Making our Coaching Responsive
One of the building blocks of effective coaching is its responsiveness to teacher needs. But meeting teacher needs isn’t always as straightforward as we wish, since teachers represent a wide range of knowledge, skills, and experiences. For this reason, coaching can never be formulaic; and simple checklists during coaching observations will always fail to capture the complexity of the teaching and learning process.
We understand very well that there is no “one size fits all” approach to coaching. Teachers’ knowledge and skill can vary dramatically, depending on the instructional practices or ideas being introduced. Even teachers with many years of classroom experience may be novice when it comes to a new curriculum or instructional idea (e.g., introducing Writers’ Workshop or book clubs). So we need to begin our coaching wherever teachers are on this continuum of experience, and go from there.
By incorporating a variety of coaching activities that help us keep our coaching responsive, we are better able to work within a “teacher’s zone of proximal development” (Heineke, 2013, p. 429) to encourage teachers’ ongoing professional growth and strengthen their instructional effectiveness.
We are guided in our work by the following evidence-based principles that help us focus on essential elements:
- We keep our coaching focused on student learning (Blachowicz, Fogelberg, and Obrachta, 2005; Hasbrouck and Denton, 2007). This is not to say that we only look at test data. As a matter of fact, test data represents only a tiny piece of progress monitoring and measuring student growth and learning. Rather, we ask teachers to gather evidence of students’ learning based on their observations, work samples, and (when possible) video of instructional interactions. This focus on the student provides more objective ways to talk about the effectiveness of instructional actions and to make adjustments when necessary.
- We try to assure that our coaching is participant-driven and collaborative (International Literacy Association, 2006). We strive to make coaching a partnership, and to retain teacher “voice and choice” in our work together. Puig and Froelich (2007) report that “the power in coaching is highly correlated to the degree that the literacy coach considers herself to be a co-learner” (p. 26), and we endeavor to maintain a sense of “co-construction” when working with teachers. We often begin our coaching by helping teachers refine or extend a practice that they are already doing. Then, over time, we can introduce new ideas and help teachers adopt practices that will further students’ learning or more accurately reflect effective practices.
- We make every effort to allocate sufficient time for the coaching process to unfold (Dearman and Alber, 2005; Knight, 2006). Change can be hard; and just as we would never expect children to learn something new after only one lesson, we can’t expect teachers to effectively incorporate new ideas into their instruction based on a single coaching session. Teachers also need time and guided practice, with a supportive feedback loop that helps At the same time, we make every effort to routinely evaluate the effectiveness of the coaching process and look for evidence of the effectiveness of our coaching. Coaching effects can be “measured” in various ways, e.g., through teachers’ perceptions about their instruction and sense of instructional efficacy; changes in instructional practice and adoption of new ideas; student learning outcomes (Hasbrouck & Denton, 2007; Knight, 2006; Walpole & McKenna, 2013)
- We employ a variety of techniques in our coaching, depending on teachers’ interests and disposition toward being coached (Fitzharris, Jones, & Crawford, 2008; International Reading Association, 2004). We think about these techniques as lying along a continuum that ranges from very informal (e.g., sharing a relevant article from The Reading Teacher; offering a book recommendation for a classroom-based book club) to very formal (e.g., classroom observations, debriefing, or guided transcript analysis).
- Finally, we make conscious effort to continue our own professional growth (Blachowicz et. al., 2005; Hasbrouck and Denton, 2007; International Literacy Association, 2006) both through the knowledge and skill that we continue to develop through reading related literature and research, engaging in coursework and/or related professional development, and through associations with other literacy coaches who share their expertise and help us grow.
So what about you? How have you differentiated your coaching? What ideas have worked for you? What challenges have you faced? Join the conversation!
References cited in this month’s post:
Blachowicz, C.L.Z., Obrochta, C., & Fogelberg, E. (2005). Literacy coaching for change. Educational Leadership, 62 (6), 55-58.
Dearman, C. C., & Alber, S. R. (2005). The changing face of education: Teachers cope with challenges through collaboration and reflective study. The Reading Teacher, 58(7), 634-640.
Fitzharris, L., Jones, M. B., & Crawford, A. (2008). Teacher knowledge matters in supporting young readers. The Reading Teacher, 61(5), 384-394.
Froelich, K.S., and Puig, E.A. (2007). The magic of coaching: Art meets science. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 3(1), 18-31.
Hasbrouck, S., & Denton, C.A. (2007). Student-focused coaching: A model for reading coaches. The Reading Teacher, 60(7), 690-693.
Heineke, S., (2013). Coaching discourse: Supporting teachers’ professional learning. The Elementary School Journal, 113(3), 409-433.
International Reading Association. (2004). The Role and Qualifications of the Reading Coach in the United States. A position statement of the International Reading Association. Newark, DE: Author.
International Reading Association, & National Science Teachers Association. (2006). Standards for middle and high school literacy coaches. International Reading Association.
Knight, J. (2009). Coaching. Journal of Staff Development, 30(1), 18-22.
Puig, E.A. & Froelich, K.S. (2011). The Literacy Coach: Guiding in the right direction.
Boston, MA: Pearson.
Walpole, S. & McKenna, M.C. (2013). The Literacy Coach’s Handbook: A guide to research based practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press.