Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children
Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

One way to help young children achieve more success, some research suggests, is to provide their teachers with coaches and mentors.

“Mentors and coaches serve as guides and role models who talk openly and directly with teachers about their work, help them improve their skills in interacting with children and families, and provide information and feedback,” Marcy Whitebook writes in an article called “Mentoring and Coaching: Distinctions in Practice,” which was published in the quarterly newsletter of the Preschool Development Grants Technical Assistance (PDG TA) Program.

Whitebook, whom we’ve blogged about several times before, is the director/senior researcher at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment in the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley.

Her article distinguishes between “coaching” and “mentoring,” explaining that while they “are often used interchangeably, there can be significant distinctions between these two roles. Mentors tend to focus on the development of an individual teacher… coaches may work either with individuals or with classroom teams as a group…”

In addition to building professional skills, mentoring and coaching also develop interpersonal relationships. Whitebook writes:

“Trust is essential for a close relationship, along with willingness by both partners to reveal themselves and to risk making mistakes.”

To do their work well, Whitebook says, coaches and mentors should ideally “have significant experience in teaching young children, with a command of relevant skills and knowledge to share with their protégés about pedagogy and how children learn. Preparation for either role should include education and training not only in child development, and the care and teaching of young children, but also in adult learning, culture, teacher development and reflective practice.”

In addition to Whitebook’s article, the PDG TA newsletter includes a number of related articles that cover: the Alabama Reflective Coaching Model, which was developed by Alabama’s Office of School Readiness; some examples of early childhood coaching models; using technology for off-site coaching; and the results of the Head Start Early Learning Mentor Coach Initiative.

Click here to see past issues of the PDG TA newsletter. They cover dual language learners, children with high needs, and other topics.

Last year, coaching and mentoring received attention from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in its report, “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation,” which can be downloaded here.

The IOM report notes that coaching and mentoring “offer a practical way for practitioners to grow on the job.”

For example, in literacy instruction, “When educators improve their knowledge of language and reading instruction, their students’ skills also improve.” However, some studies “suggest that to increase student achievement in literacy, stand-alone professional learning is not optimally effective. More effective is training, especially around specific curriculum materials or approaches, complemented by strong in-class coaching or mentoring.”

Nationally, the need for coaches and mentors is substantial. As the IOM report explains, “While mentoring and coaching seem to be happening in some places, generally speaking there is a gap in this kind of support.”

Filling this gap in support promises to unleash the best in early educators and to yield better outcomes for children.