Coaching is an interactive strategy designed to improve a home visitor’s practice. It involves a coach’s targeted observation of a skill and joint discussion, reflection, and planning for improvement. Coaching also serves as a link to connect training — the knowledge and skills home visitors learn in a professional development session — to practice — how home visitors use what they learn in their work with parents/families and their children.
The Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) (45 CFR §1302.92(c)(1)–(5)) requires programs to implement a research-based, coordinated coaching strategy as part of ongoing professional development. All home visiting staff should be assessed to identify strengths, areas of needed support, and staff who could benefit most from intensive coaching. Home visiting staff who are identified to receive intensive coaching must have opportunities to be observed and receive feedback and modeling of effective home visiting practices directly related to performance goals. Home visiting staff not identified for intensive coaching should receive other forms of research-based professional development aligned with your program performance goals.
Intensive coaching can be provided in different ways. For example:
- Support the home visitor in applying knowledge gained in training to the context of home visits or socializations. For instance, if you had a training on infant mental health at last week’s staff meeting, the coach would work with the home visitor on implementing the strategies discussed.
- Offer “just-in-time” learning. Provide coaching on the spot to support knowledge and skills. A coach might suggest a strategy for engaging a parent during a group socialization. Think “teachable moment”!
- Model fidelity to practice standards such as implementing curriculum as intended, using evidence-based practices and strategies, and applying the HSPPS. A coach might demonstrate how to use the assessment tool during a home visit.
Coaching models tend to include the following elements:
- Joint planning: What will the coach do and when? What will the home visitor do and when? What skills will they work on?
- Observation: The coach observes how the home visitor interacts with parents/family members and children during home visits and socializations. This may be done through video recording or self-reporting.
- Feedback: The coach provides constructive comments based on observation. The coach might also provide additional information/resources about a practice.
- Reflection: The coach encourages the home visitor to stop and think about what she already knows, what she would like to happen, what is working or not working, and ideas for strengthening or changing a strategy or practice.
- Action/practice: The home visitor tries out a new action/practice or a different way to approach an action/practice. The coach might also model a practice for the home visitor.
The cycle starts again for a new approach or next targeted skill, depending on the coaching goals.
The Coach–Home Visitor Relationship
To be effective, the coach and home visitor must work as partners. The coach creates a safe, open space for the home visitor to ask questions, discuss concerns, get feedback, strengthen current practices, and try new strategies without fear of failing or negative judgment. This safe space is like the safe space created in reflective supervision. The parallel process is also at work: If home visitors are coached in a nurturing, constructive way, they can take that experience into their work with parents, families, and children.
Who should provide coaching?
- Trained staff hired just to do coaching
- Home-based supervisor
- In-house staff trainer
- Other coordinators and supervisors
- Outside consultants
Under the HSPPS (45 CFR §1302.91(f), a program must ensure that people who provide intensive coaching have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field.
Characteristics of a Good Coach 
- Calm and centered
- Organized, with attention to detail, and able to help home visitors organize their thoughts and ideas
- Warm and friendly, approachable, enjoys talking with people
- Open to discussion and ideas
- Others would feel comfortable going to for support
- Promotes the coaching relationship
- Open to experience
- Offers strength-based, constructive feedback
- Values the home visitor's experiences and perspectives
- Does not believe their ways of thinking and doing things are the only right ways
- Open to the home visitor's ideas and building on them
- Fully present to support the home visitor
In addition to these characteristics, coaches can use certain skills and strategies when working with home visitors. These may sound familiar because they are also used in reflective supervision. (Find more information in the Reflective Supervision section of this handbook.)
- Put external and internal distractions aside to be fully present and tuned in to what the home visitor is saying.
- External: Turn phone ringer off or put on silent; turn the computer off; face the computer screen away from you.
- Internal: Let go of other concerns or tasks you must do during the day.
- Seek to fully understand the home visitor's experiences, questions, and concerns.
- Ask open-ended questions that help home visitors explore their practices and figure out what works or does not work. For example, “What are you doing now?” “How do you typically handle…? “How is that working?” “What did you notice when…?” “Why do you think the parent did…when you did…?” “How did it feel when you…?” “How might you do this differently? What strategy do you want to try?”
- Wonder together with the home visitor in a nonjudgmental way. For example, if the home visitor shares something that frustrated her about an interaction with a parent, the coach might say, “I wonder what that means. I wonder why the parent reacted that way.” “Wondering” questions create opportunities for exploring assumptions and making discoveries that can lead to new strategies for interacting with the parent.
- Put aside one’s own frame of reference to understand the home visitor’s perspective — how she sees the world and feels about her experiences working closely with parents/families and young children.
- Recognize differences in experiences and feelings.
- Accept that the home visitor’s strong feelings may be positive, negative, and difficult to handle.
Pointing Out the Positive
- Pointing out the positive is a powerful relationship- and capacity-building strategy.
- Appreciate home visitors for who they are. For example, “Your calmness when the baby was fussing seemed to help the parent manage her frustration with the baby’s behavior.”
- Appreciate home visitors for what they do. For example, “I’ve noticed you take detailed notes and pay close attention to what we discuss in our coaching sessions. Your learning strategies are paying off. I see positive changes in how you support the parent in reading to his toddler.”
- “Not knowing” is a way of equalizing power in a relationship and looking for answers together.
- Say, “I don’t know, but I’ll look for that information and get back to you,” and then follow through in a timely manner.
- Hold back from providing an immediate answer or “fixing” a problem. For example, say, “I don’t know. What have you tried? What other ideas do you have?” This approach gives the home visitor a chance to make her own connections and discoveries and suggest strategies and solutions that might be more appropriate than the ones the coach had in mind.
- Be consistent and reliable.
- Show up on time for coaching sessions.
- Follow through.
- Pursue the coaching plan that was developed with the home visitor.
- Ask the home visitor for her ideas and input, what her goals are, and what she would find most helpful from the coaching relationship.
- Identify expectations and boundaries such as limits to privacy and confidentiality (e.g., issues that the coach or home visitor is required by law to report). Decide what needs to be communicated or not outside the coaching relationship.
- If you are not the coach, make sure that lines of communication — what will be communicated and by whom — are spelled out among you, the coach, and the home visitors. One program in Maine empowers frontline staff to be the primary communicators of their work with their supervisor and coach. Although the supervisor and coach talk to each other, they are not the ones to share immediate information. That is the responsibility of the staff member.
- If you are the coach, communicate your expectations as a coach versus your expectations as a supervisor. The coaching relationship should be a “safe space.” However, home visitors may not want to share concerns, ask questions, or try new strategies and practices if they fear that not knowing something or having an unsuccessful experience with a parent will count against them in their performance evaluation. You must determine how to balance your responsibilities as a coach with your responsibilities as a supervisor. There is no one right way to do this!
Deciding Who Gets Coached
- A program must implement a research-based, coordinated coaching strategy that assesses all education staff to identify strengths, areas of needed support, and which staff would benefit most from intensive coaching (45 CFR §1302.92(c)1).
- Coaching is meant to build home visitors’ skills and knowledge and help them transfer learning to practice. The amount of time a home visitor receives coaching support will depend on the home visitor’s goals and expected outcomes.
- Use sources of information such as observations, professional development goals that you and the home visitor identify together, and child assessment and family outcome data. Keep in mind that not everyone needs coaching and that not all home visitors have to receive coaching at the same time.
- Establish benchmarks so that you and the home visitor can determine when progress is being made and when the stated goals are reached.
- Address administrative issues with the home visitor. Coaching should be seen as a support measure, not a disciplinary one, for skills development and use of effective practices in home visiting.
Practice-based coaching (PBC) is an evidence-based form of coaching used in Head Start and Early Head Start programs. “It is a [cyclical] model of coaching that includes three components [planning goals and action steps, engaging in focused observation, and reflecting on and sharing feedback about teaching practices] which are associated with change in teacher practices and associated changes in child outcomes.”
Using PBC in Home-Based Programs
PBC has multiple layers in the home-based option. It involves coaching the home visitor’s use of effective practices for promoting parent/family interactions with their children. As a home visitors’ knowledge and skills are strengthened, so are parent and family practices that support positive child outcomes.
The PBC process follows a cyclical process:
- Coaches engage home visitors in setting goals and creating action plans to reach those goals.
- Coaches observe home visitors working with families or review video that home visitors have taken.
- Coaches debrief with home visitors and engage them in reflection and problem solving.
- Coaches provide feedback, materials, and resources. Coaches may also model target practices and engage home visitors in role-play.
- Coaches review goals with home visitors and update the established action plan as needed.
If a coach wants to attend a home visit, it is important that the family voluntarily agree to this in advance. The home visitor talks with the family about the benefits to their practice and allows the family to make the decision. The home visitor then walks through the process with the family and prepares them for a coach to participate in one or more home visits.
Nurturing, responsive interactions are key to providing emotional support to children. View Using PBC to Support Positive Interactions to explore practices coaches can use to support positive adult-child interactions. Learn about strategies coaches can use across all birth-to-age-5 program options, including center-based, home-based, and family child care.
Nancy Seibel, consultant, Keys to Change, talks about the relationships involved in coaching, including reflecting in, on, and for action.
Coaching as a Professional Development Strategy Clip
View the transcript
Open Door Series
Nancy Siebel: So, when a coaching relationship is working effectively, we're working together as partners with our coachees, and we experience safety and openness that provides motivation to learn and to try new things. What we experience in one relationship we carry into others. And that's really what's meant by the idea of the parallel process in relationships.
So, the parallel process in relationships tell us that the interactions and the emotional exchanges that happen in one relationship can influence that same exchange in another relationship. If we're in the coaching role, we can deliberately use our relationship to help build the capacity to develop safe, open, and supportive relationships between those we coach and the families that they work with. And when coachees in turn are able to use those skills with the parents and the children they work with, parents and children are developing – getting the experience of nurturing responsive interactions that they can then provide to each other. So, the coaching relationship gives us a template that we can carry forward. We know how it feels. It helps us create those relationships.
To picture how it works, I'm gonna ask you to imagine something. Let's say – you can sort of watch this in your mind as a little video – you arrive at work after a very rushed morning and a really rough commute. A co-worker greets you with a smile, and she offers to get you a cup of coffee while you get settled. So, how do you feel then? Do you feel valued, cared for, able to perhaps let go of some of the stress you brought in the door with you? How do you carry that experience into your next interaction of the day? Hopefully that has given you some reserves of patience and maybe some willingness to offer support to the next person you encounter. Does that make sense? So, you can see how one relationship can influence another relationship in the movie we all just watched together in our minds.
The bottom line is that relationships influence other relationships, and this is the essence of how the coaching relationship influences outcomes. Then there's the "what" of coaching, and the "what" involves the knowledge that's shared, the goals that we're trying to reach, the expectations, and the purpose. The relationship is really the "how" of coaching. It's through the coaching relationship coachees can be open to reflecting, learning, trying out new perspectives, and practicing new skills. And this is how coaching helps build competencies. So, we can think about competencies as having the components of knowledge, attitudes, and skills. And when people get someone to swim in the water with them and work alongside them as they build the skills and gather the knowledge and perhaps reshape or broaden or deepen the needed attitudes, competencies grow. I think that coaching creates the time and the opportunity to do some examining of the attitudes, question their beliefs, think carefully about what they know, and deepen their skills.
Coaching supports reflective tak-- thinking. I started to stay "reflective taking," and I have no idea what that would be, but it's an interesting idea. Coaching supports reflective thinking. And one way to think about reflective thinking is that when we are doing that, we're taking the time to look, listen, and learn from our work. I'm gonna talk about three components of reflections that coaching can help us with. So, you see them here, reflecting in, on, and for action. And your first thought might be, "What the heck is she talking about?” So, let's start with the one that I think is the most self-evident, and that one is reflecting for action. We do that when we stop and take time to prepare, to think ahead about what might happen, what might the response be to what we're doing, and get as ready as we can for all the things we can predict could happen.
Okay, so, that's looking ahead. After we do something, we might reflect on that experience, look at what happened in order to learn, and possibly to keep doing what worked well and to make changes if things didn't work as we had hoped. So, that's looking back. Reflecting in action, I used to think when I first heard the idea it meant taking a minute to stop and think when someone asked a question or did something and you weren't sure what to do next. And I learned after reading Donald Schon's book a little more carefully that that's a very brief, in-the-moment, almost, reflection on action when you do that. And that's a perfectly wonderful thing to do. What reflecting in action is, is that when you see people doing it, responding to the unexpected in a very smooth and effective way, making an adjustment almost instantaneously, that's reflecting in action.
When you've done that – let's say, all of a sudden, a child got ready to bite another child, and in that moment you fluidly stepped in and distracted the child that was getting ready to inflict the bite. And someone else would say to you, "How did you know how to do that with him?” And you might say, "I don't know. It just seemed like the right thing.” In reality, that response of yours was based on everything you had learned up until that point about that child in particular, about how to redirect a child that's starting to do something wrong – that might have come from something you read or something you were trained in – and about thinking back on those experiences and perhaps discussing them with somebody.
So, coaches can help people get ready for action. And an example like that – they might say, "So, under what conditions does this child tend to bite –“ and help you identify those and then help you think through a few steps you could take that might help redirect the child or stop the injury from happening. And can help you reflect on action by giving you someone to talk with about how the different strategies that you tried worked out. The more you reflect for action and on action, the better and better and better you get at reflections in action.
So, coaching really enhances practice by providing plenty of opportunities for reflecting for action and reflecting on action.
Reflect on the following questions after watching the video:
- Which coaching strategy would you like to enhance in your repertoire of skills?
- Discuss a strategy that may be useful for one of your supervisees to use with a family.
This web page contains a variety of resources about practice-based coaching.
Last Updated: February 19, 2021