Why use coaches?

Nancy Shanklin, Friday Nov 14, 2008, 12:00 am

The question "Why use reading/literacy or instructional coaches?" is going to become more and more important to answer well in the coming months. I can think of three points we ought to emphasize. Coaching helps to: 1. Improve teacher quality 2. Improve student achievement 3. Retain beginning teachers

What are your thoughts?

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Responses to Why use coaches?

  1. Sarah Rabe says:

    All three of your points are valid and I agree with them.  I also think that literacy coaching will take on an even more significant role in the area of teacher support when it comes to educating ELL students.  Across the country teachers are seeing an increase in the number of students in their classrooms that are having to learn conversational English and academic English at the same time.  Our role as coaches is going to be providing teachers with sound instructional practice that supports these new learners.

  2. Phil Wilder says:

    In my experiences, answering that question largely depends upon the vision for literacy coaching in the building, the way the literacy coaching time is structured, the intentional selection of participating teachers and the extent to which the existing professional development and school wide initiatives are integrated into a single, cohesive and clearly articulated vision for the building. In an age of quick fix and throw everything against the wall and see what sticks mentality, many factors outside the control of the literacy coaches contribute to improved teacher quality, to student achievement (as opposed to engagement), and to the retainement of beginning teachers. Surely a correlation exists between literacy coaching and the above mentioned goals but I would hate to see impulsive and reactionary decisions made if test scores or retainement rates don't immediately rise.

    That said, when teachers and administrators truly use a variety of assessments to shape instructional goals and when existing structures (like PLCs, staff development days, curricular meeting times, instructional committees, etc.) are modified or shaped toward a shared school-wide vision, literacy coaching can be a powerful vehicle for providing in-class support, modeling and co-teaching that impacts instructional practices, student achievement and retention of beginning teachers. Both qualitative and quantitative data can easily document that growth and change.

  3. Heather Elliott says:

    I am a new literacy coach/ literacy coordinator for a middle school and high school in a public school in Indiana.  The position is brand new, although I had been teaching English and French in this school system for quite a few years.  It seems to me that administrators have a difficult time getting in to classrooms and having the time to coach and support teachers, because they have so many miscellaneous things to do such as deal with discipline, building maintenance, extra curricular activities, not to mention random drug testing and dog searches.  Our teachers only have 50 minutes of prep time each day and one PLC per week, and I know it is difficult to sharpen the saw and collaborate much during such limited time.  With a whopping 15 weeks of literacy coaching under my belt, (and I am teaching a couple of small reading intervention classes) I think our school district thought this would be a way to provide on-site professional development that would be responsive to teachers' immediate needs, and allow for modeling and leadership in best practices.  So far I think the administrators are happy with what has been accomplished. 

    At the middle school, we did our first-ever round of Gates-MacGinitie testing, established lexiles for each student, reported results to staff, trained staff on how to develop text sets at varied lexile levels using web resources.  A letter has been sent out to each parent informing them of their students reading, vocabulary, and total reading grade equivalents, national percentile ranks, and lexile ranges.  I've got two parent meetings set up for next week to answer questions and discuss our middle school literacy initiative.  Also at the middle school we've set up numerous teachers with classroom libraries, we have sustained silent reading for 30 minutes twice a week and every once in a while I get out to do a read-aloud or a book talk.  I've presented 3 times at professional development days;  twice on pre-reading, during reading, and post-reading strategies, and the third time was the lexile training mentioned above.  We're doing writing across the curriculum in all of the fine and practical arts and health and PE classes, and I've been helping those teachers to develop assignments that are authentica and relevant, and I've modeled writing lessons all day in the classes of three PE/health teachers.  Whew!  That's quite a lot and that's just at the middle school.

    So, that's my answer to "Why use literacy coaches?"  -- because a WHOLE lot gets done that wouldn't be getting done otherwise.  (See examples above! :)

    I just e-mailed my superintendent with the information about the literacy coaching summit in Corpus Christi in April.  It would probably cost about $1200 for them to send me.  I may be dreaming...

    Thanks for this website.

  4. Diane Santoriello says:

    Heather you have done a great deal.  I just came back from NRC and found out that many coaches are like me.  I don't have has much time in the classrooms that I would like.  I spend a great deal of time researching and finding materials for teachers. 

    I recently blocked out two weeks of morning time to work in a classroom.  The teacher has decided that she doesn't need me.  She is a veteran teacher and a longtime friend so I know that it is not that she felt ill at ease with me.  I think that the coaching session that we did in preparation and the materials that I made just gave her the boost that she needed.  She just needed to get a better idea of what differentiaion and gudied reading groups would look like.  She also recruited a fellow teacher to work on this as well. 

    Another thing that came up at some sessions was "coaching on the fly" some people counted it when counting up what coaches do and others do not.  I have five buildings and go from grades 1-8.  I do a great deal of coaching on the fly and it seems to have some good results.

    In the elementary schools I do one on one, a series of PD workshops, and team meetings.  In the middle school it is simialr, but the PD workshops are for newer teachers.  I am also assisting in selecting new reading and English materials.

    This is my third year of coaching and my 39th year of teaching.  I love being a coach.

    I hope you get to Corpus Christi.  I was surprised to get to go to Orlando.  It never hurts to ask.

    It was good to see Nancy in person.  I have been a lurker here for awhile, but decided it was time to start posting.


  5. Karen Taylor says:

    I would like to know if anyone's state or district has a defined job description as a literacy or instructional coach. If you do could you send it to me at karen.taylor@arkansas.gov Our state would like to look at various ones.



  6. Thomas Chiola says:


    I have a copy of the reading coach job description and responsibilities given to us back in 2001 as guidance from the NJ Dept. of Education The New Jersey Literacy Initiative Office of Early Literacy I can fax to you if you provide your fax number.


  7. Thomas Chiola says:


    My email is tchiola@comcast.net

  8. Troy Fredde says:

    I work at University Academy a Charter School in Kansas City, Missouri. I teach 1st grade. I am getting my masters in Reading and see the need for a literacy coach/reading specilist in our school that works with teachers and help create a good literacy program. We have some reading teachers in our building, they were unforntuantely hired to work with specific kids in MAP tested grades, (The Missouri State Test). We are trying to implement guided reading this year as a K-2 school. We have K-12 grades in one building by the way. We have 7 Kindergartens, and 6 first grades. We are a huge school, but all of our resouces are being placed in tests grades and we have so many kids falling through the cracks in the lowers grades. We also have a no social promation policy. We do not pass students on to the next grade level who do not meet grade level requirements. Having this policy we need more support for teachers and students at other grades outside of state tested grades. I am trying to lay the groundwork for a position that I can stepinto to provide those needs.  I think retaining teachers is a huge thing. Training competent teachers and turning them into great teachers and providing them with support is the key to keeping them in the filed. We have a school super who only cares about state test scores and the students at those particular grade levels. She is leaving at the end of this year, however, so hopefully changes will happen.  We are not doing horrible as a school, but need to be doing better. I beleive were are ranked in the top 100 Charter Schools in the country.   When I hear about teachers not attempting guided reading, and these are the same teachers who retain the most students and are proud of the fact they are retaining students, instead of being sick about failing these students.  I came from a district that trained teachers, and worked with students relentlessly in Kansas City, Kansas. Having the funds to hire Reading teaching to work in MAP tested grades is a good thing, but we need to look at the picture of the school, not just MAP tested grades.

  9. Troy Fredde says:

    My email is jayhawkrtroy@yahoo.com

  10. Karen Tankersley says:

    With huge budget cuts facing states all across the nation, one of the first things being cut in my state (Arizona) is coaching positions. This is a huge disappointment since coaches really are an important link to improving not only reading instruction but also providing the needed support that enables teachers (both beginning and veteran) to cope with the ever increasing demands placed on them. It is refreshing to hear about all of the good things that each of you are doing. Keep up the good work with your teachers as well as the students you serve.

    Karen Tankersley

    Threads of Reading: Strategies for Literacy Development (ASCD, 2003)

    Literacy Strategies for Grades 4-12: Reinforcing the Threads of Reading (ASCD, 2005)


  11. Nancy Shanklin says:

    This is an important conversation that we need to keep alive this spring - especially during these hard budget times. 

    I want to you to know that IRA and NCTE as professional associations are trying hard to keep the concept of literacy/reading/instructional coaches alive as potential legislation is discussed in Washington, DC. We are letting everyone know the positive coaching results that are starting to emerge linked to improvements in teacher instruction and then student achievement.  All of the work that was presented at NRC and then discussed by our study group on literacy coaching helped with this. 


  12. Amy Sandvold says:

    I just found a blog entry on the ASCD blog that discusses research from Stanford that indicates teachers in the United States do not have the opportunities for in-the-workplace support and professional development like other countries. Another interesting link and article to read and discuss.