear a green colored lanyard when acting in the coaching role and a purple lanyard when acting in a supervisory role. This visual cue will inform the coachee with what to expect when the coach/supervisor enters their workspace.

Major players in the early childhood field, such as Head Start and Teaching Strategies, have created professional coaching resources and tools to help give coaches and coachees some structure and guidance as they begin to implement this process.

The NCQTL (Office of Head Start’s National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning) describes a process of coaching that uses three components:

This three step process is widely used in Head Start agencies across the United States and is referred to as Practice-Based Coaching. In theory, this professional coaching model is effective when coaches and coachees can spend the necessary time outside of the classroom to meet and reflect. However, in many cases, it is extremely difficult for programs to have enough classroom coverage to ensure that regular meetings can take place. A barrier, no doubt.

Teaching Strategies has created two age specific coaching systems: Coaching to Fidelity: Infants Toddlers and Twos Edition and The Coaches Guide to Creative Curriculum for Preschool. Both resources come with supports for coaches and coachees that are research-based and align with Creative Curriculum’s teaching framework. In my opinion, their supports for coaches and coachees are very user friendly and cater to professionals who are just learning the ropes of supporting staff in this context. However, if you aren’t familiar with Creative Curriculum OR struggle with making time for feedback and reflection, you might have to get crafty to ensure that effective coaching practices are happening.

At the end of the day, coaching is an art that we all take on in one capacity or another. I believe that in the future professional coaching models (similar to the models used by Head Start and Teaching Strategies) will be universally utilized throughout our field of practice and will help to align practitioners with common knowledge and skills. The challenge that lies ahead is to lay the groundwork so that we all can experience coaching as an intentional experience for professional growth.


Goffin, Stacie G. 2010. Professionalizing Early Childhood Education as a Field of Practice, Redleaf Press

Psencik, Kay. 2011. The Coaches Craft: Powerful Practices to Support School Leaders, Learning Forward

Practice-Based Coaching: Collaborative Coaching Partnerships. 2015.

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