Teachers Are Learners, Too: Individualizing Professional Development Through Coaching

March 10, 2009 at 9:08 pm 1 comment

posted by Diane Trister Dodge ’70, founder and president of Teaching Strategies, Inc.

diane_trister_dodgeAs the investment in preschool programs increases, early childhood programs and teachers are being held accountable for meeting quality standards and demonstrating positive outcomes for children. Teachers are responsible for fully implementing a comprehensive curriculum, using ongoing assessment to inform their decisions, and ensuring the development and learning of all children. At the same time, resources are limited, and the guidance and support teachers receive to understand and implement their curriculum and assessment systems are rarely sufficient.

Curriculum developers have a responsibility to provide support to programs in effectively using their resources.  Traditionally, we at Teaching Strategies have developed and published training manuals on our curriculum and assessment systems and offered conferences and on-site training to support teachers and programs. Workshops certainly have a place, but they are not sufficient. We are now strengthening our efforts to build capacity within programs to provide the day-to-day, individualized support teachers need to enhance their practices and meet the challenges they face today.

Teachers have many different levels of experience and understanding, but they are all expected to implement a curriculum and assessment system. I know from my own experience as an education coordinator in Head Start and child care programs that the teachers I worked with benefited from very different kinds of support. Some needed help in setting up or reorganizing their rooms, planning a daily schedule, managing routines, and using interest areas as settings for learning. Their needs were immediate, and their survival as teachers was at stake. More experienced teachers often had the basics in place and were interested in specific support, such as how to manage small-group activities focusing on literacy or math, and how to introduce and implement a meaningful study. Advanced teachers who were refining their skills needed a different type of support and encouragement to inspire and validate their practices.

As coaches, our work with teachers must begin with building relationships, just as our work with children and families begins. The teachers with whom we work need to know that we respect them and care deeply about their ability to teach well. When teachers trust us, they are more likely to welcome us into their classrooms, reveal their struggles and challenges, and risk trying new approaches. An individualized, strength-based approach is just as important in coaching teachers. Because teachers are at very different stages in their understanding and implementation of a curriculum, the support and guidance we offer should first acknowledge each teacher’s strong practices and then address skills and knowledge that need strengthening. Setting realistic expectations and scaffolding learning conveys confidence in a teacher’s ability to develop and learn.

As a preschool teacher, I improved my practice and gained skills by working with knowledgeable and experienced teachers and seeing how they related to the children, created exciting classrooms, and inspired children to become active learners. I grew as an education coordinator in Head Start by working with supervisors who believed in me, recognized and valued my ideas, and encouraged me to try new approaches. I enjoyed presenting workshops for teachers, but their practice improved largely because of coaching in their classrooms. Observing their challenges firsthand enabled me to focus my support on their individual strengths, needs, and interests.

Coaches are often teachers who take on this role with very little guidance or training on how to coach and mentor other teachers. They need resources and professional development opportunities targeted to their role. To meet this need, we have just published a very exciting resource called The Coach’s Guide to The Creative Curriculum for Preschool: A Step-by-Step Resource for Individualizing Professional Development. It is a critical piece of our goal to build capacity within programs to provide the ongoing, in-classroom, individualized support that will truly help each teacher understand the curriculum and implement it well.

Diane Trister Dodge graduated from Bank Street in 1970 with an MS in Early Childhood Education.  She is the author of numerous books, articles, and training materials for early childhood educators. Diane has been a preschool and kindergarten teacher; served as the education coordinator for Head Start and child care programs in Mississippi and Washington, D.C.; and directed national projects in education and human services. In 2004, she received the BSCAA Recognition Award for her contributions to the field of education.

Entry filed under: coaching, collaboration, early childhood, leadership, professional development.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. konnie.teo  |  March 12, 2009 at 2:55 am

    In my opinion, i think that child development during the early stages is extremely important. As much as its a teacher’s job, parents should not forget their responsibility as well

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