Forum 6: Gaining Entry - Shari Frost, Moderator, National-Louis University
Shari Frost, Sat August 25, 2007, 04:16 PM MDT
You have taken the classes. You have read the books. You have collected and developed a repertoire of strategies and tools to help teachers make a real difference in their students' literacy development. However, it is all worthless if you cannot get on the other side of the classroom door. Let us start by reviewing the recommendations by the authors of some popular coaching books.
Cathy Toll (2005) in The Literacy Coach's Survival Guide: Essential Questions and Practical Questions recommends setting up a schedule to visit all classrooms at strategic points throughout the school year. This approach does not single out any particular teacher. It also gives the coach valuable information about the instructional practices in the building. The coach can use this information to plan future professional development activities, book clubs, and study groups. This suggestion would work in an elementary school. However, coaches in larger middle and high schools would have to make adaptations to plan to make it workable.
Jennifer Allen (2006) in Becoming a Literacy Leader became a coach in a school where she had previously worked as a teacher. She reports that the first classrooms that she worked in as a coach were her friends' classrooms (Choice Literacy Workshop, October, 2006). It was a safe place to get started. It was safe for Jennifer to try her fledgling coaching skills and safe for the other teachers in the schools to observe what the coach does from a distance. The word soon got out. Before long, other teachers in the school were requesting Jennifer's coaching services.
Diane Sweeney (2003) in Learning Along the Way, Professional Development for and by Teachers believes that coaches should only work in classrooms at a teacher's invitation (National-Louis University Summer Institute, June, 2007). She advocates working with teachers in cycles rather than drive-by coaching. The coach's work with teachers comes from the teachers' own questions. The questions are grounded in children's work. Diane says that coaches should always be on the alert to identify teachers' questions as they emerge.
A coach in an urban, mid-west elementary school reports successfully getting into classrooms by asking teachers to give her an opportunity to try out an instructional strategy with their students. She will ask a teacher if she could try using an informational book for literature discussion or a new vocabulary strategy that she read about in a journal. This coach reports that this is a never fail approach. The teacher risks nothing and often asks for support in continuing the work the coach initiated in the lesson. Another benefit of this strategy is that the coach is viewed as a learner rather than an expert who knows everything about literacy.
In this forum, let us share our successful strategies for gaining entry into classrooms. 1. Have you tried any of the strategies suggested here? How did it work for you? 2. What obstacles does a coach need to overcome to gain entry? 3. Does your school have a predetermined coaching schedule or coaching cycle that makes gaining entry a non-issue? Do you believe it is working well?