The Project Approach engages and motivates diverse groups of young children to learn and use higher order thinking skills, so it is a wonderful addition to the curriculum. But learning how to implement the Project Approach can be challenging for teachers, perhaps because it is best learned “in the action” through hands-on experience and experimentation.
Teachers who do not have the proper supports sometimes become frustrated or discouraged and give up, and yet we know that once teachers master the approach, they love it, and it becomes a mainstay of their curriculum. Coaching can be a wonderful support for new implementers. I recently met with a group of coaches to discuss strategies for effectively coaching others on the Project Approach. Here are five big ideas that we explored:
- As Rush and Shelden (2011) have noted, effective coaching is different from mentoring, supervising, counseling, consulting, and instructing. It is teacher-centered and thus focused on what the teacher wants to work on. The coach provides the teacher with the opportunity to reflect on where she is in the process of project implementation, identify a goal, and receive feedback on her work toward achieving the goal. For example, a teacher might say she wants to improve webbing with her students, and the coach might help her brainstorm strategies to meet that goal. The next time the coach and the teacher meet, the teacher can share her reflections about what happened when she implemented the strategies, and the coach can then help her revise the strategies or select a new goal.
- To better understand the challenges the teacher is experiencing, the coach might observe her as she uses the strategy (e.g., webs with children). To help the teacher understand the strategies the coach is recommending, the coach may model the potentially helpful strategy.
- Effective coaching of a teacher to implement the Project Approach is not a one-shot meeting, it’s an ongoing partnership. If the coach and teacher cannot get together face-to-face, they may need to make use of virtual or telephone meetings. If the coach cannot observe the teacher in real time, the teacher might record video of her teaching and share the video with the coach. Or, the coach might share video exemplars of the strategy the teacher is focused on with the teacher.
- An effective coaching cycle is supported by an established routine so the teacher and coach know what is expected. Shelden and Rush (2011) describe the “big five” activities in the cycle of coaching as joint planning, observation, action/practice opportunities, reflection, and feedback.
- The coach must be knowledgeable about the Project Approach to be effective. If the coach herself has never implemented the Project Approach, it will be difficult for her to help the teacher identify goals or strategize about how to meet them. If the coach is inexperienced, the coach and the teacher can rely on a guide or checklist developed by an experienced implementer.