Forum 5: Endings & Beginnings: Reflections & Plans to Improve & Start Anew

This forum is archived and additional posts are not accepted.

Diane DeFord, Sat May 05, 2007, 11:36 AM MDT

May is the month of endings--the school year is drawing to a close, and the pace of life picks up speed! For a literacy coach, this is a key time of the year to look back and think forward. For the next few months, through August 5th, our conversations will help us reflect on the work of the past year to cull out pertinent information about effective practices, successes, and lessons learned. We also want to renew ourselves--pull the threads of our experiences into a new frame for the next year--stronger, more collaborative, more responsive. So to begin this forum, I'd like to pose a first question:

In what ways have teachers made improvements (How do you know? Can you document it?)

This question, to me, is the heart of what guides us to reflect critically about our work as literacy coaches, and the evidence we find, will help us grow as reflective practitioners. We reflect on the improvements that have supported or not supported teachers within the school context. We think about individual teachers and groups of teachers we are supporting, their learning, and the welfare of the children they teach. In every school, the evidence of change (climate, community, strategic teaching, children's learning, etc.) will need to be documented and used as part of the responsive teaching cycle (coaches and teachers alike!). Some teachers, through interviews, may give you insights. Others, through observation and conversations, may show you multiple ways in which they have moved forward in their thinking, planning, or implimentation of best practices. I have included one chapter from Diane Sweeney's book Learning Along the Way (Chapter 3, Understanding Through Observation) to start off with.

Please share your thinking, ways of taking note from your observations, successes, and lessons learned as you address this question: In what ways have teachers made improvements (How do you know? Can you document it?)

Understanding Through Observation



Comments

Joshua Mull , Tue May 08, 2007, 07:53 PM MDT - Teachers and improvement
As a young literacy leader and a new concept for many (introduced 2nd semester), I feel the teachers are beginning to accept my guidance. At first working with others as the "expert" was a daunting process. Most were unresponsive and skeptical, but working with teachers and providing strategic reading strategies for content area reading has perked interest; many instructors have been approaching me for ideas. This progress is the first step to building a collegial relationship to better education. I look forward to next year and hope to measure and document the successful impact of my efforts as a literacy leader.
Diane DeFord , Thu May 10, 2007, 08:30 PM MDT - Teachers and improvement
Joshua--Welcome to this forum and to being a literacy coach! Moving teachers from being skeptical or unresponsive to interested IS a wonderful sign of progress! I know that getting started is one of the most difficult aspects of becoming a coach. It is fraught with so much uncertainty, for the teachers and for you, too. You've weathered the first steps well by being patient and responding to their real needs (even if they weren't quite ready to articulate those needs to you). I think a collegial stance and responsiveness in terms of material support is truly what begins to open the door--it invites them into this collaborative venture to work side-by-side with you and other colleagues. As you take more steps as a lead learner with those who accept your invitations, the community will gather speed and the dialogue will begin to intrique more and more of the teachers to join in. Good luck with the last weeks of class! What strategies for content area reading did you share and what were their initial responses?
David Lowe , Fri May 11, 2007, 12:30 PM MDT - Endings & new beginnings
I started my present position October 2006. The year has concentrated on my training more than anything else (over 30 days out of the building). I have completed 10 sessions of content reading strategies with the entire staff at my middle school. Some of the teachers have been very receptive allowing access into their classroom while other have been resistant. I have been a literacy coach, reading staff development provider, adjunct reading instructor for several years. The greatest resistant comes from teachers who have seen so many programs come and go over the years that they do not want to yet invest (again) in a new program. Next year will allow time to develop better relationships with the staff and allow them to see I will be in place for a longer period of time. As I look to next year, I can see many opportunities. I will be in the classroom at least 65% of in school time. I hope to set up a structure for book studies and learning communities to thrive inside the contexts of the school day. Further, I will have a new principal and assistant principal to bring up to speed on the program(I am the only reading coach in our county). I have my foot in the door and look for new horizons in the future.
Jessica Hudec , Fri May 11, 2007, 08:09 PM MDT - Literacy Coaching...

I successfully completed a coaching cyle this semester as one of my requirements for a graduate practicum. Although I am not currently a literacy coach, I have learned many things about teaching children and adults.

I really like the quote at the beginning of the article that Diane DeFord posted on this forum. The quote was saying that teachers must never stop learning...Providing effective professional development is critical to a literacy coach.

I learned that the literacy coach focuses on how to improve student literacy and it's not about being critical to a classroom teacher's instruction.

More school districts should have multiple literacy coaches to, ultimately, improve student literacy. I have learned that a literacy coach is so VALUABLE to the success of student literacy. Someday, I would love to take on the many challenges of being a literacy coach!

Leslee Munro , Sun May 20, 2007, 10:33 AM MDT - Literacy Beginnings!
The concept of Literacy coaching is new in Canada and I have been recently hired as a Literacy Support Teacher in a District in Winnipeg. I am so excited but also scared. Where do I begin? HELP!!!!
Diane DeFord , Wed May 23, 2007, 09:06 AM MDT - Success and new beginnings

Joshua, David, and Jessica have each mentioned the stance the coach takes as being one of the most important ingredients in the first steps of gaining access to classrooms (of course, this can only occur when trust is established). Focusing on availability (you will be there and support all comers) and building relationships among participants and yourself as a co-learner (rather than an expert) will allow trust to unfold and expand. So this first year for each of you has established a point of entry, common ground, and expectations for the new shoes you are filling.

David raises a very important point--for many teachers new initiatives come and go, many of them creating waves and interrupting the work teachers see is their job. New demands on their time, new tests to give, more to do with students and less time...the list goes on. In the end, as each of you has addessed, you are going to have to be consistent, trustworthy, supportive, and a talent scout! Getting to know your staff, their beliefs, their strengths, their concerns, and their interests will allow you to be responsive and then proactive.

So here is a new question for you: What worked, what didn't work? Now, what are you going to do? (Ways to make the next year more powerful)

Here is another sample chapter from Jane Kise's book on Differentiated Coaching that provides a lot of food for thought!

Differentiated Coaching: A Framework for Helping Teachers Change, Corwin Press, 2006

Kristi Parker , Sat May 26, 2007, 12:58 PM MDT - Building relationships with teachers
Although we are at the end of the traditional school year, I am at the beginning of a coaching cycle as a part of a graduate class I am taking for my degree. Thankfully I have the flexibility of working at a year round school. When I first looked at this assignment I was apprehensive. Literacy coaching is a program that will hopefully start next year at my school. I was worried how the teacher I was going to ask to participate in this project with me would react. I was pleasantly surprised. When I explained the parameters of a coaching cycle, she was receptive to working with me and open to implementing my ideas. It gives me hope for next year when literacy coaching begins at my school. It also will make this assignment far more educational for both parties since we are both open to new ideas and working together.
Diane DeFord , Sun May 27, 2007, 07:44 AM MDT - Coaching Cycle
Kristi and Jessica both mention a "coaching cycle" in a graduate course. Could either or both of you describe what this entails, and Jessica, since you've completed yours, what you learned that will help you think about "starting up" as a literacy coach next year? This response might help Leslee, who is the newest coach among those of you who are learning about coaching. I look forward to hearing from y'all!
Jessica May , Sun May 27, 2007, 02:07 PM MDT - reading coach?
I am also taking a coaching course as part my masters program. I often wonder how people identify the roles of reading coaches and reading specialists. Some do not even think there is a difference. I feel by participating in this experience I will be able to develop my definition of a reading coach. The most important development for me would be observations through teachings and modeling. To me by carrying out this cycle you enable yourself to develop as an educator by expanding on existing knowledge and acquiring new knowledge through observations. "New" and "change" are words sometimes not used interchangeably in education but I feel it is the job of the coach to properly key into the staff trainings to make the transition into new concepts.
Amy Dickson , Sun May 27, 2007, 04:21 PM MDT - Tactics??
After reading your responses, I had many different things on my mind. First of all, for those of you who are being successful at being a Literacy Coach...CONGRATS!! Secondly, how do you do it? Allow me to narrow that down! I know that in the district where I work there are many teachers who have not changed their style of teaching since I was in elementary school (I know, I had them!) and would not be open to implementing new things into their classroom. I'm sure they feel that their way has worked for so long, it will work again, but students have changed so much. How do you convince these teachers to "cooperate" and implement what needs to be done? How do you make any progress or headway...what are your secrets?? I also agree with Jessica that "new" and "change" are not used interchangeably, and I also think that they are taboo words in teaching. So many teachers hear you say those words and instantly turn off. What are some tips/ways that you can present material and information to these types of teachers and still be a good literacy coach?
elaine brown , Sun May 27, 2007, 07:46 PM MDT - Reflection --what's worked/not

Diane is asking questions that aren't getting answers and those are the answers that I am looking for. Reflect on your year and share with us what's worked and what has not worked? How did your teachers modify instruction based on your coaching? Can you document? After two years in my current position, I have been asked to begin to think about a coaching position for next year and your relections would be a valuable resource. I was even asked to write the literacy coach job description specifially for my school and our needs.

Diane DeFord , Mon May 28, 2007, 09:10 AM MDT - Reflection--what worked?

I'll try one example of answering my own question--so maybe others will follow! In South Carolina, we have an intervention support network as part of our Reading First grant. One of the regional coaches (all of whom work for the State Deparment of Education) shared this experience at a recent professional development session for all of our literacy coaches and interventionists in Reading First schools.

What works and what doesn't work is a product of the issue you are addressing, and in this case, whether you get a shift in how children are processing as readers. You might say the answer is in whether we learned as teachers to support the children we are teaching to learn what is critical to improving reading. So here is how it played out in this situation. Kathy is supporting Seely and about 15 other reading interventionists in her region near Beaufort, South Carolina. Their professional development meetings were hosted by Seely for one semester, and the group of interventionists observed Seely working with the same group of children for this extended period of time, then the group met to talk about what the students were doing differently from what they had done on their previous month's visit (the other regional coaches handled their sessions a bit differently, usually rotating from school to school, but there was always an observation of children and teaching). But Kathy wanted more continuity in the children they observed so they could see change over time.

The children were five third graders who had not moved in terms of text reading for several weeks. As the group of interventionists puzzled through what was going on, they determined that these children were meeting the criterion on the Dominie Reading and Writing Assessment Portfolio in terms of accuracy, fluency, and pace, but their comprehension was low (below 75%). The teachers realized the kids were "reading words" but were not connecting with the story, or relating personal experiences to key elements and events in the story. So their charge became one of helping these children read critically, thinking deeply. They further decided that if they could support these children in learning how to talk about the meaning they were making from books, that they might get a shift.

Kathy met weekly over a three to four week period with Seely, and of course Seely met daily with these children. To start, Seely reasoned that if she got the children to talk for period of time together about something they liked and something they knew something about, they'd get the idea about what she meant by "have a conversation." They talked about playing games (each of them liked playing a different game, and shared what they liked about that game. (THAT WORKED) In the discussion between Kathy and Seely, they talked about the next step: Getting them to talk about a story they read as part of Read Aloud--Seely had them each write something on a post-it, and they formed a circle, and Seely stepped back and asked them to talk about the story. Seely wasn't happy with the results--she felt it was more like they held their "card" and played that card, but they couldn't talk with each other beyond the one thing they had written on their post-it. (THAT DIDN"T WORK) So Seely and Kathy talked about what to do that was different--Seely wanted them to learn how to talk more independently, and to listen to each other, and to talk about the meaning of the story and their interpretations.

Kathy and Seely decided to use a story they knew well, one they had especially liked, and she entered the circle and talked about what she wanted them to be able to do, and gave them some key phrases that might help them--how to listen, how to tag on, etc. The next time Kathy came, she worked with a familiar story, and had them make predictions and make connections, and as they talked with her leading, Seely made a chart with the kids. She added things to the chart that came from what they said that used the different language (using background knowledge and text information to predict...connecting text to personal experience, etc.). (THAT WORKED) As they debriefed the lessons and children's progress, they talked about what worked and why, and what didn't work and why, but the children were progressing steadily toward independent dialogue about the stories they were reading. One of the things Seely found that helped her most was a chart on page 87 of Linda Dorn and Carla Soffos' book Teaching for Deep Comprehension: A Reading Workshop Approach. Over the three to four week period, Seely and Kathy worked together to analyze what the kids did well, and what made sense to try next--it was a collaboration in inquiry, because both of them had an idea they were working toward, expertise, and abilities to reflect critcally on whether they were working toward this goal.

In the next PD session (it ended up being about six week from their last session with a holiday in between), the other interventionists were amazed, and so was Seely. When she tested the children soon after, they all had shifted two or three book levels, and their comprehension scores were all within the criterion (75%) as were the accuracy, fluency, and pace.

What worked in terms of coaching--Kathy felt it was a positive collaboration, and both she and the teacher were putting their heads together to solve this problem (Seely's problem, not Kathy's), each contributing to the end results. They kept their goal in mind, reflected critically, and kept their observations focused on the children and their learning.

So this is a long way to come to one "answer" to what works: Find the teacher's passion (or problem to solve), support that inquiry, listen hard, support a lot, and change directions through collaborative dialogue. I'm sure there are other examples out there!

Janice McDowell , Sat June 02, 2007, 05:45 AM MDT - Chapter 3, Lab Network
I have the luxury of working with a team of coaches in a district and we recently tried to reflect on the year at a monthly meeting. In thinking about ways teachers have grown this year, it has been a rollercoaster year. As coaches we partnered up with a district team of teachers, supervisors, and building administrators to create a multiyear plan for the implementation of district-wide literacy initiatives K-6. This was a great step in our work in the district. It provided the opportunity for us all to dive into the initiatives and grow our understanding while creating a learning community among key people in the district. Unfortunately, this important work left me less time for one-on-one coaching. In thinking about Sweeney’s chapter, I am looking to create a lab network for next year. We have 4 elementary schools in our district and this year we explored a lab class setting in three of the schools in three very different ways. Each lab class had a very different outcome. We are trying to be mindful of the potential this type of adult learning can have on clusters of teachers and coaches. Our hope is to work in clusters next year as well as one-on-one. We are thinking about creating lab classes in alternating grades such as 1, 3, and 5. These labs can then be used for adjacent grades to visit. The problem we are having is that we don’t have many classrooms where the instruction we want modeled is actually taking place. Sweeney provides a list of considerations for extraordinary teachers and we just aren’t there yet. The way we tried to work around that this year, was to have the coach and the teacher work together in the lab class. Sometimes the coach worked with the class a couple of weeks before a lab cycle and then did the demonstration lessons while other teachers were in the lab class. I know this is not the goal of the lab class and that the classroom teacher should be the one teaching. We thought it was a step in the right direction because we got teachers inside each others classrooms, we talked about instruction, reflected on practice, generated questions and worked towards answering them and we have a group of teachers that are eager to be lab sites for next year.
Joni Kostelnik , Mon June 04, 2007, 09:22 AM MDT - Observations
I am currently working on my Master's degree in Reading. I only have 3 1/2 more classes to take. I've always loved reading and never really thought about doing anything else but teaching. In my current graduate class, I am required to observe a reading specialist/literacy coach in a working environment with children. One week ago, I was given the opportunity to observe a first year literacy coach who proved to be excellent. Although I'm not a coach or specialist yet, it's easy to see how accepted this coach has been during her first year. We visited several classrooms throughout the day. Sometimes it was to conduct read-alouds with the students; other times it was to watch an end-of-the-year play. Whatever the classroom, this coach was welcomed and ushered into the environment to display her knowledge and love of reading with all (both teachers and students). Several times throughout the day students talked about all they learned this year in reading, teachers told me what a wonderful addition Miss Harper has been to their staff, and how they couldn't have made it without her this year. I spoke with many classroom teachers who showed me ideas that Miss Harper had implemented in their classrooms. Many lessons were posted throughout the rooms in her handwriting. After speaking with the principal, it was clear that Miss Harper has been doing exactly what she should be doing--sharing her love of reading with not only children, but also adults. She has planned parent involvement activities, book talks for teachers, collected data to use for the next several years, and many other things. Although exhausted, she loves her job and it shows. It was nice to observe a literacy coach who, through trial and error, has been very successful and well received by her colleagues.
Diane DeFord , Mon June 04, 2007, 02:12 PM MDT - Lab Network--What Works

Janice has posted a good example of trying to find scenarios of what works within her own context--trying out ways of working teacher to teacher and coach to teacher such that you engender dialogue, reflection ("We thought it was a step in the right direction because we got teachers inside each others classrooms, we talked about instruction, reflected on practice, generated questions and worked towards answering them and we have a group of teachers that are eager to be lab sites for next year."). Getting the conversations started so that reflection and problem solving occur is a critical step forward. Also, in Janice's response she shows that their school is actively trying different configurations, testing the waters, so to speak. We found that working toward a demonstration classroom (the Lab Class in Sweeney's model) by having the literacy coach spend most of a year in one classroom (it is the first year of our four year professional development plan in SCRI) was an important step for both the teacher and the coach. The joint planning, having two sets of eyes for different perspectives, sharing the implementation, all have important implications, especially as a step forward in collaboration, reflective teaching dialogues, and building a shared language.

The other powerful notion that Janice raises is the network of coaches who come together across schools to share and reflect, as well as to collaborate together in school reform efforts. When coaches have an opportunity to work with colleagues who are engaged in similar roles, they build their own support network that supports their continued learning.

Joni adds to this conversation about community and support. As an "outsider" looking in, she was able to see the impact that community has on the school climate. Miss Harper is a great example of someone who has found a way to share her passion, support teachers, and build a professional learning community at the same time.

I ran across an interesting article in TC Record that brings a different perspective to this notion of collaboration and community. Happy reading!

Teacher isolation and community

Matthew Hall , Thu June 07, 2007, 06:12 PM MDT - Lab Network - What Works

I am actually a colleague of Janice who posted the entry on lab classes. In the schools we work in, she mentioned we tried several configurations of lab classes. It was actually by accident that we experimented with these different scenarios. We didn't set out to see which configuration of lab class worked best, we just arranged labs that fit to our schedules. It turned out we had several different set-ups. As Janice mentioned, we had coaches fulfill the role of "teacher" in the lab classes since we currently don't have many teachers who are modeling the instruction we are moving toward. I got to run one lab class. The set up I tried was similar to what Diane posted about the schools in South Carolina. I had an agreement with the classroom teacher that she and I would teach writing workshop everyday for most of the school year. That room would then be open as a lab classroom where teachers could come to watch the work in progress. So the teacher (new to writing workshop) and I began the year together. We developed ways of keeping our conferencing notes, carved out time to plan our units of study and worked on our classroom routines throughout the year. In reflecting upon Diane's opening question, several successes and considerations come to mind. First, I was very fortunate to find a teacher flexible and open-minded enough to allow me to co-teach writing with her on a daily basis. Second, I realize how invaluable this experience was to me as a coach. I have now spent the better part of this school year trying to hone my conferencing skills so as to better support teachers as they begin to conference. The daily practice and close contact to the actual practice was so helpful in building my confidence and skill. I still have such a long way to go but feel much better prepared to support teachers.
The downfall to this set-up? In our school the lab vision we started with was not totally supported by administration. We had approval to do the lab class and our administrator was happy to have the lab site in the building. However, there were never any guidelines established for observations and coverage allowing teachers to come to the lab was not easy to attain. Our principal wanted there to be an open door policy where teachers could come whenever they could (on a prep, if they could arrange their own coverage). I tried my best to have a de-brief with the teachers who did manage to come. But they were never consistent and scheduling didn't always permit discussion. So in line with "Learning along the way" I think I gained some great perspective from the lab class situation I was in. I would definitely restructure it to have more accountability and a clearly defined procedure for observation that is known throughout the building. I really think the lab class has so much potential for our work as coaches.

Diane DeFord , Sun June 10, 2007, 01:05 PM MDT - Lab Network--What Works

Matthew--so glad you logged on to add to what Janice contributed! Your response to the year of working alongside a classroom teacher is very much like the responses we get from our literacy coaches in training their first year. You can hone your conferencing skills (it really is about collaboration and joint problem-solving) and the close contact with actual practice helps you and the teacher hone your teaching skills. Working together like this really does help you support teachers with a whole different perspective in mind.

I also really relate to the downfall you reported: If administration does not support your efforts to offer consistent observation, debriefing, and discussions in a schedule that works so everyone knows what to expect, you will be walking uphill (and meeting more resistance). If the teacher has invited you in, then you really need to be able to schedule time to debrief and discuss the implicaitons of the experience. I know this is one of the most difficult things to accommodate in the school day. Scheduling is actually one of the worst nightmares the school has to deal with!!!

In one school I worked with for a year, the principal hired a roving substitute on a regular cycle, and brought me in to introduce the school to a coaching model while they decided on whether they wanted to hire a coach or not. The substitute gave the school the extra person they needed to relieve teachers so they could observe in other teacher's classrooms. When I visited (as a professional development provider), I'd schedule two observation blocks where teachers were trying out new methods, and we had at least two classroom teachers observing besides me. One teacher used the substitute, the other teacher had her kids in gym, or art, or music (the second observation worked in the same way with the substitute and specials but at a different time). When we met after school (Principal and all classroom teachers), the teachers who taught described their lessons (what worked and what didn't), and those who observed had a chance to extend the conversation given what they'd seen in the observation. Not everyone got to observe, but the discussions were quite rich. We called this a peer coaching model. It was a way to try new ideas, share perspectives, and extend our learning given the "theme" we'd established at the beginning of the year--and it was not very expensive! This school decided to invest in a litearcy coach the next year, so it accomplished my main goal! It showed the teachers what was possible when they opened themselves to inquiry. As a coach, I took on the role of guide and facilitator, raising questions, keeping the conversations going, and finding positives that we could celebrate. It wasn't a bad way to fuel the fire!

As I look back at the discussion we've had so far, here are some of the things we talked about that worked for coaches in the different settings.

  1. Find a theme that meets teachers needs & fuels interest: working with teachers and providing information and support (like content area reading) gets your foot in the door.

  2. Be responsive to teachers' questions, and be patient.

  3. Take a colleaguial stance, provide materials, offer support, encourage dialogue.

  4. Set up structures for book studies, learning communities, observations, time for consultations, demonstrations, and debriefing that will work within the schedule of the school day.

  5. Poll your teachers to find out their interests, problems they may be experiencing, or resources they could use to support what is going on in their classes.

  6. Work side-by-side with teachers to support their needs: gaining entry, lighting the fires of their interests, supporting their efforts, and making yourself visible. This will lay the foundation for professional collaboration.

  7. Focus on improving literacy and meeting student needs. Helping teachers understand why students are experiencing difficulties and working to support their learning takes the threat out of change.

  8. Work to build positive relationships between yourself and the teachers you work with and be trustworthy--trust and a supportive community fosters change.

  9. Demonstrations allow teachers to "see" new practices and begin to share a common language and develop a vision for new possibilities.

  10. Be a co-learner. Help teachers to ask questions about issues they are interested in exploring.

  11. Observe closely and note teachers' strengths and passions. Integrate their strengths and passions into the learning experience: Be a talent scout and celebrate that talent!

  12. In working with a given teacher establish a goal (based on the teacher's need or problem), problem solve together, reflected critically, and keep your observations focused on the children and their learning.

  13. Start with teachers who are flexible and open to trying new ideas. Share your successes and passion!

  14. Find colleagues to support your efforts as a coach. Conversation supports your own critical thinking and it is rejuvenating!

  15. Try different configurations (when one doesn't work, try something different).

  16. Keep records. Reflecting on your successes and difficulties will inspire you for the next year.

This leads me to my last question: What new ideas are you planning for next year?

Cassie Headley , Sun June 17, 2007, 02:15 PM MDT - Literacy Coaching

I have had the opportunity to work with educators throughout the past two years in many school districts due to my job as an educational consultant. Prior to this though, I taught kindergarten. The valuable information that I have learned over the past two years would have been so helpful to me as a kindergarten teacher. Therefore, I feel the role of the literacy coach is so important. The way that my "coaching" has worked best is to first and foremost, build a relationship with the teachers that I am working with. After I have established that I am there to help them, not to judge them or make them "better," it is very easy to work as a team. I believe in a collaborative coaching model, and I believe it is important to communicate often about what is happening within the classroom. As I reflect back on this year, I do wish that after each one of my coaching experiences that I would have written a list of Do's and Don'ts during a coaching session or professional development time. I recently visited a first year literacy coach who did a great job in her first year building rapport with the teachers. She did this by making herself available to them often, providing professional development sessions, and sessions to read and collaborate together. I believe that because of the strong foundation she has built in her first year of coaching, the upcoming year will not only be smooth, but even more successful in terms of student achievement!

Donna Palmer , Thu June 21, 2007, 06:05 PM MDT - Endings&Beginnings
Too many times, our endings are relevant to the bad taste that high stakes testing has left in the mouths of parents, students, teachers, and administrators. Too many beginnings are spent in speculation and doubt upon their arrival and presence of little, if any quality information to inform assessment. Through strong coaching practices and quality conversations, the "middles" can be centered around quality, strong instructional decisions that really help children and teachers make informed decisions. Administrators often seem to be in "attack mode" trying to grasp any/every thing program to improve test scores. Their focus should be on grasping and engaging in dialogue about sound instructional practices. A recent article in TIME Magazine asks, "How to Fix No Child Left Behind" June 4, 2007 (Wallis and Steptoe). The article visits several schools and their individual situations and problems posed by the federal mandate. The gist of the article surrounds achieving AYP and the loopholes schools fall through from achieving it. The article continues to offer strategies on how "fix" failing schools. Instead of suggesting strong instructional strategies and promoting quality conversations, the point-of-view of the article is that schools need to be "fixed". Fortunately, reflective literacy coaches do not try to "fix" teachers. Instead, teachers are supported, affirmed, and given extensions to resources in their area of need. This is perhaps the best structure to give schools and teachers the best beginnings and endings.
Lisa Piazzola , Thu June 21, 2007, 10:12 PM MDT - Ideas for Next Year

After taking a recent coaching course I have been planning for how I will effectively coach my elementary colleagues. Before school starts I would like to arrange time to sit and meet individually with our new teachers in order to know them better in a way that will support and help focus their learning and teaching needs. First year teachers are often so excited yet so overwhelmed that they appreciate support transitioning into teaching. In addition I would like to have coaching conversations with teachers I worked closely with last year in order to determine and plan for collaboration for the coming year. What I've learned is that just as excellent teachers know each student well, so must coaches invest themselves in knowing teachers personally and professionally. They don't care what you know until they know that you care. Relationships and building community will be the glue that will hold us together during the year. One way that I intend to continue documentation of coaching conversations will be through video tape for a few willing teachers and on triplicate carbon paper for most. This will help me document our conversations, plans, questions, and ways of support that are needed. I have a file that I keep on each teacher that contains each teacher's exit slips from study groups, class reflections on readings that our learning community read together, and on things teachers have shared with me from their practice. This helps with the overwhelming task of keeping track of so many teachers. Everything is in one place.

Another way that I plan to collaborate and document learning this year is to create six week mini-residencies with teachers representing four grade levels. The mini-residency will be focused on guided reading, a topic many teachers want to know more about. Representation will include one teacher from kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade. The mini-residency will be voluntary and will allow us to form a small inquiry around their concerns. I will document our planning, demonstrations or observations, and post-conference sessions as a way to provide focus and for me to analyze the group interactions. This will definitely be an exciting endeavor for this small group. I am counting on the momentum created to generate interest for other mini-residency groups to form. I believe it was Dr. King who once said, "Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come from miles around to watch you burn." What I know for sure is that the best way for literacy coaches to reach out to reluctant teachers and to teachers who may seem unwilling to learn new practices is for positive word of mouth and enthusiasm to spread. Teachers talk. And this can be a very good thing! :-)

Diane DeFord , Fri June 22, 2007, 10:57 AM MDT - Stance: Support and availability--not evaluation or fixing!
Each one of the recent responses to beginning the next year make reference to not thinking that you are going in to classrooms to fix teachers. This is so wise of each of you! This a real turn-off, and if anyone suggests that is what you are supposed to do, hold fast to being a support system! I love how Lisa has also established a system for keeping track of conversations across the year, and how she's setting up mini-inquiries that teachers across grade levels can engage in on a voluntary basis. All too often, grade level conversations and planning occur, but cross grade articulation is hard to get going. Kudos to Cassie, Donna, and Lisa for thinking carefully on how you will begin the new year and keep a focus that will start the year off well so as to build community and personal relationships!
Sarah Merante , Sat June 23, 2007, 09:31 AM MDT - Support and availability
I was reading the article in the library, "Sharing Voices, Sharing lives" and felt the author did such a wonderful job of pulling the teachers in before "fixing" them. She began working with teachers by awakening their memories of literature. While reading this, I thought back to my first true connection with literature -- it was a Judy Blume book, "Are you there God, it's me Margaret." Inside I began to feel excitement about giving this same feeling to other students. I think as a literacy coach, we need to first form a bond, or reach the teacher's vulnerability in order to gain their attention. If you are able to get a teacher to open up and feel, then this is a great first step to building a working relationship. It even got me very excited to go back to work at the end of summer and it's only June!
Jane Alexander , Sat June 23, 2007, 10:11 AM MDT - The Beginning

As a teacher, I was empowered to make changes when it was explained just how my students did on our state test and MAP. Sometimes that information is not explained or even given to the teachers.

Our first meeting will be showing and explaining the break-down of this data as a way to make them aware. With this data, teachers can see just where the learning is strong and where the learning needs to be improved. It is all about the students. I hope as a literacy coach we can explore just what we need to focus on during classroom instruction. It will not be my agenda but just what the students that we teach need this year.

Dawn Blaum , Mon June 25, 2007, 08:13 PM MDT - documentation and plans
This year will mark my first year of truly coaching. Last year I taught with a partner teacher and attended classes devoted to the study of coaching and the teaching of reading/writing. I'm very excited about really getting started as a literacy coach. As part of my professional evaluation this coming year, I am to document my effectiveness upon the school. I plan to do this in several ways. The first is to document student progress- our ultimate goal. Next I'd like to somehow document how teachers' thinking evolves over the course of the year. I have thought of trying to construct my own questionnaire, but I'm also interested in using the TORP several times throughout the year. Finally, I'd like to create a notebook (such as the one described by Lisa in a previous post) in which to collect teacher reflections so I may review them when necessary. Besides the documentation, I have many plans that I want to implement in the upcoming year. I plan to meet one-on-one with teachers who will be members of my study group to see some possible directions our learning should go. I also plan to be very visible the first few weeks of school, having informal conversations of which I'll later take note so that I can review these along with my notes from individual meetings to determine trends and needs. In order to increase my visibility, I intend to make a schedule available for teachers to sign up for me to do a read aloud to their classrooms so that I might get to know the students. I'll try to create a talk time immediately afterwards with each teacher to see if there's anything I can do in the way of support. If she has not already expressed interest, I'll invite her to join our school's study group. In study group, we will spend much time reading, talking, and reflecting. I had planned to do lab workshops this year as well, but now that I've read the article that Diane DeFord posted that described the importance of seeing extended time in one classroom, I'm rethinking how we might do the lab experience. I look forward to reading others' ideas about how they plan to document their coaching experience and any plans for next year.
Diane DeFord , Wed June 27, 2007, 11:09 AM MDT - Plans to gather evidence about patterns
As I read through the past few weeks' entries, I see how literacy coaches are blending teacher professional development and ongoing monitoring of progress (teachers and students) as a way to make sure teaching and learning is a common focus from teacher to teacher. They've also talked about interviewing teachers and working with children (could be using children's literature or working side by side with them or through informal assessment) in order to know possible areas that may need attention. Gathering evidence to know where to begin is critical. And since we can't "stop" the forward momentum of the school day, finding ways such as have been recommended so far to write down comments, capture reflections and note important ideas, and record plans and observations, will provide the literacy coach a written record to study over time. These are solid ideas to use to build a system to record key events, ideas, and noteworthy insights gained for future use. I'm getting excited about your plans for next year!!!
Cathy Willis , Mon July 02, 2007, 12:14 PM MDT - Endings and New Beginnings
After our coaching summer training, I have some new beginnings to think about. I plan on sitting down with my new principal this July and hearing what his visions are. I will share my own and then comes the process of blending them together. I have agendas of my own from working in this school last year, but with a new principal this brings new horizons to dream. I want to sit down and truly listen to my teachers and hear what they want from me and where they want to grow. Using my knowledge of the school and where growth needs to take place and attaching the teachers needs and desires to the work, I hope to be a part of huge growth for our students and our district. I want to remain open and sensitive to all those around me and to become a force of change and growth. THAnks for the summer of growth and encouragement.
Beth LaGamba , Fri July 13, 2007, 02:32 PM MDT - Dawn,

Dawn, It sounds like you have a lot of wonderful plans for next year. I loved reading about your focus on student progress. I think sometimes coaches can get so caught up in supporting teachers that they can forget that student progress is the ultimate goal. I also loved your ideas for documentation such as questionnaires and informal conversations and your professional development plans such as study groups and lab workshops. It seems as though you are very well prepared and will be very successful as a coach. As in any school, you will face reluctant colleagues, but it sounds like you have been in your school building already and have begun to develop relationships. It also seems as though you will be a full time coach and will not be asked to split your time between these duties and those of a reading specialist. This was the biggest problem I faced as a coach. I had little time in my day for all the exciting things you plan to implement. I wish you the best of luck this year! You'll be great!

Joni Kostelnik , Mon July 16, 2007, 12:39 PM MDT - Busy, Busy, Busy...
The more that I learn about what it truly means to be an effective literacy coach, the more nervous I get. I am now beginning to learn how much time is spent in preparing to assist others all year long. I find being a special educator takes more than enough time. I love reading and I love sharing that with students. The part that causes me anxiety is completing professional workshops for others. I feel too young and too inexperienced. Although I am not a literacy coach, the meer idea of having to present all the time frightens me. I can picture teachers who have been through the many cycles of teaching rolling their eyes at my new and improved research based ideas. Why would or should they want to try them? I don't want teachers to think my way is the best and only way. I think it would be great to get their opinions and ideas, too.
Amy Dickson , Thu July 19, 2007, 09:10 AM MDT - Get the ideas
Joni, I know exactly where you are coming from!!! The thought of taking on all of the responsibilities as a literacy coach is overwhelming! I think that when it comes down to it, you will just need to keep an open mind. You already realize that some teachers will not be accepting to new ways/strategies, and those have to be the ones that you want to overcome the most! Make it your daily routine to try to convince them just to TRY something new. It may not be the best way but it won't hurt to try. I also like what Dawn said about completing questionaires and informal interviews with the teachers. I think this will help a great deal, especially being a new coach, because if you ask for the teachers' help/opinions they will be more likely to take your advice/opinons. Good Luck to everyone!!!!
Kirstin Sheppard , Thu July 19, 2007, 09:29 AM MDT - next school year

Although I'm a classroom teacher, I will be finished with my reading specialist degree this summer and feel that I have a lot of knowledge that I can share with others in my school. As I think forward to August, I know that there will be a new teacher on my team, who will probably need a mentor. I keep thinking about when I started and a veteran teacher (who also had a reading specialist degree) gave me many great suggestions and tips for teaching reading. She taught me about modeling reading for kids with think alouds and also gave me many creative lesson ideas to get students interested in reading and writing. This helped my teaching and made me feel more confident. Now that I'm a veteran teacher with a reading specialist degree, I plan on sharing literacy strategies and lesson ideas with the new teacher on my team. I don't plan on pushing these on him/her, but I want to offer my help and give this teacher some new tools to help students read and write. I’m excited about helping this new teacher because I remember how I constantly wanted suggestions when I was a new teacher, and I still want suggestions. It seems like being able to share my knowledge with a new teammate is good practice for when I will be sharing my knowledge with a whole school as a reading coach.

Diane DeFord , Mon July 23, 2007, 10:23 AM MDT - Next school year, possibilities

Your thoughts on next year are really exciting! I've reread your entries, and as I think about an area you have all commented on (with some anxiety!!) is the professional development side of the coaching role. I think the key to beginning was well stated by Dawn and supported by Beth--gathering information that informs you about teacher interests in new learning, their strengths, concerns, and their passions and beliefs gets you inside their heads, hopes, fears, and talents. I'd like to offer a few suggests, that once you have a sense of the lay of the land (and meeting with the Principal as Cathy talked about was a great plan!) you want to think about in developing your professional development sessions.

Learning with adults begins with conversation, and continues through conversations with peers. Building time into each session for conversation around your topics is key. You get a double boost, as teachers who talk together learn about each other, and it builds trust. So don't think about your sessions as being on topics that you present to others. The sessions might focus on some children's work samples, for example, with teachers analyzing student strengths and needs. It could be sharing a few possible books, where teachers browse the books, talk about them with each other, and how they might use these books for read aloud, shared reading, or guided reading groups.

I always plan some ACTION oriented experience (work sample, children's books, running records, taking an article through 'jig-sawing', etc.), and then have the teachers talk about what they've done, and chart key responses that then get shared out from small group work. I vary the small groups (grade level, cross grade level, interest, strengths/learner focus groups wanting to gain strength from a colleague, etc.). In this way, I almost NEVER stand up as the expert. Instead, I'm facilitating adult learning and help us stick to our agenda.

In addition to conversation, I believe strongly in joint inquiry. To me, that means that teachers buy into something they want to learn more about, and they take the lead in this and report out at key times on their progress. So early on, you have them talk about possibilities, and see what small groups can be formed, and keep this structure for a period of time (6-8 weeks?), and then let teachers share within small groups several times, and to the whole group at the end of the inquiry period. Many of these mini-inquiry studies can be part of the professional contract the teachers have with the principal (their growth plan so-to-speak).

If you go to the Do's and Don'ts Brief on this site, I think you'll see how to begin, work with teachers, and with administration so that your year gets off to a good start and progresses well!

Diane DeFord , Mon July 23, 2007, 10:44 AM MDT - Literacy Coach vs. Reading Specialist

Okay, I had two things I felt I needed to address. The second topic that has woven through your entries that we haven't really addressed directly is the difference between a Literacy Coach and Reading Specialist.

The Reading Specialist: The Reading Specialist is often a state-level certification. It usually involves working with students and their reading, often with a load of small group teaching responsibilities as an interventionist. In this role, the Reading Specialist may confer with teachers, and may develop action plans with teachers around students in the classroom that both teachers have responsibilities for--the teacher in the classroom, the Reading Specialist as interventionist.

Literacy Coach: The Literacy Coach is a relatively new role in schools. IRA and NCTE have standards for this role, as do some states. But this is usually a school-based position, not an area of certification, although this may change. The Literacy Coach does not have to have certification as a Reading Specialist. The requirements vary widely--in South Carolina, where I work, the Literacy Coach has to have a Master's Degree to be part of the South Carolina Reading Initiatives. But many school districts have established a Literacy Coach position, and they provide their own professional development for literacy coaches that they have employed. Of course, some do not provide professional development at all! But when most people become a Literacy Coach, they are going to have a more focused role as lead learner, coach, and professional development provider for at least one school (the number of schools vary in different places as well).

Blended Roles: Some districts require that their Literacy Coaches have to be Reading Specialists, and they blend the responsibilities--some teaching of children, some work with teachers in providing professional development. Often times, the amount of 'coaching' varies in these blended roles. And by coaching, in this case, I mean scheduled times to visit teachers in their classrooms, providing support to individual teachers, helping them reflect on their teaching and set new goals, etc.

So I think it is often helpful if we clarify our roles, since there is likely more variation than we may think from one person to another!!!!

Kathy Rombach , Mon July 23, 2007, 01:04 PM MDT - Professional Development

I found a lot of valuable information after reading through a couple of the articles in the library section of the website. The Reading Corner for Educators; Professional Development for Teachers gave great reviews on three different books on professional learning. An Island of English: Teaching ESL in Chinatown was of particular interest to me since I am currently and ESL teacher. However, I feel that many of the strategies and methods of teaching ESL teachers use can undoubtedly be used with struggling readers and the general education classroom as well. This book seems as though it will give great insight on collaboration and supporting curriculum with multicultural aspects.
Also, after reviewing the article titled Transformative Development: Negotiating Knowledge with an Inquiry Stance, I have gained new perspectives on how professional development sessions can be successful each time you meet. The South Carolina Reading Initiative has organized a great map to guide teachers in successful professional development goals. I would highly recommend reading this article. It also shares some online professional development websites that sound like they would be helpful. You could possibly share these sites with your administration.

Kathy Rombach , Tue July 24, 2007, 08:55 AM MDT - Sharing Literature, Sharing Lives
After reading this article in the library section of the website, I feel that teachers must live what they teach. It is great to model to students what they should be doing to become successful in school and this article is a great example. Teachers should spend time with literature and writing to become better at it and model these joys and successes to their students. I think it would be great to be involved in a teacher’s book group. You could read anything from various magazine or newspaper articles to adult and children’s literature. It would be valuable for me to read children’s literature from picture books to chapter books and novels. Then after reading the text, teachers can share ideas on how to implement the text in the classroom for the students to enjoy as well. Let the students see you reading the book and enjoying or not enjoying the way the story goes. They will value what you have to say and you opinions of books and hopefully begin to discover new texts themselves.
Brenna Sisinni , Wed July 25, 2007, 11:36 AM MDT - Measuring Growth
I am not a literacy coach. I am a middle school instructional support teacher. Although my job differs greatly from a literacy coach, it is similar in that I am called upon to collaborate with classroom teachers to help struggling students achieve. I am new to this position and feel that I can relate to many of the posted reflections and have also learned a great deal from each individuals thoughts. One small thing that I realized when reflecting on my first year in terms of growth, relates to my growth with building professionals. It is important to start small and be patient. If you can find one teacher in your building that is willing to work with you, it will open doors to other opportunities. I have found that when teachers observe you working in other classrooms, they begin to get curious and feel that they are missing out. Give it time, be dedicated, and others will follow.
Kathy Rombach , Fri July 27, 2007, 09:50 AM MDT - Meeting the Needs of ESL Learners
After reading though some articles regarding reading strategies for minority students and creating lessons of mass instruction I can’t help to think about how ESL students fit into the reading program. Second language acquisition can tend to be a tricky business when it comes to teaching ESL in the public school spectrum. Communication between the state and districts remain to be an important part of implementing a successful ESL program. Commitment to collaboration opportunities between district administration, ESL teachers, classroom teachers, reading teachers, and parent and students is also necessary in meeting the specific needs of each ESL student. Everyone involved in the education of ESL students must simply keep in focus the needs of the ESL learner. Adaptations strategies should be shared with everyone involved to help the student socially and academically.
Sarah Merante , Fri July 27, 2007, 03:22 PM MDT - Sharing literature, Sharing lives

While reading Egawa's article, "Sharing Literature, Sharing Lives," I really agreed with the section about us as teachers finding our own writing form. In addition to teachers finding their own writing form, I think we need to remember how we found our style, continue to read different styles, and appreciate those different styles. I remember having English teachers in the past that just did not appreciate my writing style. I tried and tried and no matter what I could not earn a good grade with certain teachers. Then, other teachers said how great it was and urged me to write for the school newspaper.
When we are asked to grade and assess writing of students, I do think we need to focus on the words and what the author is saying and not the style. Just as adults need to form their own style, so do the students. I know it has to be difficult since their writing is assessed by the PSSA's, and they expect a certain form. Another way is to get these kids to develop many forms depending on a certain audience.

Amy VanIddekinge , Fri July 27, 2007, 09:36 PM MDT - NEXT....

As I finish classes and take the certification test, I can help but wonder how all the information gained will cement in our brains! We have learned so many great strategies for working with students and teachers-regardless of our jobs, all of the information has changed our thinking on teaching reading. Whether classroom teacher, reading specialist or literacy coach, we all have been changed through our learning. We all are experts who can be examples in our schools to teachers, principals, community members, and students of how literacy effects us all as learners.
I know where ever I am next year, I will be a far greater teacher and colleague having had the experience of intense learning the past year. I know I have gathered more best practices and hope to be able to utalize them to the fullest!
We have talked at lenght about Portfolios for students work and assessments. It dawned on me the other day, we should have a teacher portfolio. Each section could be a teacher where you store the notes, questions and strategies given to the teacher. In the binder, if you presented the staff with a survey, those could be stored in another section as well. That way all professional development and coaching papers are all available at any time. This portfolio would make planning staff development and coaching cylcles much easier because you are organized

Diane DeFord , Mon August 13, 2007, 12:36 PM MDT - Teacher Portfolios
Amy, quite a few of the coaches I've worked with use this notion of a portfolio to gather information, records, communications, and reflective thinking about the teachers the coaches are working with. These can be quite helpful in planning, documenting teacher decision-making, questions received, requests made, etc. Time is always of the essence, so finding ways to keep you on track and help you sort through important issues that you have to respond to will be key. Daily planners, email communications, notes to yourself, teacher requests, appointments...they all add up quickly. So finding your own organizational scheme will help keep you sane!

< Return to Thread List