Examining the effects of internal versus external coaching on preschool teachers’ implementation of a framework of evidence-based social-emotional practices


Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 42:4, 423-436

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In order to help meet the coaching needs of early childhood teachers, the present study compares internal coaching to external coaching on implementation fidelity of content from The Pyramid Model’s universal prevention tier’s training content.
This content was selected for use in this study for several reasons.
First, Pyramid Model training content is well developed and readily available.
Next, implementation fidelity can be easily measured by a published tool (the TPOT).
This content has also been used in prior studies examining coaching (Artman-Meeker et al., 2014; Fox et al., 2011; Hemmeter et al., 2016).
Finally, The Pyramid Model represents good practice; regardless of the level of coaching or amount of change as a result of the coaching, all participants in this study were introduced to an evidence-based framework to help them support the needs of the young children in their care. For the coaching framework, the Practice Based Coaching (PBC) model was selected.
This model is supported by Head Start and has been used in other studies examining coaching effectiveness.
Classroom teachers served in the role of internal coach; they were already employed by the program and took on the additional role of coaching.
Researchers took on the role of external coach, only being present on site during coaching activities.
All coaches, internal and external, were peer coaches, with no one having supervisory or evaluative status and both engaging in the process of learning and applying new techniques together.
In order to determine if internal coaches can meet the coaching needs of early childhood teachers while addressing some of the coaching challenges, there were several hypotheses examined.
First, it was predicted that, consistent with prior literature, coaching in both formats would have positive impact on teachers’ successful implementation of teaching practices.
Second, it was predicted that teachers coached by internal coaches would have similar increases in teaching practices as those coached by external coaches.
Finally, if internal coaching is as effective as external coaching, there should be no differences in child social-emotional growth across the groups.


Four local Head Start programs were recruited as participating sites in this study.
At each site, the administrator was asked to select four classroom teachers within their programs.
Of the four teachers, two were asked to participate in internal peer coaching and the remaining two teachers received external coaching; site administrators determined how teachers would be assigned to the coaching conditions and each administrator determined their own selection criteria.
The total n for the study was 15 teachers; eight internal coaches/coachees and seven externally coached teachers.
Seven graduate research assistants served as the external coaches for the project.
It should be noted that all coaches, both the internal coaches and external coaches were new to the role of coaching.
This was done to prevent differences in post-intervention outcomes from arising as a result of prior training or experiences.
All students enrolled in each teacher’s classroom were extended an invitation to participate.
42 SSIS forms were included in final analyses (n of 42).


Teaching Pyramid Observation Tool (TPOT)
The TPOT is an evidence-based tool that assesses fidelity to the Pyramid Model for Promoting Social-Emotional Competence in Infants and Young Children, an evidence based framework for supporting the development of social-emotional skills (Fox et al., 2014).
The TPOT is a classroom-based assessment appropriate for classes of children ages two to five years old which has been found to have good reliabilit and validity with this population (Hemmeter, Snyder, & Fox, 2018).
The TPOT offers information in the form of three subscales.
The first examines overall implementation in the areas of 14 key teaching practices.
An overall score is determined by calculating the percentage of items being demonstrated; in general, a score of 80% is considered to be acceptable.
The second scale rates the occurrence of red flags -practices that are inconsistent with The Pyramid Model and are indicative of areas that need immediate support.
Third, there is a rating of the teacher’s response to challenging behavior.
This scale is only completed if there is an occurrence of challenging behavior which the assessor can observe and rate; if there is no instance of challenging behavior during the two-hour observation period, the subscale will be left unscored.

Social Skills Improvement System Rating Scale (SSIS)
The SSIS is normed for use on children ranging in age from 3 to 18 years old and has been found to have good validity and reliability (Gresham & Elliott, 2008).
For preschool-aged children, the SSIS teacher rating scale consists of 76 items divided into two core areas: social skills (SSIS-SS) and problem behaviors (SSIS-PB).
The SSIS is widely used in studies examining the effects of implementation of social-emotional teaching strategies (Cheung, Siu, & Brown, 2017).
It has been shown to have good reliability for teacher use (median reported alpha of.81) for all subscales.

Following the eight weeks of coaching, the pre-study assessment procedures were repeated.
TPOTs were again conducted in the classrooms of all participating teachers.
Teachers were provided with an additional set of SSIS forms and the previous coding instructions and asked to complete one form per consented child.

Results and discussion
The main purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of internal coaching as compared to external coaching on increasing adherence to The Pyramid Model teaching practices.
Although not significant, a small effect size was demonstrated and it appears as if coaching may improve teaching performance on the TPOT.
When looking at scores overall and between groups, TPOT scores improved across both groups.
These results continue to support coaching as a viable method for enhancing implementation of evidence-based techniques (Conners-Tadros & Daily, 2018; Joyce & Showers, 2002; Lee, 2017; NCQTL, 2014b).
Furthermore, the findings are in line with Hemmeter et al. (2016) previous research, which demonstrated improvements on the TPOT measure when teachers received Pyramid Model training and coaching.
Red flag reduction is also an important goal of Pyramid Model implementation and the TPOT.
In general, both groups had low red flag percentages prior to coaching.
After the intervention, the internal peer coaching group had no associated red flags.
When examining student growth, it was found that overall, the children did not show significant change in behavior as a result of the coaching intervention.
One possibility for this is that the interventions that were the focus of this study were aimed at developing high quality environments and enhancing supportive and nurturing relationships; not on modifying challenging behaviors.
It is noted that one significant change was noted in the area of child social skills (SSIS-SS), with the internal peer coaching group yielding significantly better results.
While social skills are included within The Pyramid Model framework, they were not part of the coaching content in this study.
Finally, the impacts of internal versus external coaching were examined.
The results indicate that there was not a significant difference between groups in the implementation of Pyramid Model strategies to fidelity.
While these results are preliminary, they suggest that the use of internal peer coaching may be as effective as external peer coaching in enhancing teaching practices in early childhood classrooms.
These results support previous research (Goker, 2006) that indicates peer coaching to be an effective technique for improving teaching skills.
The utility of using internal peer coaching in early childhood settings also has other benefits, including decreased financial cost, no time needed to learn about individual school climate, and existing rapport amongst teachers.
Although more research is needed, based on this study, internal peer coaching can be considered as a potential solution to the challenges of working with an external coach.

Artman-Meeker, K. M., Hemmeter, M. L., & Snyder, P. (2014). Effects of distance coaching on teachers’ use of pyramid model practices: A pilot study. Infants and Young Children, 27(4), 325–344.
Cheung, P. P., Siu, A. M., & Brown, T. (2017). Measuring social skills of children and adolescents in a Chinese population: Preliminary evidence on the reliability and validity of the translated version of the social skills improvement system-rating scales. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 60, 187–197.
Conners-Tadros, L., & Daily, S. (2018). Strategies to improve instructional practice in early childhood settings. Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes. Retrieved from
Fox, L., Hemmeter, M. L., & Snyder, P. S. (2014). Teaching pyramid observation tool for preschool classrooms (TPOT™), research edition. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
Fox, L., Hemmeter, M. L., Snyder, P. S., Binder, D., & Clarke, S. (2011). Coaching early childhood special educators to implement a comprehensive model for promoting young children’s social competence. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 31(3), 178–192.
Goker, S. (2006). Impact of peer coaching on self-efficacy and instructional skills in teach English as a foreign language (TEFL) teacher education. System, 34(2), 239–254.
Gresham, F. M., & Elliott, S. N. (2008). Social skills improvement system rating scales. Bloomington, MN: Pearson Assessments.
Hemmeter, M. L., Snyder, P., & Fox, L. (2018). Using the teaching pyramid observation tool (TPOT) to support implementation of social–emotional teaching practices. School Mental Health, 10(3), 202–213.
Hemmeter, M. L., Snyder, P., Fox, L., & Algina, J. (2016). Evaluating the implementation of the pyramid model for promoting social–emotional competence in early childhood classrooms. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 36(3), 133–146.
Joyce, B. R., & Showers, B. (2002). Student achievement through staff development (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (ASCD).
Lee, J. (2017). ‘We can’t do it just to make them feel good!’: An exploration into the benefits of coaching in secondary schools. International Coaching Psychology Review, 12(2), 110–124.
National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning. (2014b). Practice based coaching. Retrieved from https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/pbc-handout.pdf

Updated: Apr. 11, 2022