VPI+ Coaches: We Are Ready to Start Making a Difference

The Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) at the University of Virginia hosted more than twenty practitioners to train them in coaching, as part of the VPI + Initiative. Fourteen coaches will be assigned to eleven participating school divisions in Virginia and will actively support teachers in the classroom.

Late last year, the US Department of Education awarded the state of Virginia with a 17,5 million expansion grant to fund a project called Virginia Preschool Initiative Plus (VPI+), that will allow the Commonwealth to serve as many as 3,000 additional at-risk four-year-olds in new, high quality classrooms annually.

Two participants discussing the materialThe new project is an extension of the existing Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI), a state-funded program that currently supports quality preschool programs for approximately 18,000 under privileged four-year-olds in the state. The expansion grant kicks the VPI in high gear; 11 school divisions across the state will reap the benefits of cutting edge educational research and a rigorous community outreach initiative designed to reach and help as many Pre-K children as possible. The effort will result in the establishment of dozens of new classrooms across the state and improvements of classroom practices in many existing VPI classrooms.

CASTL was named one of the pillars of the project when it was announced in December. One of the center’s tasks is to train a group of new coaches who will help teachers in the classroom. Not only will they focus on high-quality classroom environments and teacher-child interactions, but they will also assist teachers implementing new curricula and assessments as part of VPI+. This month, the group gathered on the university grounds to undergo a rigorous three-day training.

‘’This group is excited to learn skills that support change in real classrooms,’’ says Ann Lhospital, implementation specialist for VPI + and one of the trainers. ‘’We’re teaching them the tools they need to build teacher capacity. Research shows that good coaching serves as a bridge between knowing and doing effective teaching practices. This training gives coaches a process for helping teachers translate knowledge into actions that make a positive impact on children.’’

Just as important, says Lhospital, is that the new coaches also learn from each other. ‘’I hope that these coaches will become a community of learners who support each other, sharing valuable knowledge about ‘what works’ in practice.’’ According to Lhospital the workload per coach differs; some will work with just two classrooms, others will work with a dozen or more. The coaches will observe teachers in the classroom and then use those observations to collaboratively plan for improvements. ‘’We will guide coaches every step of the way, just as they’re guiding teachers,’’ says Lhospital. The coaches will receive additional training twice a year and will meet with supervisors for feedback.

The coaches themselves can’t wait to get started. Lisa Hicks, who will coach teachers in the Richmond school district, knows first-hand how important it is to help under privileged four-year-olds. ‘’I’ve been a teacher for 23 years and I have seen the struggles in the classroom. This project has the potential to expose children to high quality education that we so desperately need. So yes, I’m very excited.’’

Kelly Tobe, VPI+ coordinator for the Chesterfield school district and experienced coach, shares that same sentiment. ‘’For me it also emphasizes that being a preschool teacher is a really hard job and teachers don’t always get the recognition they deserve. We, as coaches, are here to make that job a little easier. That’s why the community outreach in the VPI+ is so important. We are teaching parents what we are implementing in the classroom. VPI + goes beyond just the classroom.’’

It’s been said that VPI + has the potential to reshape the educational landscape in Virginia and could transform Virginia’s existing State Preschool Program into a national exemplar. Hicks: ‘’I couldn’t agree more. We are at the forefront of something special and this training provides us hands-on experience that will help us make a difference. We are honored to be part of VPI + and are absolutely ready to start making a difference.’’