Early Intervention Strategies for Success

Sharing What Works in Supporting Infants & Toddlers and the Families in Early Intervention

Early Intervention Strategies for Success, Tips, Insight and Support for EI Practitioners


Is this you? Are you learning about using the coaching interaction style and finding that you’re stressed by what you think you’re supposed to be doing? HowMan with Question Marks Over Head many reflective questions should you ask? Which question is the right one? Am I allowed to make suggestions or even interact with the child anymore???

First, take a deep breath. It’s very normal to feel stressed when you’re trying to learn about and implement a new intervention tool with families. With our state’s emphasis on coaching, it can be kind of easy to lose perspective and feel like this is the only way to interact with families. I’m hoping that, after you read this, you’ll be able to breathe a little easier and be a little more patient with yourself. I’m going to give you a “top 5” list for adopting coaching practices that I hope will help you persevere through this exciting (and sometimes challenging) time with developing your knowledge and skills.

Top 5 List for Adoption Coaching Practices

5. Coaching is NOT a model. We’ve heard this in training and read about it in The Early Childhood Coaching Handbook, yet we persist with calling it the “coaching model.” Understanding that coaching is not a model is really important. A model implies that the collection of practices are a framework for how to provide early intervention. A good example is the routines-based early intervention model, which is a model we strongly support in VA. Coaching, however, is a tool that can be used with any model. In fact, it’s described in other EI models, such as the family guided routines based intervention model.

4. Coaching is one TOOL in your toolbox. Coaching should not be the only tool, but it is a powerful, evidence-based one that can be used with any family. You will very likely use other tools during your visits, such as purposeful modeling, sharing information, discussing resources, direct teaching/demonstration – but remember that all of these other tools, like coaching, should be used for the purpose of supporting the parent’s learning as well as the child’s.

3. Coaching is not all about which QUESTIONS you ask. It can be easy for us to get hung up in remembering which question to ask when. The reflective questions that were discussed in training and in the book are fantastic resources that, I think, are designed to get us thinking about what we say and how we say it when supporting families. We should not be spending our whole visits questioning families. The questions are there to help us facilitate reflection, which is at the core of how adults learn.

2. Coaching is all about REFLECTION. Adults learn through active reflection which involves taking what they are learning and applying it to their “prior knowledge,” or to what they’ve already tried or already know. Coaching is an adult learning tool to help us help parents do this. Try to step back from all the questions and think, “my job is to help this parent learn to critically think about how important what she says and does is to her child’s development.” During any visit, there will be opportunities for reflection; coaching gives you a way to seize these opportunities when they occur.

1. It’s OKAY to flow in and out of coaching. When M’Lisa Shelden said this at one of the trainings I attended, it really stuck with me. You can expect that you will move in and out of using coaching when it’s appropriate. It’s a great idea to keep the coaching methods you learned about in the forefront of your mind, and even use them as a structure for how you approach your visits, but understand that, depending on the situation and the needs at that moment, you can decide whether it is an opportunity to use coaching or not. The components of coaching (observation, action, reflection, feedback, and joint planning) can be used on every visit. Eventually, they will be woven into your practices so that they don’t take so much effort and just become how you interact with families.

Whether or not coaching works is mostly about YOU. Okay, I know that might add pressure to the situation but here’s what I mean. It is unfair to say that coaching only works with “some” families. Coaching is a tool for you to use when you interact with families and caregivers, to help them think purposefully about what they’re doing with the child. No, it won’t always result in a parent having an epiphany, but when you’re able to successfully use coaching, you’ll find that your visits become more about what the parent is learning than about which question you ask or which skill the child needs to learn. You will get there . Be patient with yourself and celebrate your efforts.

What successes and struggles are you experiencing with adopting coaching practices? If you could add a 6th item to this list, what would it be? Let’s see if we can get this list up to a Top 10!

9 comments on “Top 5 List for Adopting Coaching Practices

  • Beth Cooper and the Tidewater Coaching Group…this post is for you! Thanks for all of your hard work and great ideas! You guys are AWESOME!! 🙂

  • Nancy Brockway says:

    I love the comment about flowing in and out of coaching. That’s definitely something I’ve experienced while using the coaching interaction style. The more I practice, the less I flow out of it. The 6th thing I might add to this list is M’Lisa and Dathan’s other saying, “There’s always room for repair.” Certainly, not all interactions go as planned, but this gives me permission to change an interaction as it’s occurring, or revisit it at a later time and change the outcome.

  • Mary Swingle says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the training provided by M’lisa when she came to the Richmond Region. Your article is a great synopsis of what we covered over those two days. Thank you Dana for helping E I providers to keep it real and very doable with this List of the Top Five. Even though many of us have been using coaching as a tool over many years, this is a great reminder that it is a process and it takes time to feel comfortable with asking the right kind of questions. Keeping our relationship with parents, providers and teachers in mind is key to success!

    • I’m so glad that you enjoyed the coaching training, Mary! It sounds like you’re pretty familiar with coaching…do you have any advice for colleagues who are new to using coaching strategies? As you said, it can take a while to get comfortable with integrating these practices into your work and I’ve found that people are often reassured to hear that it takes time, patience, and practice to “get the hang” of it!

  • Mary Swingle says:

    My advice for colleagues who are new to using the coaching strategies and techniques would be to take time to really get to know your families and their interests. Take time to listen, find out what their interests are and start from there. I remember when I was a new early intervention teacher, I wanted to rush in and “fix the child” which ultimately meant “fixing the parent.” If you want long-lasting results and success over time, it is best to leave our own agenda at the door and spend our time building relationships that will produce far long-lasting benefits.

    • Yes! Fantastic advice! I love how you said to leave your agenda at the door. That’s pretty hard to do, to be able to think “on your feet” and follow the family’s lead but it’s absolutely necessary. As you said, the key is the relationship and building that with each family really doesn’t come prepackaged in a curriculum or lesson plan. Fortunately, coaching gives us flexible strategies to use to build that relationship while supporting the parent’s and the child’s learning. Thanks Mary!

  • Lisa Bull says:

    I really liked Mary’s advice. I do believe that as an early intervention provider we often want to go in and quickly make changes to improve a child’s skills. I agree that following the family’s lead, spending time really listening to the parent(s)and developing a strong relationship will yield more positive results. It is worth the time and extra effort especially if we are able to help parents think more critically about what they are doing or can do to help their child.

    • I do too! Taking that time upfront and maintaining the relationships is so worth it. I think it’s sort of like how we focus intervention on supporting the parent-child interactions/relationship. In all aspects of early intervention, it seems like working in the context of the relationship to make a long-term difference is our goal. Helping families learn to think critically will also stay with them long after we aren’t there to “provide the answers.” Thanks for joining the conversation, Lisa!


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