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Coaching & Natural Learning Environments


Children learn best with the people they know and in the places where they spend most of their time.

“Best practice models for early intervention services incorporate

learning in the natural environment and coaching models.”

PEDIATRICS Volume 132, Number 4, October 2013



In Virginia, practitioners are expected to implement the early childhood coaching approach described by Rush and Shelden (2011), which focuses on building the caregiver’s capacity to enhance the child’s development using everyday interactions and activities. Practitioners support caregivers during EI visits by joining family activities and coaching caregivers as they practice using intervention strategies with their children. Practitioners also facilitate reflection with the caregiver, provide feedback on the caregiver’s efforts, and plan with families for what to do to encourage development between visits. EI practitioners are also required to use natural learning environment practices (NLEPs), which overlap with early childhood coaching. NLEPs focus on supporting the child’s development in the context of naturally occurring activities, daily routines, and settings that are meaningful to the family. These practices are widely accepted in the EI field and are described in resource documents such as the Agreed Upon Mission and Key Principles for Providing Early Intervention Services in Natural Environments

(From Ongoing Support for Coaching & Natural Learning Environment Practices: Guidance for Facilitating Re­flection with Individuals and Groups, 2018)

Three (3) Virginia-specific documents related to coaching and natural learning environment practices have been developed and can be found in the Coaching & Natural Learning Environments section of our Documents Library.

  • Orientation to Coaching and Natural Learning Environment Practices— Designed to facilitate the orientation of new staff and contractors to the use of coaching and natural learning environment practices in early intervention
  • Ongoing Support for Coaching & Natural Learning Environment Practices: Guidance for Facilitating Reflection with Individuals and Groups—This document provides guidance to master coaches, supervisors, and other coaching leaders who want to facilitate ongoing reflective practice groups in their programs. The guide includes instructions for using a worksheet for one-on-one reflection, as well as instructions, agenda, and hyperlinked resources for two options for facilitating group reflection.

NOTE: Before using this guide, it is recommended that facilitators review Facilitating Reflection: A Manual for Leaders and Educators (Reed & Koliba, 2003).

  • Virginia’s Coaching Facilitation Guide—This guide is designed to help master coaches, supervisors, local system managers, and other coaching leaders facilitate a book study or staff activities to support ongoing use of coaching practices. It is written to align with The Early Childhood Coaching Handbook (Rush & Shelden, 2011) and includes instructions, handouts, answer keys, and links for a wide variety of activities.


Fidelity Assessment

Coaching and natural learning environment practices are evidence-based practices—meaning there is evidence that they work when they are implemented as intended. Fidelity assessment evaluates the extent to which a practice is implemented as intended. Measuring fidelity is important since children and families cannot benefit from an evidence-based practice if that is not the practice they actually receive. Further, fidelity assessment is important because it lets us know where more professional development and support are needed in order to ensure implementation of the intended practice.

Virginia uses both self-assessment and observation to assess and support fidelity. A number of resources have been developed to support local implementation of fidelity assessment and can be found in the Fidelity Assessment section of our Documents Library. Some of these resources include:

  • Coaching in Action Checklist
  • Coaching in Action Checklist Tips
  • Local Coaching Fidelity Assessment Report
  • Fidelity Assessment Frequently Asked Questions
  • Fidelity Assessment Implementation At-a-Glance
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