Forum 1: Building Relationships of Coaches and PrincipalsThis forum is archived and additional posts are not accepted.
Nancy Shanklin, Thu December 07, 2006, 04:17 PM MST
Launch of the LCC Forums
With this entry, I am launching the first forum of the Literacy Coaching Clearinghouse. The main difference between LLC Forums and the LCC Blog is that the forums are about a single topic while topics in the blog are much more immediate and less controlled. The plan of the LCC Advisory Board is to launch a forum once per month. The Forum will remain open for two weeks, close, and the conversation will be edited for clarity and posted in the website. Each member of the LCC Advisory Board will host a forum.
We are still working out who from the Advisory Board wants to do what topics and exactly when each forum will start. When this schedule is worked out, we will post it in the website. We hope gradually to incorporate uses of audio and video clips into some of the forums. The forums will allow us to have more extended discussions of important topics in literacy coaching as a community of learners. We hope you will find the forums useful, informative, and something that you want to participate in.
Forum 1: Building Relationships of Coaches and Principals Hosted by Nancy Shanklin
There has been much discussion in the LCC blog about ways coaches might establish relationships with teachers at the opening of the school year or when they are newcomers to buildings. Reading these exchanges suggests that it is helpful for literacy coaches to establish good relationships with their principals. Principals are instrumental in setting the vision and tone for each school. In many cases, they are held ultimately responsible for students’ literacy learning as reflected in achievement scores.
Early information on literacy coaching steered clear of discussing coaches’ needs to build relationships with principals for fear that coaches would be seen as evaluators. As coaching has become more accepted in both education and business, it is now clearer that coaching works best when coaches’ roles are to help individuals reflect upon and strive to perform their jobs better. Others in the organizational structure need to perform evaluative functions.
In some of the new books reviewed in the LCC website, authors are beginning to suggest how literacy coaches might develop high quality relationships with their principals. The ideas offered by these authors seem helpful and worth discussing at this point in the school year. After I share some of these authors’ ideas, I hope that we can begin to discuss our own experiences and ideas. During the second week of the forum, I will include audio interviews with a few coaches in the Denver area to learn how they have built successful relationships with their principals.
A brief review of useful information on building relationships with principals from recent books follows. Of course, you may want to read each of these books on literacy coaching more thoroughly for further information.
What Recent Authors Have to Say
The Reading Coach by Jan Hasbrouck and Carolyn Denton
Hasbrouck and Denton have included a chapter specifically addressed to principals. They acknowledge that principals may not have time to read the entire book, but that, “they wanted to be sure that you were given an opportunity to get an overview of the role of reading coach and to consider how coaches can work most effectively in a school with support from their primary supervisor.” (p. 91)
Hasbrouck and Denton list many of the potential job functions that a coach may serve and suggest that a principal work closely with a coach to define his/her role. They suggest that a principal and coach agree upon the rationale for the new role in the school, describe the coaching process that will be used (and share it with teachers), and determine other tasks that the coach will undertake (and not undertake). They also suggest that the coach and principal develop priorities for use of the coach’s time. Finally, they suggest that a principal needs to work out with the coach ways that his/her performance will be evaluated. The book contains many forms that would help a coach to plan and use time well. The forms would also help a coach to document his/her actions and subsequent changes to instruction that teachers’ make.
The Literacy Coach’s Survival Guide by Cathy Toll
Toll has created a helpful list of items that a coach might discuss in a first meeting with a principal. Important items for this first meeting include going over the coach’s job description (or making one if it doesn’t exist); visions for literacy coaching by the principal and coach; and the history of coaching, professional development, and literacy instruction in the building. Toll also suggests that a coach discuss with a principal his/her preferred means of communication and first steps for meeting teachers, parents, and students. She suggests that the coach ask the principal about priorities for the next year and resources that will be available for materials, staff, etc. The coach might also explain his/her plans for individual and small-group meetings. Finally, the coach ought to determine a regular time that they might meet with the principal or be sure to schedule, at least, the next meeting.
Responsive Literacy Coaching by Cheryl Dozier
In her new book, Dozier has written a chapter more jointly addressed to both coaches and principals. She suggests that a coach invite administrators to become part of every professional learning experience such as study groups, grade level meetings, and demonstration teaching, etc. Such participation encourages administrators to signal that they are interested in and part of the learning community in their buildings. She also suggests that principals need to be mindful of the schedules they develop for coaches’ that make it easier for them to schedule professional development sessions and one-to-one coaching sessions.
Content-Focused Coaching by Lucy West & Fritz Staub
While this book was written with math coaches in mind, it is very useful for helping a coach and principal think about their relationship. The book also talks about the roles that district central office administrators can play that will most support coach and principal efforts at the building level. There are two excellent, comprehensive chapters that give a coach and principal much to talk about in practical terms based largely upon work in District 1 in New York City. The chapter on principals begins with a list of questions that a coach may want to discuss with a principal. It suggests that the coach will want to obtain a “picture” of the school and along with the principal select teachers to work with. The chapter directly talks about conflicts that may arise between principal and coach priorities and gives suggestions for resolving such conflicts. In the authors’ views: “The long-term goal of coaching is to create a collaborative professional community. Even though the coach is in the business of nurturing potential leaders and is unlikely that people who resist change will emerge as leaders in the first or second years of an initiative, it is important that every teacher be treated with respect and compassion.” (p. 129)
West and Staub believe that it is important for coaches, teachers, and administrators to work toward building consensus. They suggest that while the coach’s role is primarily to assist teachers and not to evaluate them, clear ongoing feedback about progress is essential. They suggest that the relationship between coach and teacher(s) is professional with emphasis on using the coach’s expertise to assist teachers’ in developing their skills to help students increase their achievement. The chapter offers traps that coaches and principals might land in, ways to prevent them in the first place, and practical advice about solving them. Continuing dialogue between coach and principal is important. The chapter for central office administrators places much emphasis on the development of a whole district as a professional learning community.
Literacy Coaching: The Essentials by Katherine Casey
Somewhat the opposite of Hasbrouck and Denton, Casey addresses a chapter of her book explicitly to coaches about how to build relationships with principals. She acknowledges that relationships with principals are often de-emphasized to prevent assumptions by teachers that coaches are evaluators. But, she argues, “I believe the solution is to work to establish healthy relationships with clear boundaries and communication so that all adults are working together toward instructional improvement.” (p. 37)
Casey makes many concrete suggestions for coaches to follow. In some ways the chapter parallels some of the advice given in by West and Staub but is specific to literacy.
She suggests that coaches establish and maintain clear boundaries with both teachers and principals. Casey suggests that it is important for a literacy coach to clearly understand a principal’s vision for a school and for literacy learning. She gives concrete suggestions for helping a coach and principal come to more consensus about beliefs on literacy learning: invitations to demonstration lessons or to learning lab sessions and debriefs. She talks about determining what is going well in a building and areas of concern with learning and teaching. She offers suggestions for understanding how the principal sees the role of the coach and how decisions are made about which teachers to work with. She offers ways that a coach can work with the whole staff, small groups, and individual teachers, and how all three might fit together. She then suggests covering basic problems such as who will teach students if teachers are involved in professional development, ways to establish regular communication, and how to obtain feedback and improve one’s work as a coach.
Lenses on Literacy Coaching: Conceptualizations, Functions, and Outcomes by Cathy Toll
You may not even know that this latest book from Cathy Toll is out! Reading Chapters 2-4 of this book can greatly help a literacy coach and principal discuss the coaching program that their building will develop. In Chapter 2 Toll suggests that coaches usually play one of 5 roles: technician, service provider, supervisor, professional developer, or fresh alternative. These roles lead literacy coaching to function in one of three ways: intervening, leading, or partnering. Toll’s biggest point is that often a coach and principal are not clear about these roles or functions of the literacy coach. Thus, often some of the outcomes of a literacy coaching program are not those intended. These chapters are somewhat abstract but exceedingly relevant if schools are to employ literacy coaches and to reach the goals that they intend. Toll suggests that principals, coaches, building leadership teams, and teachers themselves need to talk over the intended goals of the coaching program and what success will look like.
My Own Experiences
I wish that much of the information from these authors had been available when I worked as a literacy coach in one of our university partner schools. At the time, the principal knew that she needed help crafting a vision for literacy and guiding professional development. I already knew that I wanted to do demonstration lessons and work alongside teachers as a coach to help them implement new literacy strategies. But, we didn’t have the ideas from these books to really mull over and talk about together. Or, even better, we needed to discuss ideas with the school’s leadership team and figure out ways to introduce coaching to all of the teachers. How helpful it would have been to be more intentional.
I am wondering how others’ thinking and experiences parallel the suggestions of these authors. Also, what seems like new, useful ideas that you would like to try?