Class Fifteen – Being a Coach

Today’s class focused on Literacy Leadership. Now I know you might be saying “Wait, weren’t the last Friday’s spent on that?” To which I’d reply “You’ve been reading my blog?!” Then I’d go on to explain that it is a big topic. Today the focus was on not students but colleagues. Being a resource for teachers regardless of title.

To coach is to convey a valued colleague from where he or she is to where he or she wants to be. – Art Costa

I’m not familiar with Costa (you can click his name above to go to his site) but Peter said that he is very careful about the words he chooses. He asked what stood out to us in this quote. To me it is what I emphasized with underline and bold. The goal of the coach isn’t to push or cajole someone to a place of the coaches choosing, it is to be a bridge to help them reach their goal. This bridge metaphor really resonates with me and I use it as an introduction on my resume website.

We discussed a few scenarios in class that made us think about how we would act in a coaching role and were given a prompt to respond to as homework. Here is the scenario to which I am to respond:

Lee has been teaching seventh grade Language Arts for fifteen years and completed his master’s degree in literacy three years ago. He provides reading and writing workshops for her students and differentiates according to their needs. His students are very successful.

Janet has been teaching seventh grade Language Arts for the same amount of time, but her students are not doing as well as others in her department. In fact, her students have made the least gains in seventh grade for several years in a row. She typically teacher with whole class novels.

At the weekly PLC meeting, Janet shares that she is frustrated by her students’ progress. She reaches out to the group for help. Lee is not the school’s literacy specialist, but he knows that his students are successful. He wants to help but is not sure how to go about it.


The questions I’m to answer are: What would you do if you were Lee? How would you act as a coach to support your colleague? Have you ever been in a similar situation? What did you do? How did it work out?

I’ll let you think about how you’d answer before sharing my own. . .

The first thing that I would do to try to help Janet is to ask her what she has done that has been successful, this lets me gauge where she is and where she wants to go. I would ask her what she likes about teaching whole class novels, and if she’s tried reading workshops and what she liked/disliked about them, or if she hasn’t tried them to get her opinion on them. What might work is that you ask Janet what you can do for her, maybe she already knows what she wants from Lee. I feel most comfortable (and I think it is the best practice in these situations) talking conversationally, it provides an organic way of talking about what has worked in your (or in this case, Lee’s) class.  It maybe that the initial conversation and exchanging of practices is all Janet needs, just some more tools in her tool box, a reminder of what she already knows. It may be that she will be out of her comfort level and Janet is invited to watch a class, or Lee could model a lesson in Janet’s class. All of these ideas are really contingent on the relationship between Janet and Lee; the delivery of advice or offering of help to a colleague can be problematic on occasion. Just like in the classroom it is crucial to know the person that is asking for help. I also might have no suggestions right then but listen and ask questions and spend a day or two thinking about it.

I’ve only taught for three years, but I teach in a small school where for the first couple years the ELA department was myself, the 7th grade LA teacher, the 6th grade LA teacher and the literacy specialist, now we’ve added two grade levels to the school so there are 4th and 5th grade representations as well (I’m the only male in the group I think it’s worth noting). When I joined the staff it was clear that this was a group that wanted the best for our students and did not have any issues asking for help, even from a brand new teacher, and, even more impressively, respecting and listening to that new teachers ideas. It has been a fantastic community for me to start my career in, the culture of collaboration and support and openness to new things inspires me each day.

Versions of this scenario have played out with me in both the Janet and Lee role and each time what happens is this big discussion (you know how Language Arts teachers can get talking), that isn’t overwhelming because everyone is involved, about ideas and strategies and offers of resources and whatever else the person might need. We’re all co-captains, coaching each other and students through their educational journey.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – leave me a comment at the bottom of this post.


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