The Image is There: The Early Childhood Educator as Coach

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. 

Close your eyes and visualize a coach … what image did you bring to your mind? Now do it again and see YOU! We often hear about images in early learning. An image describes a picture in the mind. If the picture you conjured up was that of a sports coach, think again. When you bring to mind, your own image, regardless of your role and position in early learning, you will be in a position to empower others. The coaching role in early childhood education is worth considering and exploring. Imagine for a minute or two what it feels like to feel empowered! To get you in this reflective mode, take a look at this photo of a child in the bright glow of the setting sun on the water’s edge, supported by her water wings and a watchful adult. Did this child feel empowered in this moment?

Now imagine that you are a early childhood education coach and it is your role to empower others. You can empower children, families, and colleagues! Empowerment “centres on the notion that we all have existing strengths and capabilities, as well as the capacity to become more competent” (Rouse, 2012, p. 16). It is about being aware of power dynamics and consciously sharing power. With empowerment comes capacity. Coaching builds everyone’s capacity including your own. A coach doesn’t come into a coaching situation without accepting that they do not own all the expertise. Context is important. Acknowledging the experience of others by learning about their context is necessary to be a successful coach. Coaches understand that they are engaged in a parallel process. Their strengths-based, reflective interactions serve as a model for the interactions that the educator has with colleagues, families, and children (Jablon, 2016).

In a previous post on coaching, I looked at the difference between coaching, mentoring, supervising, and leading in early childhood education. It is not an either-or choice. You can be a mentor, a supervisor, a leader, and a coach. The reason I am drawn to the image of the coach is that is not one that I have often reflected on. Becoming conscious of images activated by practice can be a catalyst for professional growth. I have supervised a large child care centre, I have supervised students in practicum, I have been mentored and have mentored many. I have been referred to as a pedagogical leader. But not a coach. I think this is a worthwhile image to consider. The image an early childhood educator has of self can impact practice. This image of who we are or combined with a view of the child as learner, forms a pedagogical orientation. The image of the child and our own image merge to create an orientation of teaching and learning which we know as pedagogy. Images influence pedagogy. Pedagogy is a word often used but so complex in nature that it is difficult to fully comprehend. For the purposes of thinking about images, think about pedagogy from the perspective of this simple construct. Think about it in context of your own professional learning as well as the learning of children, families, and colleagues.

I have been on a journey of reflecting on images and this work culminated in 2007 with my doctoral dissertation, Reaching the Top of the Mountain: The Impact of Emergent Curriculum on the Practice and Self-Image of Early Childhood Educators. The journey continues and is still inspired by the image of the teacher emanating from the municipally governed pre-primary schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. The dominate image is the teacher as researcher. Parnell (2004) inspired the title of this blog. He suggests that “the teacher-as-researcher image is one of collaboration and documentation of children’s learning experiences through a pedagogy of listening and close observation” (p.7). I have learned so much by exploring images in early childhood education. The teacher as researcher is an empowering image! Malaguzzi (1998) stressed the importance of teachers being open to change and reconstruction of themselves as teachers. Rinaldi (1998) affirms that when discussing the transcripts of children’s work, teachers subsequently begin to question themselves and each other. This disposition on the part of Reggio teachers to question themselves and to change their interactions based on their reflections is behaviour that is valued and encouraged (Rankin, 2004). This role has resulted in the adoption of an image of the teacher as researcher (Hewett, 2001). What will happen if, in addition to the researcher image, that we as early childhood educators, consider the coach image?

What happens when you see yourself as a coach? You become a person who “helps identify and develop skill in another” (Chu, 2014, p. 7). You become a person who helps another person develop a pedagogical orientation based on images of capacity and competence. Recently, I was asked to present a two-hour interactive training webinar on coaching in early learning to a group of coaches in another province. I am so grateful to technology that we could connect from miles away, but I am even more appreciative to the organizers and participants for inviting me to support their journeys to empower others. These coaches assist programs that require support with meeting regulatory requirements. The coaches provide 25 hours of onsite service support, with 6 hours of follow up support to review progress and provide further recommendations and strategies. I must admit that I felt intimated when I thought about the task of coaching the coaches. Then I brought to mind an image of a coach who recognizes that everyone comes to a professional learning situation with experience and knowledge. While I was the presenter, I did not have all the expertise. Everyone is an expert in their own context. The coach acknowledges the experience and skills that the educator brings to their work, just as the educator should acknowledge the experiences of children and families. Some will need support to recognize what they know. Some will need support to articulate their values and seek value alignment in practice. Some will need support in identifying professional goals to improve practice. You will need to use creativity and reinvention in assuming the role of coach.

I loved reading this article by Rebecca Newman from as it helped me visualize what it is like to actually be an early childhood education coach. I also related to the connections made to cooking as I too, love the Food Network!

Imagine it’s the first day of school in your new classroom as a teacher, and you have that nervous excitement about what the school year might bring. Then, imagine you felt that way every day. This has been the nature of my role as an early childhood coach. It’s also the nature of one of my favorite TV shows. If you ever watch the Food Network, maybe you are familiar with the reality-based cooking show Chopped? On the show, a group of contestants walks into the Chopped kitchen, prepared to be unprepared. They know that they are going to be presented with unknown ingredients, many of them uncommonly used to prepare a meal, that don’t typically go together. Think of green tea leaves and baby octopus in an appetizer, ground coffee and popcorn in dessert. The four ingredients are presented at the beginning of each round in mystery baskets. As they cook, contestants have access to a pantry and fridge, full of reliable staples that can help them prepare their dish. At the end of the episode, the winner is the contestant who uses innovation and creativity to reinvent the mystery basket ingredients, while also utilizing familiar cooking techniques and skills. Once again, this was the position I found myself in as an early childhood coach. Entering into a home child care program or center, forming meaningful partnerships with early care providers, and hoping to make an impact by drawing from my past experience as a preschool teacher and using it to connect to the new ingredients in front of me.

Be prepared to be unprepared! However, you have a pantry full of experience and expertise. You are capable and competent! After my experience facilitating the webinar with the group of coaches and reading this article, I am confident that early childhood educators can be coaches and can empower others to realize their potential.

Coaching provides a unique opportunity to help early childhood educators rekindle the reason they came into this field, in the first place. It can help them clarify their deepest purpose and desire to make a difference in the lives of children” (Hine, 2020, p. 3)

So once again, close your eyes and visualize the image of a coach. The image is there! I hope you see yourself.

4 thoughts on “The Image is There: The Early Childhood Educator as Coach

  1. Diane, back in the early 2000’s I grappled with this concept of coach and mentor. As a trained Resource Consultant I struggled to help others see the role. Coach seemed to fit the role then. It was more widely accepted due to the vague undefined role of mentor. I think we may need both the roles of a mentor and/or coach as we move along our ECE journey. I see the roles as such: When you need a coach you are looking for skill building and more definitive tools. For me a mentor is more of a reflective role of journeying together. …..thank you for bringing this conversation back. Lots to consider…..


  2. Pingback: Elevating Early Childhood Educators by Going Beyond Questions to Reflective Inquiry | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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