Since 1965, the Head Start program has provided a variety of learning experiences to help young children grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally. Over the years, it has evolved from an eight-week “catch-up” summer program to providing comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and families. Whether you’re a center-based Head Start program or home-based program, you know the value and importance of the Head Start performance standards. Throughout Head Start program history, these standards have anchored program teams to core tenets that define what it means to provide high-quality services to children and their families.
But the performance standards aren’t just critical in guiding how program funds are used and what factors to consider when providing comprehensive services for children with disabilities (though these are certainly important). The National Head Start Association (NHSA) emphasizes that these performance standards are “intended to ensure that all Head Start programs provide comprehensive, high-quality individualized services that support school readiness.”
Put another way, they give educators a roadmap for enhancing program quality and cultivating effective practice. And this roadmap paves the way to positive learning outcomes and family well-being.
Included in the Head Start performance standards is the central requirement for programs to provide all staff with comprehensive training and professional learning, including research-based coaching. This coaching must give staff members the opportunity to build skills both by sharing targeted feedback and by modeling effective practices directly related to program goals.
But with so many forms of coaching available, which is most effective for driving excellence in the Head Start program performance standards?
Many Head Start programs have implemented practice-based coaching (PBC), a research-backed approach to continuous improvement and professional development. It is a catalyst for improving program quality and delivering strong child outcomes. When implemented well, practice-based coaching benefits everyone in the learning community — staff, students, and families alike.
The Benefits of Practice-Based Coaching in Head Start Programs
ECLKC defines practice-based coaching as “a… strategy that uses a cyclical process… that supports teachers’ use of effective teaching practices that lead to positive outcomes for children.” This method is all about ongoing, collaborative partnerships between coaches and teaching staff, tailored to meet a teacher’s individual learning goals and drive Head Start performance standards.
There is a plethora of research that validates the impact that PBC has on early childhood learning, developmental outcomes, and social and emotional well-being. One 2018 study conducted by the University of Florida found that preschool students in classrooms where teachers participated in their PBC model, BEST in CLASS, demonstrated fewer challenging behaviors throughout the school year. Another 2021 study with Vanderbilt University discovered that PBC methods could still improve the effectiveness of teachers’ practices in the classroom setting — even when coaching was delivered via text messaging.
PBC is a powerful mechanism for unlocking effective practice. Head Start programs that invest in the effective implementation of this coaching strategy support their staff to successfully meet and exceed performance standards. This in turn means that teams provide those high-quality services that nurture early childhood development and ultimately cultivate strong child outcomes.
Technology-Driven Coaching for Excellence Against Performance Standards
These days, educators have access to many resources — including digital ones — to build a culture of continuous improvement through effective coaching. Video recordings of classroom lessons improve the quality of in-person exchanges between a coach and a teacher by providing concrete artifacts for collaborative review. Video-based coaching sessions offer additional flexibility and ample time for continued mentorship outside of live meetings and around busy schedules.
But true, lasting technology-driven change to teaching practices requires coaches to go beyond offering virtual coaching and reviewing pre-recorded lessons from the classroom setting. Programs that leverage technology must also align their implementation to program goals, learning standards, team resources, and the Head Start program performance standards — while cultivating direct, personal, and ongoing professional development for teaching staff.
In short, Head Start programs need a comprehensive digital strategy to support practice-based coaching — using robust platforms like TORSH Talent to easily manage all of its components.
3 Digital Practices That Enhance PBC and Support Head Start Performance Standards
TORSH has partnered with hundreds of early childhood organizations to support their professional development and learning programs. We know how critical it is for Head Start programs to create a culture of continuous program improvement and the power that digital tools offer toward that end.
Across our Head Start partners, our team has observed three patterns of effective technology use in programs. In each case, these applications of technology not only help teams meet minimum requirements for programs — but also enhance their PBC efforts in ways that deliver a greater impact on child learning outcomes.
Effective implementation of technology with PBC means that Head Start programs:
- Curate resources to align teachers and coaches to the standards themselves
- Leverage digital tools to personalize staff feedback and goal-setting under the framework of the standards
- Provide easy access to exemplars and best practices that demonstrate the standards in action
With these best practices, teams build a shared understanding of the Head Start performance standards among all staff. More crucially, they cultivate ongoing and collaborative efforts to improve teaching strategies, ultimately delivering positive child and family outcomes.
#1: Align staff knowledge of Head Start performance standards
Before staff can be expected to meet Head Start program performance standards, they need to understand them and their responsibility to uphold them. This remains true whether or not a program implements PBC as a professional development strategy for their team.
From a PBC perspective, both a teacher and their coach benefit when they are aligned on which core teaching practices and learning standards they can improve. Shared understanding means individual coaching is that much more impactful. For example, a coach can guide their mentee to match a personal teaching goal with one or more specific performance standards. As a result, the mentee can then draw direct connections between their own professional growth and their impact on Head Start performance standards and overall program quality.
A coaching rubric is a handy tool for coaches and mentees to connect program performance standards with personalized learning goals. Digital platforms like TORSH Talent give Head Start programs flexibility and a unified place to design and distribute standard coaching rubrics for all of their staff. That way, both coachees and coaches operate under the same guidelines through personalized collaboration and coaching — all tying back into those crucial Head Start performance standards.
Additionally, program staff can curate resources and training materials to support the development of practices aligned with the Head Start performance standards and make them available to all staff in their TORSH Talent resource library. This collective resource pool ensures everyone — from teachers and coaches to administrative staff — has information at their fingertips about the standards that are guiding their program and services to children. Teams can also access resources to help them effectively implement curricula and research-based practices to result in positive learning outcomes for children.
Having shared knowledge and coaching guidelines makes all the difference for both coaches and teachers to uphold the Head Start program performance standards. Easy-to-access digital rubrics and libraries ensure teams are aligned and armed with tools to navigate the standards successfully.
#2: Use digital tools to personalize coaching feedback connected to performance standards
The performance standards for Head Start programs create common ground for all programs to nurture children’s well-being. And yet, effective PBC also requires that coaches shape their mentorship strategies to a teacher’s individual goals to help them grow personally and professionally. How can technology support balancing a collaborative, personalized coaching relationship with alignment to performance standards?
First, coaches can build off of standard coaching rubrics to set specific and targeted goals with their mentees. Though these goals will tie back to the standards, it’s important that they also reflect the teacher’s current strengths, opportunities for improvement, and personal vision for their own effective practice. TORSH Talent provides the perfect sandbox in which coaches and coachees can create, revise, and track their goals. After all, a well-crafted personalized goal is a critical anchor for coaching and professional growth.
Second, coaches can integrate technology into their delivery of feedback and mentorship. Video-based coaching is commonly used among Head Start programs as it offers additional flexibility in the coach-teacher relationship. It increases the frequency in which coaches can meet with teachers, and in turn, gives coaches greater access to observe teachers’ practices in action. Feedback is no longer limited to coaches visiting a teacher’s classroom a few times a year. Instead, a teacher can simply record a lesson or activity, then share it virtually through TORSH Talent with their coach at any time. Their coach can watch this video at their convenience to ensure ample time to carefully reflect on the practices recorded.
However, PBC is more successful when coaches provide targeted, ongoing feedback to their mentees aligned with their specific goals. This is why TORSH Talent allows coaches to provide time-stamped feedback on videos uploaded by teachers that they mentor. This level of precision helps coaches pinpoint exact moments during a recorded lesson in which the teacher demonstrates meeting or even exceeding Head Start performance standards. With this level of targeted feedback, coaches can also highlight evidence of teachers’ successfully engaged in practices that align with their personal goals.
The more precise the goals and feedback, the higher quality the coaching relationship can be — and the greater the opportunity becomes for a teacher to shift their practices.
#3: Ensure easy access to teaching best practices within and beyond your program
Thanks to technology, teachers have many resources beyond their coaches that can help them improve teaching practices, deliver high-quality services, and ultimately exceed the Head Start program performance standards. Digital resource libraries again come into play here, as they help program teams curate information about the standards themselves as well as exemplars of standards-in-action for teachers. In fact, TORSH encourages program teams to fill their TORSH Talent resource library with model teaching videos, online courses, lesson plans, and other materials that both coaches and teachers can access to support professional learning.
For example, let’s imagine a Head Start teacher who wants to improve their classroom management technique. Their coach points them to videos in their TORSH Talent library that demonstrate effective practices and concrete methods in this area that meet program standards. The teacher then incorporates these practices into their own classroom, recording a lesson and uploading it into the platform. From there, the teacher’s coach watches the lesson and provides feedback on what went well. They also offer prompts for the teacher to reconsider different approaches to areas that may still need improvement. When they meet next, the coach and teacher can review an exemplar video alongside the teacher’s video to discuss how the modeled techniques could be used.
But coaches aren’t the only ones who provide valuable feedback and guidance to Head Start staff! TORSH often sees programs combine video-based coaching and curated libraries with professional learning communities on the platform.
PLCs are a powerful mechanism for improving teaching strategies, whether they represent a small group of teachers from a local program or a state-wide community forum. These communities offer spaces in which staff can share input, inspiration, or innovation with fellow educators — including one’s own video-recorded exemplars of comprehensive services and teaching practices in action. By leveraging the power of PLCs, both virtual and in-person, teachers gain additional coaching and learning opportunities to tie back into their teaching goals and drive excellence in meeting Head Start performance standards.
Practice-Based Coaching Benefits the Entire Head Start Program
Intentional, personalized, and aligned approaches to practice-based coaching are game-changers for Head Start programs. Educators can take advantage of many resources like technology to enable collaborative learning partnerships among their teaching staff and coaches that exceed core requirements for programs.
At the end of the day, though, digital coaching and professional learning tools are just that — tools. It’s up to individual programs to chart their own path to supporting the professional growth of their team and positive learning outcomes for families and children. By using the Head Start performance standards as an anchor for practice-based coaching, everyone is better positioned to drive continuous program improvement and overall excellence for their staff, students, and families!
Exceed Head Start Performance Standards with TORSH Talent
Triumph Inc. in Massachusetts relies on TORSH Talent to improve teacher practice and student outcomes in their Early Head Start and Head Start programs. From new teacher orientation and ongoing coaching and professional learning aligned to the Head Start program standards, to providing parent education, Triumph Inc. takes full advantage of the easy-to-use and secure tools built into TORSH Talent, including tools for:
- Video-based observation
- Providing targeted, specific feedback to teachers on their interactions with children and families
- Synchronous and asynchronous collaboration
- Individualized coaching
- Insights to guide professional learning and training
Take a look at how your Head Start or early education program can leverage TORSH Talent to implement practice-based coaching and so much more.