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Introducing Direct Care Providers to The Virtual Lab School

Now that you have a better understanding of the structure of the Virtual Lab School and the importance of effective coaching as a method of professional development, you must be able to communicate to direct care providers how they will use the VLS as a professional development system. In this lesson, you will learn about how to introduce direct care providers to the VLS structure and technical components, how to communicate expectations around coursework completion and coaching participation, and the responsibilities of the coach and learner. 

  • Identify ways to establish rapport with direct care staff and maintain a positive coaching partnership.
  • Examine ways to introduce direct care staff to the structure of the VLS website and how to navigate necessary technical tasks.
  • Communicate expectations for completion of coursework and participation in coaching to direct care staff.



Introducing Direct Care Providers to the VLS and the Coaching Process

Think about a time when you started something new such as a project, class, sport, or job. What helped you feel successful as you began this new endeavor? Most of us can agree that we feel most successful in these types of situations when information, expectations, roles, and responsibilities are clearly communicated before we begin. As a coach, you will work with teachers that have various levels of experience and education in child development. Some teachers that you work with may have a great deal of experience and education but have never participated in coaching. Other teachers in your program may have very little knowledge of child development or experience with coaching. While you might be eager to dive right into VLS coursework and the coaching process, introducing the Virtual Lab School and sharing the expectations of the coach and learner is critical for a successful coaching partnership.

Every coaching partnership should begin with a coaching interaction where the main purpose is to get to know one another, share expectations, clarify the overarching goals of the coaching relationship, and open an honest dialogue between the coach and learner. This initial coaching interaction is also a time to introduce new staff to the framework and technical aspects of the Virtual Lab School. Reflect on your initial coaching interactions with the staff in your program. What questions do you ask during this first meeting? What questions help you to get to know the learner better? Do you provide the learner with clear expectations for completing coursework in the VLS? How do you introduce the Virtual Lab School? How do you help the learner navigate the learning management system (LMS) for the first time? Does the learner understand their role and the coach’s role and what is expected of each of you? These are all questions you should consider reflecting on with your staff as you begin to develop a relationship with them and help them to be successful in their professional learning. 

Getting to Know the Learner

Most of us would agree that in order to effectively guide and teach children, you must first build a relationship with them. Working with direct care staff as a coach is no different. Before you can begin providing a direct care staff member with feedback, solutions, and strategies to improve practice, you must first establish a relationship as a foundation for these reflective conversations to occur. Effective coaches must have content expertise, but they must also have the ability to initiate and maintain personal relationships. During your initial meeting with a staff member, take time to get to know them and how they learn best. Ask questions about their family and their interests to connect with them on a personal level. Ask questions about their educational experiences and professional development to get a better understanding of their current knowledge and professional development interests. Ask the direct care provider how they feel they learn best and how they like to receive feedback so that you can individualize your approach and meet them where they are. Document the direct care provider’s answers to these questions so that you can refer to them during later coaching interactions. Taking the time to ask these questions and using the information to inform later interactions and conversations helps to connect with staff members on a personal and professional level. Once an initial rapport is established, you must maintain these relationships over time. Practices that help build and maintain relationships with individuals that you coach include:

  • Spending time with the provider in the classroom by volunteering to help out
  • Identifying and acknowledging the direct care provider’s strengths
  • Acknowledging the direct care provider’s ideas and ways of doing things
  • Listening to the needs of your staff and empathizing with their struggles
  • Recognizing the direct care provider’s interests and connecting them to your own
  • Sharing some of your own classroom experiences and struggles, which can build trust and credibility
  • Respecting privacy and staff–coach confidentiality
  • Refraining from being judgmental and unfairly criticizing

Orienting Direct Care Providers to the VLS Learning Management System

When a direct care provider first begins using the Virtual Lab School, they may feel confused about some of key structural elements of the VLS and how to navigate the technical aspects within the system. You should be prepared to explain and illustrate some of the key features of the VLS during your initial coaching meeting with a new staff member. This includes familiarizing direct care providers with the LEAD (Learn, Explore, Apply, and Demonstrate) framework and technical elements such as how to log in, how to navigate to an assigned course from a specific track, how to complete an activity, or how to request review of a lesson. It is helpful to explain these elements while walking the learner through these key components on the Virtual Lab School site. Encourage direct care providers to review the Support resources if they feel unsure, and be available to answer their questions as they first navigate this new professional development system. Tips for Introducing Staff to the VLS in the Apply Section can be used to support the orientation process with staff members that have not experienced the VLS before. Many of the resources in this lesson are intended for direct care providers that are completing their initial training in the VLS or working toward their Child Development Associate credential. However, these resources can be individualized to support seasoned professionals that are using the VLS for continued professional development. Even more seasoned staff members might need support in navigating the LMS, including providers that may be less comfortable with technology.

Communicating Coursework Expectations

In your initial coaching meeting, you should communicate your expectations for completing coursework in the VLS learning management system. Explain to staff members that you will enroll them in a course within a track in the learning management system and that together you and the learner will identify the order in which to complete courses. At times, you may have staff members complete courses in their presented order, or you and a staff member may decide that you want to complete courses in an order different than what is presented online.

Direct Care staff will see this upward submission arrow when they have content available to 'request review' or submit for evaluation.

Communication is crucial within the coaching partnership and it should be clear, ongoing, predictable, and delivered a variety of ways. It is important that you clearly communicate to staff the required steps to fully complete a lesson. Direct care staff should complete the following steps in order to fully complete a lesson: (1) read all lesson components and watch all lesson videos, (2) complete the required Explore and Apply activities and other activities as requested by a trainer, coach or administrator, (3) correctly answer the Demonstrate questions. Direct care staff should submit activities for review as they are completing each lesson and should not wait until the end of a course to submit all required activities for review. This allows you to provide brief feedback on activities while they are engaging with that lesson's material. After completion of these steps, the staff member can request a review of their lesson activities in the LMS. This request notifies you that the staff member’s lesson materials are ready for you, as the trainer, coach or administrator. If you approve the lesson coursework, the direct care staff will see the status of the lesson change in the LMS. You may also ask a staff member to review certain parts of the lesson or you may provide feedback if you feel they need further support. Once you have approved all of the lessons within a course, the staff member will take the End of Course Assessment (EOCA) which assesses their understanding of the course content through a series of short-answer questions. You will also observe the staff members practice several times using the Competency Reflection for the specific course. Some coaches may also request that staff members self-evaluate using the Competency Reflection to reflect on their own practices relevant to the course. As the coach, you will certify a staff member in a course when they have successfully completed the required activities across the lessons in a course, completed the course EOCA, and demonstrated strong practices as listed on the Competency Reflection. Think about how the direct care staff that you work with learn and how you will communicate your expectations for completing courses so that they have a clear understanding of how to navigate coursework requirements. Will you describe coursework requirements in person, provide a written list of steps, or perhaps provide a visual to illustrate the course completion cycle like the example found in the Apply section of this lesson?

Coursework Responsibilities

Responsibilities of Coach
  • Enroll staff member in courses
  • Ask staff member to complete VLS tools and assessments (Competency Reflection, EOCA, etc.)
  • Next, review direct care staff member’s printed or emailed required activities in a timely manner
  • Provide written and in-person feedback on activities
  • Observe the staff member using the Competency Reflection
  • Provide feedback and modeling on observed practices
  • Administer and evaluate EOCA
Responsibilities of Direct Care Provider
  • Carefully complete all lesson components and activities
  • Correctly answer Demonstrate Questions
  • Complete the Competency Reflection as requested
  • Complete required lesson activities and save or print a copy to share with coach
  • Request review in the LMS once lesson activities are complete
  • Respond to and ask questions about feedback and re-complete coursework, if needed
  • Complete the EOCA as requested

Your coursework expectations for new staff that are completing their initial training in the VLS will be different from your expectations for more experienced providers. While new providers have a prescribed course order and specific tasks to complete in each course to achieve certification, the VLS can be used in a more individualized way to support more experienced staffs’ professional development interests and training needs. For example, you may assign a particular course, lesson, activity or supplemental resource from the VLS to a provider in order to meet annual training requirements, as a refresher on a specific topic, to work toward a specific professional development goal, or to support their knowledge and ability to mentor others in the program. You will learn more about how to use the VLS to support seasoned professionals and coach across careers in your program in Lesson Five.

Participation in Coaching

Coaching is a strategy to help you bridge the information learned in the VLS coursework to a staff member’s practice. Think of your relationship with a staff member as an equal partnership; the primary goal of this partnership is to grow the staff member’s competence over time. You should never be unnecessarily critical of a staff member's work. Your job is to recognize their strengths and build their capacity to critically self-assess and improve their practice, not pick apart what they may do wrong. However, if you observe a staff member abuse or neglect a child, or break a program policy, you are obligated to immediately address it with the staff member and follow the corrective procedures established in your program’s policies. If you are unsure of your program’s policies for corrective procedures, work with a program manager or administrator to ensure that you are aware of the process.

Communicating your expectations for the coaching partnership is as important as communicating VLS coursework expectations. You should communicate your expectations for the learner, your role as the coach and how you will work together to create a successful partnership. To maximize the success of your coaching partnership, you should communicate that you expect staff members to be willing to:

  • Reflect and evaluate their strengths and areas of growth
  • Be open to help from others and to the perspective of others
  • Share how they learn best
  • Ask for feedback or help as needed
  • Be observed on a regular basis
  • Engage in continuous self-reflection
  • Provide honest feedback about new practices and the coaching partnership
  • Try new practices or ways of doing things
  • Commit to learning new things and growing professionally

As part of the coaching partnership, you will work with staff member to assess their competencies, create goals and action steps, and implement new or improved practices. To do this, you and the staff member will participate in five coaching strategies:

  1. Coach observes learner in their work environment.
  2. Coach and learner provide each other feedback.
  3. Coach facilitates reflection in the learner (creates awareness and understanding of the effects of the learner’s thinking and actions).
  4. Coach models discussed practices for learner.
  5. Coach and learner both use data to inform goals, actions, and assessment.

Below are examples of what true coaching partnerships look like and don’t look like. These examples provide you a sense of what is expected of you as a coach in your program.

Coaching Expectations

The practices provided below are examples of best practices in coaching adult learners. These examples will provide you with a better understanding of practices that enhance coaching partnerships. The responsibilities and tasks of a coach are many and varied and some of your responsibilities might be outside of these suggestions. Part of your role as a coach may be to review closed-circuit television footage to identify patterns or trends in behavior or you may have to conduct unscheduled observations due to staffing or other issues in the program. If these tasks are considered part of your role in the program, it is important to recognize that these practices are not recommended best practices in coaching and instead are focused more on compliance and quality assurance. When using these methods, it is important to reflect on how you will balance your role as a coach with your role in compliance and how you will communicate honestly about it with staff members.

  • Coach and learner together schedule observations and meeting times beforehand.
  • Expectations are clear regarding what the coach will observe for.
  • Coach gives objective feedback, “I noticed that you did not speak with the three parents that entered the classroom when I observed today.”
  • Coach asks the learner for feedback, “How have the strategies we discussed last time helped you?”
  • Coach uses open-ended questions during conversation with learner to encourage reflection about one’s practice, “What did you notice about the children’s behavior during story time?”
  • Coach offers to model practices in the classroom or arranges modeling opportunities with other staff for learner.
  • Coach uses competency reflections and other tools to collect data, show growth over time, and to help the learner establish goals and action steps.
  • Coach celebrates success with the learner and acknowledges the learner’s growth in ways that feel good to them.
Not Coaching
  • Coach randomly shows up and frequently observes unannounced or uses closed-circuit footage to observe staff for routine observations.
  • Coach uses opinion statements when giving feedback, “You don’t do a good job greeting parents.”
  • Coach does not ask learners for feedback and is not open to hearing constructive ways they can be more helpful.
  • Coach is unnecessarily directive and rarely uses open-ended questions, “The children misbehaved during story time because you let it go too long.”
  • Coach never models and spends most of their time with staff telling them what they should do.
  • Coach doesn’t use data to guide conversations around goals and actions steps or only uses their data and doesn’t consider the learner’s self-assessment or input.
  • Coach chooses what and how learners will be recognized for doing well.

Think about the coaching that you provide to the staff members in your program. Do the points identified in the “Coaching” category match your coaching interactions? If not, in what ways could you improve your coaching partnerships? Ask the staff members that you work with to provide you with regular objective feedback on your coaching interactions and practices so that you can problem-solve ways to improve your partnership.


Listen as experienced coaches describe the responsibilities of the coach and the learner in a coaching partnership.

Responsibilities of the Coach and Learner

Listen as coaches describe the roles and responsibilities within a coaching partnership.

Characteristics of Effective Coaches

 Listen as experts discuss key characteristics of successful coaches.


  • Get to know staff to establish rapport, build trust, and individualize coaching interactions.
  • Provide each new staff member with an orientation to the Virtual Lab School.
  • Reflect on your coaching practices and style. Determine whether your coaching practices match the practices identified as “coaching” in this lesson.
  • Ask direct care staff to provide you with objective feedback on your coaching interactions to improve your coaching partnerships.
  • Provide staff with clear expectations for VLS coursework completion and coaching participation.
  • Determine the best ways to communicate with staff members based on their individual learning styles.
  • Provide each staff member with a coaching agreement detailing the expectations and responsibilities of the coach and the learner.


The Course Guide and Competency Reflection are two important VLS tools that aid you in using the Virtual Lab School for professional development. These tools help you plan, assess, and set goals with staff members. Share the information about these tools with staff and discuss any questions they might have about using these tools.


When you enter a coaching partnership, all parties involved need a shared understanding of the goals of the partnership and the expectations for everyone involved. The Coach-Staff Member Agreement here outlines the expectations for you and your program’s coach.

Use the Course Completion Cycle for New Staff and the Tips for Introducing Staff to the VLS as tools to support your orientation of staff members to training expectations and use of the Virtual Lab School LMS.


Culturally competent:
Aware of, or willing to learn about the value in, cultures different from one’s own; in this context, culture can refer to groups with different languages, sexual or gender orientations, religions, racial and ethnic backgrounds, levels of disability, and beliefs
Learning Management System (LMS):
software that helps administer, document, track, report, and deliver educational courses and training programs


Which statement represents the best example of high-quality coaching?
True or false? Staff members should let you know they are ready for you to review a lesson by sending you an email.
True or false: All staff members are required to participate in coaching, so it’s not necessary to explain your expectations for staff in the coaching partnership.
References & Resources

Administration for Children & Families, Office of Child Care. (2014). Comparison of State Licensing and QRIS Standards for Infants and Toddlers in Child Care Centers: Learning Environment, Developmental Domains, and Assessment.

Boyce, T.W. (2019). The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive. New York: Penguin Random House. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC. (2015). Cultural Competence.

First 5 Alameda County. (n.d.). Effective Coaching in Early Care and Education: Training Manual. Alameda County, CA: First 5 Alameda County. 

Institute of Medicine. (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Association for the Education of Young Children & National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies. (2011). Early Childhood Education Professional Development:
Training and Technical Assistance Glossary

National Research Council. (2015). Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 

Ochshorn, S. (2011). Forging a New Framework for Professional Development: A Report on “The Science of Professional Development in Early Childhood Education: A Summit.” Washington, DC: Zero to Three. 

Rush, D. & Shelden, M. (2011). The Early Childhood Coaching Handbook. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

Trivette, C.M., Dunst, C.J., Hamby, D.W., & O’Herin, C.E. (2009). Characteristics and Consequences of Adult Learning Methods and Strategies. Practical Evaluation Reports, 2(1).