Mentoring and Coaching in Early Childhood Education
reviewed by Joy Dangora Erickson, Savannah Farkash & Alexis Novak - April 15, 2021
Title: Mentoring and Coaching in Early Childhood Education
Author(s): Michael Gasper & Rosie Walker
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic, London
ISBN: 1350100722, Pages: 232, Year: 2020
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It is difficult to identify another sector as important to lifelong outcomes while simultaneously as undervalued as the early childhood education (ECE) sector. As Michael Gasper and Rosie Walker point out in their newly edited volume, Mentoring and Coaching in Early Childhood Education, the high staff turnover rate characteristic of ECE programs across the globe is an unfortunate consequence of this general undervaluing. The authors highlight a lack of professional support as a key factor contributing to the troubling phenomenon. Empirical evidence suggests high-quality mentoring/coaching not only improves instructional practice but also enhances educators self-efficacy; mentoring and coaching may help retain highly effective early childhood staff.
As early childhood preservice teachers (second and third authors) and an early childhood teacher educator (first author), we believe wholeheartedly in the crucial role early education plays in enhancing students lifelong outcomes. We are also deeply committed to advancing our professional knowledge and remaining highly engaged and energized practitioners. For these reasons, we were excited to review Gaspers and Walkers edited volume. The inclusion of a variety of international perspectives and case studies centered on early childhood mentoring and coaching is an especially appealing feature of the text. We believe that our own varying perspectives well position us to consider the volumes contents.
The international volume is divided into two main parts. Part I centers on mentoring and coaching theory, while Part II offers examples of mentoring and coaching in action. The introduction to Part I contextualizes the ways in which early childhood education is generally underappreciated in countries around the world and lays out the sections organizational structure. Though chapters described in the Introduction largely appear in the order Gasper and Walker list, the Harrison and Harris chapter actually comes before the Shaik and Ebrahim chapter. We mention this minor issue only because upon being enticed by the Introduction to seek out the Shaik and Ebrahim chapter, we found it took us a bit of extra time to locate it and thought we might mitigate others confusion.
In Chapter 1, Gasper identifies differences and similarities between mentoring and coaching; however, he concludes that there is not a clearly defined separation between the two professional development supports and that both have benefitted early childhood educators in specific contexts. Gasper points out that mentoring is generally regarded as a more holistic approach to professional support and that coaching has, in some instances, been used to push underperforming educators to address areas of weakness and meet education targets. This has led some practitioners to understand coaching as less supportive. Gasper advocates for mentoring and coaching models that build on early childhood professionals strengths, nurture trusting relationships, and ensure that all parties are in agreement of the purpose, scope, and expectations of the mentoring/coaching arrangement (p. 15).
In appreciating the integrated systems of support that research suggests better serve young children and families, Chapter 2 explores how mentoring leaders might benefit early childhood settings. The chapter implies that all professionals can benefit from high-quality mentoring. Relatedly, Chapter 3 introduces the reader to the framework of first-, second-, and third-person practice (Torbet, 2001) to illustrate how early childhood managers can promote a mentoring culture. The framework encourages leaders to critically self-reflect for self-transformation before promoting and supporting the transformation of others. Chapter 4 provides a wealth of empirical evidence in support of mentoring as a catalyst for improving early childhood practice. Additionally, the chapter underscores the need to provide mentors not only with the content knowledge required to do the job well, but also with ample opportunities to practice and receive feedback; the theme of all persons deserving and benefitting from support in the form of responsive mentoring/coaching is again emphasized.
Chapters 5 through 8 introduce the reader to specific techniques and approaches to mentoring and coaching. Chapter 5 advocates for creating safe spaces within mentoring programs that permit practitioners to acknowledge emotions (e.g., sadness, anxiety, anger) experienced as a result of working with young children. The authors maintain that such emotions offer evidence of a developing disposition for the advocacy of children, which they argue is fundamental for safeguarding them. Chapter 6 introduces and explores the concept of pedagogic mediation in mentoring. Pedagogic mediation aims to build a trusting relationship among equals (i.e., between the pedagogical mediator and the practitioner) capable of developing effective pedagogy. The pedagogic mediation model arguably represents the most democratic approach to mentoring/coaching and the development of pedagogy included in the volume. The problem-posing model, heavily informed by the work of Vygotsky and Freire, outwardly rejects passive approaches to mentoring and coaching. Chapter 7 describes a mentoring model centered on critical reflection. Specifically, the authors break reflection down into two main strands, single- and double-loop reflection. Single-loop reflection involves reflecting on the effectiveness of pedagogical strategies while double-loop (i.e., deeper) reflection strives to generate new practices. Chapter 8 explains how cognitive coaching, a method of coaching focused on encouraging coachees to reflect on their own thinking, shaped a group of South African early childhood educators understandings about active child participation.
The authors of Chapter 9 explain that although a formal induction program for beginning early childhood educators and a second program serving EC center leaders exist in Singapore, the country (like most others) lacks an organized continuous system of support for early childhood professionals. Given the chapters overarching theme (i.e., mentoring benefits everyone), we wondered if it might be better positioned closer to Chapters 2, 3, and 4. The final chapter in the theoretical section of the volume, Chapter 10, forwards a clearly defined conceptualization of the coach/mentor role commonly utilized in U.S. Head Start and Early Head Start schools. The authors maintain that an individualized yet standardized approach to coaching centered on meeting specific goals improves early childhood teacher practice and child outcomes.
We commend Gasper and Walker for including such a rich array of theoretical views in this first half of the volume. From a pragmatic standpoint, we appreciate the included chapters that advocate specifically for evidence-based mentoring and coaching strategies as a means of improving practice and, in turn, student outcomes (e.g., Chapter 10). However, given our current roles as early childhood mentees/coachees (i.e., pre-practicum students) and mentor/coach (i.e., practicum supervisor), we found ourselves more authentically connecting with chapters that prioritized the wellbeing of mentees/coachees (e.g., Chapter 5) and/or promoted democratic approaches to mentoring and coaching (e.g., Chapter 6). In alignment with the thinking of Noddings (e.g., 2002) and others, we believe that most, if not all people, including early childhood professionals, wish and deserve to be cared for and that we are better positioned to care for others when we perceive ourselves as cared for; we most appreciated chapters that permitted us to infer mentoring/coaching relationships built upon mutual respect, trust, and care.
Part II of the volume (Chapters 1119) presents a collection of international case studies depicting a variety of mentoring and coaching models in action. The case studies share several common themes, including 1) mentoring and coaching can improve practitioner self-confidence; 2) mentoring and coaching can and should elicit and consider child and adult voices, strengths, and needs; and 3) mentoring and coaching can and should strive to enhance reflective capacity. Again, we found ourselves most readily engaging with chapters emphasizing the wellbeing of mentees/coachees and/or embodying highly democratic approaches to mentoring and coaching (e.g., Chapter 16). That stated, we recognized ideas and strategies worthy of engagement in all provided cases. Here, we briefly synthesize three that especially resonated with us.
Chapter 11 illustrates how early childhood educators in New Zealand improved their bicultural instructional practices through a collaborative appreciative inquiry coaching and mentoring approach. An appreciative inquiry approach strives to identify what is working specific to the context; practitioners, and in turn students and families, benefit from their own and other practitioners successes. We specifically appreciated the multiple strategies offered for supporting the bilingual and bicultural learning of adults and children. Singing songs in a language the teacher is less familiar with is one strategy we intend to immediately put to better use in our own classrooms.
Though we are skeptical whether all or even most early childhood practitioners levels of commitment to professional development can be as neatly described using Glickmans (2002) four categories as Chapter 14 implies, we appreciate the authors efforts to detail an instance in which a U.S. Head Start coachees pedagogical expertise intimidated her mentor/coach. We interpreted this recognition as the authors advocating for the affirmation and appreciation of the valuable funds of knowledge coachees bring to mentoring/coaching relationships. We also connected with the process that supported the two practitioners in settling into a mutually beneficial professional relationship. The authors emphasis on the ways the coach/mentor benefitted from the relationship aligns with our position that mentors/coaches and mentees/coachees both stand to benefit from professional development relationships where participants acknowledge and make good use of each others expertise.
In presenting what appears to be a highly democratic mentoring/coaching model, Chapter 16 emphasizes the role cultural awareness plays in supporting high-quality early childhood instruction; the governing bodies in charge of ECE in the Netherlands understand quality as a construct negotiated by multiple groups of stakeholders including parents and children. Specifically, the authors explain how diversattude, a positive attitude toward diversity, can be enhanced through the use of narrative coaching and artistic expression. The authors describe narrative coaching as a process that makes use of coachees own stories to create safe spaces for better understanding the deeply seeded values that influence their professional practice. Coaches strive to comprehend and support coachees in comprehending their own cultural identity. Additionally, coaches work to broaden their own and the coachees understanding of others stories. We appreciate the emphasis this particular model puts on including and critically reflecting on a variety of perspectives/artistic representations after taking substantial time to analyze the coachees individual story. Though we entirely agree that art can serve as a powerful tool for self-expression and cross-cultural understanding, we wonder what supports early childhood educators might need to fully access the multiperspectivity involved in this approach.
In sum, we feel privileged to have been able to review this diverse collection of mentoring and coaching approaches and case studies. The volume affirmed our existing favor for a continuous and inclusive system of mentoring as a means of supporting the ongoing development and retention of early childhood professionals. Additionally, it broadened our understanding of what is possible specific to mentoring/coaching relationships and inspired us to work harder in our own mentoring/coaching relationships to ensure all participants feel respected and cared for.
Glickman, C. D. (2002). Leadership for learning: how to help teachers succeed. Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Noddings, N. (2002). Starting at Home: Caring and social policy. University of California Press.
Torbert, W. R. (2001). The practice of action in inquiry. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.) Handbook of action research, participative inquiry and practice (pp. 250261). Sage.
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