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Coach Approach: Sustaining High-Quality Mathematical Learning in Early Childhood Settings

Research Team

Name Name

Principal Investigator: Kelley Buchheister

Co-Principal Investigators: Holly Hatton, Rachel Schachter

Funding Information

Funding Agency: Office of Research and Economic Development—Layman Award

Award Date: May 1, 2018

End Date: Apr 30, 2019


Engaging preschool children in high-quality mathematics experiences and fostering mathematical reasoning are critical to closing the achievement gap and promoting greater kindergarten readiness. However, preschool teachers sometimes are limited in both their knowledge of mathematical content and their ability to use that knowledge to implement strategies that support children’s mathematical learning. 

Additionally, early childhood programs are often confronted with high rates of teacher turnover. Therefore, establishing ongoing, sustainable support systems for high-quality mathematics teaching and learning in the early years is essential. 

This project designs and pilots an innovative professional learning model that aims to prepare coaches to support the development of early childhood teachers’ mathematical knowledge and implementation of effective practices that enrich children’s mathematical reasoning. The goal is to build early childhood programs’ capacity for sustaining high-quality practices in early mathematics by focusing on developing leaders who will serve as internal coaches for classroom teachers. Training leaders within in the early childhood programs can combat the persistent problem of teacher-turnover and develop a more sustainable, cost-effective strategy for enriching early childhood teachers’ professional learning. 

Training sessions in the “Train the Coach Approach” professional learning program focus on strategies that support teachers’ development of mathematical knowledge and the enactment of pedagogical practices that enhance mathematical teaching and learning in the early childhood classroom. The coaching strategies focus on: (a) the importance of individualizing coaching to the learner’s needs, resources, readiness and learning style; (b) using facilitated reflection and constructive feedback to lead to positive changes; and (c) using data and a strength-based approach as the foundation of the coaching conversations. 

Qualitative and quantitative data from videos of coaching sessions, classroom instruction and surveys will be gathered and triangulated through a concurrent mixed-methods design to identify the evidence of promise in the “Train the Coach Approach” model for supporting coaches as well as improving teachers’ mathematical knowledge, teaching practices and subsequent child outcomes. 

This project’s findings will ensure further development and refinement of the “Train the Coach Approach” model to support sustainable methods to enhance professional learning in teaching early childhood mathematics. This process will enable researchers to continue this work at-scale to validate results and explore the impacts of the novel “Train the Coach Approach” in variety of early childhood contexts. 

Research, Measurement and Evaluation Methods

From left, Rachel Schachter, Holly Hatton-Bowers and Kelley Buchheister, assistant professors of child, youth and family studies
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