Instructional coaching: What we heard from Pre-K teachers

Preschool children participate in a class at the Valley View/Mount Rainier Early Learning Center in SeaTac, Washington
Preschool children participate in a class at the Valley View/Mount Rainier Early Learning Center in SeaTac, Washington
Blog Post
Every day, pre-K teachers enter their classrooms ready to create a positive environment that leans into each child’s strength and helps them develop on an individual pathway. Nurturing the minds of young learners in this developmentally appropriate way takes specific skills and training. Yet, when faced with having too few resources or juggling heavy workloads, teachers are often unable to meaningfully engage in professional development or implement best practices as much as desired.

Since the 1980s, research on educator professional development has revealed the noteworthy impact that coaching can have on teachers’ practices. Other studies have demonstrated that coaching is an effective way to drive continuous improvement efforts and support teachers in building on their existing strengths.

At Teachstone, we strive to understand the factors that make up an effective early learning coaching experience to help more teachers and children thrive. In our recent collaboration with Intentional Futures and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we spent nearly a year engaging teachers, coaches, and administrators to investigate what practitioners want and need from a teacher-coaching process.

Here are three things we heard from teachers and coaches, and how we’re responding to these findings as we refine and innovate on our suite of continuous improvement tools.

As a coach, I really work on building trust with my teachers ... so when you do have these observations, they’re more open to receiving feedback. It also provides them a sense of ownership over goals or things that they have to work on. Building that trust is so important to encourage and empower them, and to be able to provide that feedback in a safe space.
- Coach, Central Coast, CA

What we heard

Coaching processes should promote psychological safety and teacher agency.

Imagine someone just showing up one day to watch you work. You’ve heard that this person will come in and that their assessment of your work could have meaningful impact. But you don’t really know much about what they are looking for and what they will do with the information. How would you feel?

We know we’d be intimidated and also somewhat frustrated. These are not feelings that put someone at their best in their daily work. But too often, this is exactly how teachers experience coaching scenarios and classroom assessment systems, including Teachstone’s CLASS. Teachers may get a brief overview ahead of these observations, but they report a gap in understanding what CLASS is before they are observed.

A coaching process that makes room for collaboration and responsiveness can better support teachers’ and coaches’ well-being and better respond to their specific identities and contexts.


What’s CLASS? The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) is a measurement and improvement system focused on the educator-child interactions that are foundational to children’s development. CLASS can be used to measure the effectiveness of interactions, and the CLASS framework can help teachers be intentional about what to say and do to ensure their interactions have a positive impact on children’s learning and development.

How we are responding

We need to “bake in” elements of psychological safety into our products and services and make sure CLASS is implemented in ways that center the educators’ experience.

Every teacher who is formally observed deserves to receive information before the observation in ways that really help them prepare. They also deserve timely and meaningful feedback about what was observed in ways that recognize their strengths and areas for growth. We are thinking deeply about how we can support policymakers, leaders, and coaches to ensure that this happens more often during formal observations. This includes working to make introductory material on CLASS more accessible and developing new tools that provide individualized and immediate feedback right after a CLASS observation.

We also are being more thoughtful about using approachable and actionable language. The language of CLASS is the language of an assessment tool, which at times can feel very disconnected from the daily work of teachers. Rather than referring to Emotional Support, Classroom Organization, and Instructional Support in materials for teachers, we talk about Connecting with children, Engaging them, and Inspiring their learning. These may seem like simple wording changes, but the early response has been exceptionally positive, with teachers reporting that it helps them recognize that they are already doing many of the things that CLASS measures.

At my school, it’s the intent to connect PD [professional development] to observations. A lot of it is meant to be feedback from the teachers on modeling and noticing when they’re using things they learned in PD.
- Administrator, Central Coast, CA

What we heard

Coaching should be integrated with professional development and improvement efforts that are already in place.

Teachers have so many things to do each day, and too often, coaching sessions or “doing CLASS” seems like one more thing. Across multiple professional development experiences, teachers get training and coaching on everything from their curriculum and assessments to supporting specific student populations. Yet, too often, those experiences are not integrated and feel disconnected from one another. It’s important that teachers see teacher-child interactions as the unifier that’s embedded in each aspect of their daily work, rather than feeling separate.

How we are responding

We need to provide professional development and coaching that is organized around the daily work of teachers, not just CLASS dimensions and domains.

We know that learning about the CLASS framework is one impactful way to support teachers with developing interaction competencies, most notably through our CLASS Group Coaching program. But this isn’t the only way we should be supporting. In this work, we have started to identify the top “Problems of Practice” teachers experience, and we are working to develop tools to support professional learning and coaching around those, embedding the CLASS interactions they can use along the way. We aim to develop content and processes that are grounded in educators’ realities and align with their daily work and contexts.

One remedy doesn’t fit all the children in your care and [you] might have to try different strategies to help that child, so you tap into your resources at your school – those who have the experiences to better assist.
- Teacher, Brooklyn, NY

What we heard

Coaching processes should include building a holistic understanding of teachers, children, and educational contexts to focus on the things that matter most to teachers.

Every teacher, child, and learning setting is unique. Coaches should recognize that uniqueness and take time to understand the individuals they intend to support – their priorities, abilities, and needs. Providing teachers with an opportunity to identify their own goals helps make coaching processes more meaningful and impactful for the children in the classroom. Teachers expressed their most urgent priorities, including supporting children who are dual language learners and children with disabilities. Additionally, teachers want strategies to ensure they are meeting the specific needs of every child, supporting children in learning to communicate their needs and regulate their emotions and behaviors. By fully understanding teachers, children, and their contexts, coaches can offer insight into how to adapt curriculum, share culturally responsive teaching strategies, and identify the right resources to meet the needs.

How we are responding

We need to ensure we are providing support to foster high-quality, equitable interactions for every child. As we continue innovating on our suite of improvement tools, we are thinking about the ways we can enable educators and coaches to personalize their improvement journeys.

We have been working hard to ensure CLASS supports the learning and development of every child, including children with disabilities and dual language learners. CLASS 2nd Edition better reflects elements of interactions that best support these children, with inclusion of much more robust descriptions of the non-verbal interactions that support children’s connections, engagement, and learning, and information about the importance of using children’s home languages (or ASL) to best support children’s communication language development. The new CLASS Interactions Dimensions Guide helps guide teachers and coaches with specific callouts for practices that support children with disabilities and dual language learner populations, and new trainings for teachers are continuously in development. We’ve also launched free training for certified observers to support the use of CLASS in settings with children with disabilities and dual language learners.

Just like the “serve and return” interactions we talk about for educators and children, our team at Teachstone is intentionally listening to educators and then responding. This journey is allowing us to become even more thoughtful about how we develop tools and processes in the most impactful ways, grounded in the experiences of educators doing the work. Our hope is that our intentional and ongoing process serves as inspiration for other developers of classroom tools to see the real value in these participatory processes in contributing to meeting the needs of pre-K teachers and the children they serve.


 Bridget Hamre

 Bridget Hamre, Ph.D. is co-founder and chief executive officer at Teachstone, a certified B-Corporation founded in 2008 to help bring to market innovations that were initially developed at the University of Virginia. She also holds a position as an Associate Research Professor at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL).

 Dorothy Sanchez  Dorothy Sanchez, M.S. Ed is a Development Lead on the Content Development and Social Impact Team at Teachstone. Her role is to ensure that the products and services we create are responsive to educators' and children's contexts, abilities, and needs.
 Vernoica Fernandez  Veronica Fernandez, PhD, is the Vice President of Content Development and Social Impact at Teachstone. She is a developmental psychologist and has spent over 15 years focused on supporting the development of early childhood education professionals.