Observations and Meaningful Change

When working with one of our skilled Birth-to-Three Specialist (B-3S) coaches, Practice-Based Coaching (PBC) participants get the benefit of supportive and constructive feedback related to their teaching and administrative practices. This feedback has the potential to not only improve quality in the child care facility, but increase professionalism and a sense of wellbeing for staff, children and families through development of a warm and nurturing environment. An essential part of the feedback process is regular PBC participant observation to understand the impact of classroom change as it occurs. Many participants ask for the reasoning behind our diligent observation efforts. In this article, we unpack how these observations work logistically, what they are intended to do and why they are essential to helping our project enhance our coaching services.

Why are observations conducted?

Above all, the NC Birth-to-Three Quality Initiative (B-3QI) is dedicated to evaluating and reflecting on the impact of our work with programs and with our PBC participants. As a part of understanding the effectiveness of our support, we conduct pre-observations at the beginning of the PBC partnership, every six months for the length of the partnership and post-observations at the conclusion of that partnership. These observations will aid us in getting a sense of the teaching and administrative practices that have been implemented as a result of working with one of our B-3S coaches. Observations are simply methods of data collection, and data means informational material to examine. Observation information “can be used to help understand complex problems, make wiser decisions, and discern feelings from facts” (Kelton, 2023). 

Our data is used to describe what is happening in the field of infant and toddler care, to better understand common classroom problems, to predict what might happen when issues are addressed and to steer our project on the best path to providing the most relevant support to our birth-to-three providers. Pre-observations provide us with a snapshot of how classrooms and centers have been operating prior to working with B-3S coaches. Six-month observations serve as a checkpoint to ensure that B-3S coaches are supporting participants in a positive direction and to evaluate what coaching strategies may or may not have been effective. Post-observations are conducted at the conclusion of the working relationship with the B-3S coaches to see how the coaches have assisted in setting and implementing the teaching and administrative practice goals that are most important to participants. Based on data comparison, we are able to understand whether we are achieving our project aim of supporting providers, identify trends in teaching and administrative practices across the state, and what we might do to supplement our support efforts. 

Who conducts the observations?

It is important to us to be as accurate as possible in our project reflections so that we can adapt our support to best meet participant needs. For this reason, observations are conducted by B-3QI team members and Anchor Specialists who are external to the relationship between the B-3S coach and the participant for maximum objectivity. Assigned B-3QI observers contact center administration via email and/or phone call to introduce themselves and to schedule a time for each observation that is most convenient for providers. Each observation lasts approximately two hours, and that time passes very quickly!

What preparation must be done for these observations?

Great news! Nothing needs to be done to prepare for these observations. In fact, we hope that participants continue to operate in their classrooms without regard to the observer’s presence. B-3S coaches will not direct their coaching support around these observations; again, they are largely for our project’s evaluation purposes. Participants may notice their observers entering and leaving the classroom multiple times during an observation. This is so that observers can pause, review the strengths that they saw in the observation, and add to their notes before continuing to collect data. Observers are aware that their presence may be a bit distracting for the classroom and the children, so they will make every effort to stay as out of the way as possible. 

B-3S coaches will happily answer any and all questions around these data-collecting observation checkpoints. Our observations are friendly, unobtrusive and meant for us to reflect on our own work as a special project supporting our essential birth-to-three providers. We want to be able to know what is working and what needs to be changed in order to tailor our efforts to meet provider needs. When we have robust observation data, we “are better able to evaluate the effectiveness of current engagement strategies and explore possible ways to improve” (Kelton, 2023). 


Kelton, R. (20 November, 2023). Answering the call for data-informed decisions. McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership. https://mccormickcenter.nl.edu/library/call-for-data-2311/