As early childhood and school-age professionals, we work to provide the best possible opportunities for the children and families we serve. We create nurturing environments that promote holistic development and prepare educators with skills and strategies to set them up for success. Coaching is recognized as an invaluable tool in achieving these goals, offering tailored support through partnership between coach and educator.
Coaching is a relationship-based process designed to build capacity for specific professional dispositions, skills, and behaviors. The New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute is not only the implementing agency for New York Works for Children and the Aspire Registry, but it also has several teams that provide coaching services in various settings. The Institute’s coaching approach is collaborative and strength-based; the coach works with the coachee through a non-linear process of goal-setting, implementation, and reflection. Coaching is a unique form of professional development in that it is individualized, ongoing, and actively supports translating newly gained knowledge into practice. Effective coaching has tremendous benefits, especially when paired with other types of professional development, including group sessions, learning communities, and conferences.
To gain a deeper perspective, I recently sat down to discuss this topic with Steve Castar, a Training and Technical Assistance Professional (T-TAP) credentialed coach who provides individualized, strength-based, reflective coaching to early childhood leaders through the Institute’s Leadership Initiative. Steve has over 47 years of experience in early education as an elementary school teacher, administrator, and preschool program executive director, and he has worked at the Institute for the last seven years.
There are various ways to provide coaching to educators. When asked to define coaching, Steve was reflective. “People have lots of different associations with coaches. I tell people I’m a coach. They say - What sport do you coach? So, you have to talk about that. I like to work from a strength-based point of view, which is something that is important to my work, and the work that we do.” He also told me that coaching within the Leadership Initiative has grown over time by incorporating philosophies espoused by coaching experts like Elena Aguilar (acclaimed author, contributor, blogger, instructional, and leadership coach), whose work is informative and prescriptive. Steve also referred to the work of Judy Jablon, Amy Dombro, and Shaun Johnson in Coaching with Powerful Interactions as a foundational text and touchstone for his work.
Steve also addressed some common misconceptions about coaching. “Coaches should never be used as enforcers, reporters, or evaluators. Coaching is not a tool for fixing people. When somebody perceives that you’re working with them to ‘fix’ them - nine times out of ten, that person is not going to enter into a trusting relationship with you that’s going to lead to an extension of their learning.” This type of sentiment can be demoralizing for staff and, at the very least, unsupportive. Another issue arises when the coach is requested to provide support that does not align with staff needs or previous directives. Steve is not a stranger to such scenarios. In these situations, Steve leans into the root of coaching, empowering the staff and equipping them with key strategies for success. He went on to say: “Some(one) that helps somebody to build capacity, to learn to be reflective, to take a look at their beliefs and their behaviors in such a way as it might lead to a change in their disposition… it’s going to have a positive impact on their work with their staff, the parents, and ultimately the kids.”
According to Steve, coachees must be committed to sharing openly and honestly and be on time for sessions that involve realistic goal setting, observation, feedback, collaboration, and reflection. It is this commitment, Steve said, that makes the coaching relationship unique. Moreover, when coaches create an atmosphere of trust, leaders feel empowered to share intimately with them, working with a fellow professional who understands because he has walked in their shoes. “One of the things that comes to my mind is my ability to be a mirror for someone else, to reflect to them what I’m hearing. That’s something most people don’t have. So, they need somebody else to do that...My ability to ask more questions, as opposed to offering something…. means that I have to really understand that it’s about them. It’s not about me.”
Steve has honed his coaching work for years with many leaders and organizations. “The main focus of my work is to coach early childhood leaders in the field, and I have worked with lots of different people. I started out working with teachers, but then, with the Leadership Initiative, moved to working with leaders in many different environments. I work with Head Start programs and other community-based organizations (CBOs). So, lots of different varieties, and people that have programs that would be classified as independent.”
Relationship-based coaching can result in significant changes in practice. According to feedback from end-of-the-year surveys, many leaders who participated in coaching expressed that through their participation, they learned to “take a pause and step back.” Others recognized that although the desire was present, they could not fix everything. Helping leaders to be reflective rather than reactive is a critical approach Steve and his colleagues take when working with clients. “One of the dynamics that happens and that we really make clear to people is the idea of parallel process, so one of the things I say almost 100% of the time, when I’m working with somebody, is [that] we’re talking about their relationships and their work with other adults. Sometimes it’s about program, but it’s almost always about other adults... Sometimes it’s operational. ‘I don’t know what to do about this’. But a lot of times it’s about what’s happening with other adults…what I’m hoping to do and I’d make explicit is what we’re doing together. You can do this with the people you supervise.”
New York State recognizes coaching as professional development that can apply to regulation training requirements. Coaches in the state can obtain the NYAEYC TTAP coaching credential, a rigorous process that Steve has successfully navigated. His experience as a leader, a teacher, and now a coach shines through every interaction. He advises those seeking to be coaches that experience in the field is critical. “I was able to bring at least that expertise, so I can understand what they were going through... I do think if you want to be a coach, you need to have some grounding in the field…unless you’re authentic, show some vulnerability and model reflection, people are not going to really want to work with you. The other thing is you must be willing to address your inherent biases. I have things on my mind all the time. However, understanding that we all have these thoughts, what do you do with them?” As educators and leaders, self-reflection and modeling are a continuous process that can lead to transformation for the self and the classroom.
Watch the full interview below:
Click here for more information about the NYAEYC Coaching credential and competencies.
Click here for more information about the Leadership Initiative.
Click here for more information about the work of Elena Aguilar.
Click here to locate trainers and coaches approved in the Aspire Registry.
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