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Knoche studying coaches of early childhood teachers, parents

For many Nebraskans, the word “coaching” is synonymous with revered football figures such as Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney. For CYFS Faculty Affiliate Lisa Knoche, it’s vital to the future of Nebraska’s early childhood education.

Knoche is leading a newly funded one-year evaluation of the Early Childhood Coaching Project (ECCP). Developed by the Nebraska Department of Education, the ECCP recently began training early childhood professionals who work with teachers and parents to improve young children’s development.

With the assistance of CYFS Consultant Sue Bainter, Knoche is focused on determining the extent to which these early childhood professionals adhere to the coaching practices and strategies on which they receive training. In addition to considering which factors might affect adherence, the evaluation will examine whether current coaching models meet the needs and expectations of childhood professionals, parents and teachers.

Knoche noted that the project, which is funded by the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, is a “springboard effort” to explore the many uncharted dynamics of early childhood coaching.

“In some ways, it’s sort of a black hole: It’s unclear what happens in a lot of coaching relationships,” Knoche said. “[This project] is not really about holding people accountable; it’s more about understanding what they are doing so that we can continue to provide them the support that they need and adjust the actual coaching protocol to effect change.”

Knoche’s project is taking a three-pronged approach to achieve this understanding. The first will consist of surveying up to 45 coach participants about their training and how it translates to work in the field. Moreover, coaches will supply researchers with a variety of information related to their demographics and previous coaching experiences.

In part two, Bainter will coordinate the quarterly videotaping of an additional 10 to 15 coaches working with the teachers and parents of young children. These coaching sessions, which will take place at preschool and home sites throughout Nebraska, will be analyzed for coaches’ adherence to established protocols. Chief among these protocols are appropriate guidance of the sessions and responsiveness to participants’ needs. Coaches will also provide opinions and information on their interactions with parents and teachers.

The evaluation’s final stage will solicit teachers’ and parents’ assessments of the coaching sessions, with teachers also offering insights into their work environments and professional satisfaction.Knoche is hopeful that these collective efforts will eventually shine needed light on how coaching can influence early education settings and children’s developmental outcomes.

“[Early childhood researchers] haven’t spent a lot of time defining coaching,” Knoche said, “and really trying to understand what it takes to make change.

“I hope that, at the end of the day, we have information that’s useful in informing the kinds of supports that are available to both coaches and the agencies or programs that are supporting coaches.”