Early Intervention Strategies for Success

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  • EI Research to Practice Brief #5: Which Coaching Strategies Do We Really Use?(current)

In your busy day, there’s often very little time to stop and really think about what you’re doing. Instead, you just “do” what needs to be done. In Woman thinkingVirginia, and in many states, early interventionists (EIs) are working very hard to adopt coaching practices as a means of interacting with families. When you do stop to think about it, you may think, yes, I use coaching all the time. Or, you may think that you’re trying very hard to coach but find that some coaching strategies are easier to use than others. Research is emerging that is seeking to find out which coaching practices early interventionists are actually using. There are some interesting trends that may give you pause as you consider your own work with children and families.

Source: Salisbury, C., Cambray-Engstrom, E., & Woods, J. (2012). Providers’ reported and actual use of coaching strategies in natural environmentsTopics in Early Childhood Special Education, 32(2), 88-98.

Research: What Do We Know?

Salisbury, Cambray-Engstrom, and Woods (2012) conducted a small study of six early interventionists in one state. These interventionists had been receiving professional development in the Family Guided Routines-based Intervention (FGRBI) approach for over two years.  The FGRBI approach describes a group of coaching strategies that include: conversation/information sharing, observation, problem-solving and planning, demonstration, joint interaction, caregiver practice with feedback, guided practice with feedback, and direct teaching. These strategies are used by EIs during visits with families to promote development during targeted routines and activities. To determine how much these providers were using the FGRBI coaching strategies, the authors coded 90 videos of intervention visits that occurred over a 4-month time frame. They also analyzed contact notes for each visit to determine whether there was a match between the coaching strategies described in the notes and those that were actually used.

Interestingly, the authors found that the coaching strategies used most were conversation and information sharing and engaging in joint interactions with the family. The strategy used least often across providers was problem-solving with the family, which was used in less than 1% of the intervals coded from the videos (researchers looked for these strategies to occur during each 30-second interval of time). About 20% of intervention visit time was spent with the provider interacting with the parent and child using strategies such as direct teaching, demonstration, caregiver/guided practice with feedback, and observation. Overall, providers used a range of coaching strategies but tended to under report the specific strategies they used when describing the visit in a contact note.

The authors noted that the practices the providers used most often were those that placed the flow of information from themselves to the parent, rather than placing the parent in more of a leadership role. This group of providers used coaching strategies more frequently than what has been reported in other studies, perhaps because this group had received extensive training. Even so, the use of the strategies was still limited, which the authors interpreted to mean that shifting to use caregiver coaching can be challenging, even for well-trained EIs.

Practice: How Can You Use What You Know?

Because the study sample was so small, we really can’t generalize these results to the larger EI population. However, a provider or a program can reflect on these results to see if there are similarities with their own experience. Here are a few ways you can use what you’ve learned:

Consider how much problem-solving you actually do with families – This is the most interesting finding to me and has been confirmed in a few other articles too. Families have also said that the most valuable thing that happens on EI visits is problem-solving with the provider. Yet, it appears that we don’t do it very often. On your next 3 visits, pay attention to how you respond when the parent mentions a problem. Do you immediately offer suggestions, or do you take the time to help the parent problem-solve a solution that works for her?

Consider sharing leadership during a visit – Who leads most of the activities of the visit? Who leads the interactions with the child – you or the parent? If you find that the answer to both of these questions is YOU most of the time, then use this insight as an opportunity to look for ways to share leadership. As often as possible, step back and let the parent lead, with you in a supportive role.

Be intentional in facilitating the parent’s practice (with the child), problem-solving, reflection, and feedback – Sharing leadership means that you are supporting the parent as she practices using  strategies with the child, reflects on the experience, gives and receives feedback, and problem-solves to plan for how to use the strategy between visits. Look for opportunities at EACH visit to use these specific coaching strategies because they directly support the parent’s learning.

Be sure you capture all that you do in the contact note – You’ve heard it before: if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen. You have limited time to get your notes done, but use that time to accurately capture the variety of coaching strategies you use. Be specific and use the language of coaching to describe your interactions with families.

Which coaching strategies do you think you use most frequently? Which do you need to target to use more often? 

What do you think contributes to how much problem-solving occurs during visits?

Share your insights and experiences in the comments below!

Want to know more about the FGRBI approach? Check out the FGRBI website for information, tools, and videos!

6 comments on “EI Research to Practice Brief #5: Which Coaching Strategies Do We Really Use?

  • Kate says:

    Dana, could you elaborate on how to include the language of coaching in notes? In the past I have tried to include the information, but my note was quite long. I’d love ideas on how to include it and still be concise.

    • Great question, Kate. I’ll ‘fess up…I’m completely fine with longer contact notes and used to write them a little longer myself because I liked to really capture what happened during a visit. However, I know that with time and space limitations, being concise is wise. I’d recommend throwing in terminology from coaching when you can, like “Problem-solved with parent on how to manage Devon’s frustration when he wants something. Modeled prompting for 2-word phrases and waiting for Devon’s response, then provided feedback as mother practiced same strategy. Reflected on strategy success, then developed joint plan for how she will prompt Devon at pantry when he wants a snack in the afternoons.” If possible, your agency could also come up with abbreviations or codes you could use when referencing coaching strategies in your notes, like JP (joint planning), A/P (action/practice), Ref (reflection), etc. Hope these ideas help! 🙂

  • Nathan Travis M.S. Ed., CCC-SLP says:

    Once again, a very well-written piece that is practical AND functional. Thank you! Very interesting findings!
    “On your next 3 visits, pay attention to how you respond when the parent mentions a problem. Do you immediately offer suggestions, or do you take the time to help the parent problem-solve a solution that works for her?”. This was a very powerful suggestion for me personally because I know that by keeping this in mind, it will allow me to give the family more opportunities to make suggestions relevant to their daily routines. I often make suggestions and offer creative “therapy strategies/ideas” based upon what my pre-conceived notions are about their routines, OR what their daily routines should be in my opinion. The points made here help me remember that my true role is to take a step back and help to analyze their problem with them, but then to be more of a supporter for their ideas. Thank you for this refresher piece! VERY HELPFUL for day to day work and coaching!


    • Thanks Nathan! I’m so glad to hear that this post helped you reflect on what you’re doing. I think that idea of pausing before giving suggestions is probably one of the hardest coaching strategies to do because we are natural helpers. The fact that parents have reported in the literature that problem-solving with them is so valuable makes the effort taken to step back really worth it! I know you’ve worked hard on coaching and I’m curious – how are you doing with the caregiver practice with feedback strategy (or action/practice and feedback in Dathan and M’Lisa’s terminology)? Do you find opportunities to facilitate this on most of your visits?

  • Bari Kraus MSW says:

    Hello Dana
    The coaching model you cited FGRBI sounds like it would be helpful when partnering with parents and administrators
    Thank you for this information
    I am an early childhood mental health consultant and often am looking for strategies yo engage parents to understand the importance if early intervention
    Any other ideas or resources would be helpful
    Thank you


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