Life Without a Literacy Coach

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After three months of teaching in my new district, I can honestly say that I have never regretted leaving the school that I spend the first six years of my teaching career. I love teaching in the elementary school that I attended as a child. I love taking my children to school with me each day. I love having a teaching partner that pushes me daily. I love the 28 third graders that I spend each day with.

The hardest part of my new job is life without a literacy coach. Pretty much every week during the first six years of my career I was coached. Each week my coach would visit my room for 30 minutes. The 30 minute visit would always be centered around a question that I had. After the visit, we would have 30 minutes to dialogue and reflect. Six years of this. Six years of having an unthreatening peer work with me to improve my practice. Six years of someone listening to me laugh, cry, complain, celebrate, and reflect.

Life without a literacy coach is harder than I ever imagined. I’m not going to lie; there were times when I wasn’t really looking forward to giving up my planning time to dialogue, but I always left feeling like I had someplace to go. Someplace to grow.

It wasn’t until I went to NCTE that I realized how much I missed having that constant and consistent learning. My teaching partner and I work great together, but that relationship is different from a coach.

In at time of high stakes evaluations, common core state standards (I refuse to capitalize them), and large class sizes-the role of a coach is more important than ever.

I’m not sure that I will ever have a literacy coach again. After three months, I’m finally beginning to figure out what it looks like for me to continue to grow like I did have a coach.

My plan to coach myself (with the help of others):

Read a professional book with my teaching partner

This was her idea. I brought back Ruth Ayers Celebrating Writers from NCTE. My teaching partner got real excited when I started telling her about it, and now we are going to read it together. Well, not exactly together, but at the same time.

More time on Twitter

I have felt pretty disconnected from Twitter the last three months. Most of my time there was responding to tweets I was tagged in, instead of contributing and joining conversations. I’ve been more involved the last week or so, and I feel so refreshed.

Presenting at Conferences

Presenting at conferences sure does make you learn something deeply. I’m hoping that presenting at the Michigan Reading Conference in March will help me dig deeper into the topics that I’m presenting on.

Life without a literacy coach is different. It is hard. Sometimes I feel a little bit like I’m on an island. I’m learning that if I want to become the teacher that I desire to be, I must take the learning into my own hands (with A LOT of help from my friends).

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21 thoughts on “Life Without a Literacy Coach

  1. You know Colby we just don’t know what we have until it’s gone sometimes! I wish Chicago had that coaching model. I know they hire coaches but you never see them in your school and it makes you wonder what they do all day long. We do teacher book clubs with the whole school and I know the feeling of not always wanting to go, but it’s usually so refreshing when you do! I’m glad you’re starting to perk up. See you on the Twittersphere.

  2. Wow, great post, Colby. So much here. I’ve never had a literacy coach, but desperately want one. I think it is why I read so many PD books and found Twitter – I was craving something but didn’t know what it would be. Glad you and your partner are reading Celebrations together – that is awesome too.

  3. Wow! It sounds like the literacy coaching you got was wonderful. I’m always just a nervous wreck when someone comes to watch me. I have a hard time accepting feedback – and that’s probably because it’s never been done the way you describe.

    I have a copy of Notice and Note sitting in my classroom. I really need to find a learning partner to help me work my way through it. I have to accept that I don’t know it all – and that there is always room to grow.

  4. I’ve never had a literacy coach and most of my colleagues aren’t interested in professional development unless it is required for recertification or supervision and evaluation. I count on twitter to help me, but I’ve been too busy lately to stay connected. you’ve given me things to consider here. I think I could use a virtual teaching partner with whom to read and discuss professional books. Lots to chew on…thanks.

  5. I’ve never had a lit coach either–at least not one who cared about what was happening in the junior/senior high. Luckily, in the high school where I am teaching, I have surrounded myself with professionals with whom I share ideas. get advice, and rant if I need to. But Twitter is the best. I have grown more as a teacher through Twitter than I did in the first 20 years of my teaching

  6. Colby, as a literacy coach myself, I just want to thank you for this post. Sometimes my position can feel pretty solitary and I so appreciate learning and collaborating with teachers who are passionate, eager, and lifelong learners, like yourself. Thanks again for all you do on behalf of kids every day!
    Best,
    Jenn

  7. Great post, Colby. For those of us who aren’t teachers–can you explain WHO that literacy coach was? A fellow teacher? A reading expert from outside the district? I’m fascinated–sounds like the person didn’t come to observe you teach (which I know makes even veteran teachers nervous), but just to be there to talk about your specific issues. Such a cool idea.

    • Usually a coach is a person hired specifically to work with the teachers in a school on improving their instructional practice. Sometimes districts outsource their coaching, but having a coach in a building on a consistent basis is the most effective approach. I taught 7th grade LA in my building for 18 years before moving into a coaching role last year. My job includes observing teachers and providing feedback (not in the official evaluative capacity), helping to plan lessons and units, demonstrate teaching strategies and methods in classrooms, and plan and provide PD. In my district, coaches also teach one intervention group and help to collect and analyze benchmark assessment data.

  8. Colby… as a literacy coach, I loved reading your post. Seeing that you valued the time you spent with your coach and that growth mindset that was part of your first six years of teaching set the tone for your professional life helps me to remember that the work I do matters. I can be that coach for a teacher in my building.

    I needed that today. Thanks.

  9. I’m going to echo what several above said. Sometimes I miss being in the classroom very much, and being a lit coach can feel lonely, especially since I don’t have a network to talk to because I’m in an independent school. Thanks for this, Colby, for helping me know I’m doing something that is helpful to those teachers I work with. My colleagues are welcoming and perhaps now I understand a little bit more why.

  10. Oh do I feel your pain! I had a coach for my first two years of teaching, and she was invaluable! I still find myself emailing her when I have particularly sticky questions. Unfortunately I think you’re right–the position of coach is almost non-existant now. But your plan to be your OWN coach was inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

  11. bbutler627

    You must have had a really fantastic coach! I love when you describe your relationship with her – “having an unthreatening peer work with me to improve my practice. Six years of someone listening to me laugh, cry, complain, celebrate, and reflect.” That’s what a literacy coach was designed to do for their peers. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Sounds like you realize that you have to be resourceful. It’s hard for teachers not to feel isolated without someone they can trust. I could never find another English teacher. I looked to the teachers in our drama productions. And here too…

  13. This is a future position I am pursuing (or debating about pursuing) in my district. I hate the idea of leaving the classroom, but I feel I have so much more to offer. If I choose this path, I hope the teachers respond as well to me as you did to yours.

  14. Shannon

    Colby, thank you so much for this post. It brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my soul. I pray everyday to impact people in the way you described. This meant so much to me. I will keep this post handy to remind myself what this work is really about in times when it’s feeling frustrating or when I feel I haven’t accomplished as much as I’d hoped in supporting people. People like you make my job exciting, fun and worthwhile. Thank you friend.

  15. Not being a teacher, I wasn’t even aware of things like a “literacy coach” or “teaching partner.” I think it’s all great, having a support system and ways to continue improving as a teacher. ALL jobs should have these type aspects to them! I’ll have to ask my D-I-LLY (special ed teacher) and her mom (elem.principal) about this next time I see either of them. So interested!

    You are a natural-born problem solver, from what I’ve gathered. I know you’ll find your way, Colby :) And I’m pretty new to Twitter (only a few months now) and have loved the world and connections it has opened for me. Kindred spirits all over the place :D

  16. Colby,
    I understand your post perfectly! Back when I was working as special education teacher I was so fortunate to work in the classrooms of 2 teachers who were being trained as coaches! I was privy to MANY training sessions, observations and reflections. Having this support changed my teaching and my perspective on PD. Unfortunately, our district now has only 3 coaches for 13 schools! I am so grateful to work on the same team with a former coach and to have a close connection with the current coaches in our district.
    Having this time with the literacy coaches turned me into a PD junkie! So happy to have this blogging and twitter community of fellow “junkies” it keeps my perspectives fresh and my teaching energized!

  17. Jasmine

    Hi Colby,
    For me, teaching in remote contexts, particularly one teacher schools, remote islands and indigenous communities in the most isolated places in Australia, I have found Twitter to be my literacy coach. I am constantly stretched sideways, pushed and pulled, bent in and out of shape and had my beliefs well and truly questioned. It was only at this time of feeling true anxiety that transformational learning occurred and my deeply held beliefs, assumptions and pedagogy altered. Through twitter I’ve learnt global perspectives on the latest research and data driven approaches and innovations. Isn’t this way more powerful than a coach telling you how great you are doing? Over 6 years you may have tweaked parts but those ingrained practices fall short of transformational learning which is awkward, clunky, uncomfortable and at times not at all fun, like we tell children learning is. Modelling this learning process for children can be a powerful thing. I guess if I ever had a traditional literacy coach, would I be as stretched? When you have like minded beliefs and strategies in a school of hundreds, how are you ever stretched to innovate or undertake true transformational learning? We know innovation stems from a need or gap in pedagogy, so embrace Twitter as a new way of being coached! Embrace opposing views, latest findings and research. You would being hearing and collaborating on this literacy data way faster than your coach who is not on twitter would be (the power of Twitter, ey!) The student becomes the teacher in this case?? I guess recognise where you are on the learning journey and take time out to reflect. ENJOY THE RIDE!

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