We have been encouraging the literacy coaches we work with to create a year-long coaching schedule for their school. The main goal of these coaching schedules is to ensure that the coaching experience is meaningful and productive for teachers, and manageable for the literacy coach.
As Richard Allington states, “Enhanced reading proficiency rests largely on the capacity of classroom teachers to provide expert, exemplary reading instruction. Our study of these exemplary teachers suggests that such teaching cannot be packaged. Exemplary teaching is responsive to children’s needs not regurgitation of a common script. In the end it will become clearer that there are no ‘proven programs,’ just schools where we find more expert teachers — teachers who need no script to tell them what to do.”
If schools are going to support teachers to become “more expert,” then literacy coaching with classroom teachers in their classrooms must be a priority. Yet as we listen to coaches list the various tasks they need to accomplish at the beginning of the year, we realize that getting into classrooms sometimes becomes quite difficult.
Many literacy coaches have a September and October “to do” list that looks something like this:
- Plan professional development sessions for new staff
- Add new titles to the school bookroom
- Support teachers in assessing struggling learners
- Work with staff to set up structures for intervention
- Analyze state assessment results
- Distribute fall assessment materials
- Organize study groups and/or professional book clubs
- Order additional books for a new classroom
- And many other items . . .
With a “to do” list like this, coaching in classrooms on a regular basis can get lost in the frenzy of a busy school year. How can literacy coaches find time to have meaningful professional learning experiences with all of the classroom teachers in the building?
We have found that creating a yearlong coaching plan with “sacred” coaching blocks helps coach’s reserve time for working with teachers in their classrooms. Here are a few steps that some coaches use to set priorities and create a manageable coaching schedule, while also leaving room for accomplishing all of the other items on the “to do” list.
Step 1: Establish Priorities
We encourage coaches to first grab a lot of scrap paper and a yearly calendar that is blank. Then we ask them to answer the following questions and record dates/times on a calendar.
- What are the district’s professional development goals for the year?
- What topics will be discussed at professional development sessions?
- What are the dates for these professional development sessions?
- What is the focus of the faculty meetings this year?
- What is the assessment schedule for the school? When do the assessment cycles begin and when do they end?
- What are the regularly scheduled meetings that the literacy coach needs to attend?
- When are PLC meetings or data team meetings for each grade level?
- How many staff members are new this year? (Not only new to the building, but also teaching a new grade level this year, or returning from a leave of absence.)
With these questions in mind and a list of dates and topics, coaches can now think about setting up some coaching blocks in his or her schedule.
Step 2: When Will I Coach?
We encourage coaches to arrange coaching blocks in 45-minute sessions. During most of the 45-minute session, the coach and teacher will teach together in the classroom, thinking about a particular instructional practice or focusing on strategies for teaching a specific group of students.
We find that 45 minutes is just the right amount of time. It gives the coach and the teacher a chance to teach together, talk in the classroom for a few minutes while students work, and then plan some quick next steps. Since both teachers and coaches are so busy, we find these short but frequent visits can have a lasting impact because they are focused on one focused topic. Even with 45-minute sessions, we encourage coaches to end each session in about 35-40 minutes so that the coach has a few minutes of breathing and thinking space between classroom visits. This way coaches have a little time to think about what they will be doing in the next classroom.
We have found that when literacy coaches set aside approximately 12 – 16 blocks of coaching time a week, they are able to teach with teachers in classrooms on a regular basis as well as attend to the other items on their “to do” list. Here is a sample literacy coach schedule. Please notice that this schedule has 16 coaching blocks, which means that the coach can see up to 16 different teachers in one week, or work with a few teachers over an extended period day after day.
Step 3: Setting Up Coaching Sessions
Who to Coach?
All teachers should have the opportunity to collaborate with the literacy coach at some point, so we encourage coaches to make a coaching plan for the year that includes all of the classroom teachers in the building. Working with all of the teachers doesn’t mean that we do the same topics with everyone, but all teachers do get the opportunity to collaborate. There are some teachers who are new to the building, are teaching a new grade level for the first time, or have returned from a leave of absence. These teachers probably need more time with the coach, especially during those first few months of school. The coaching plan needs to take this into account, giving more of the coach’s time to these teachers.
What Topics and When?
In deciding when to schedule coaching for particular teachers and what topics should be addressed during the coaching sessions, we ask coaches to review their answers to the questions in the first “Establishing Priorities” step. These questions can guide coaches in making a draft plan for coaching particular teachers and grade levels.
If grades 3-5 teachers have several fall professional development sessions on readers’ notebooks, then we want to use some of the fall coaching blocks with these grade levels. If kindergarten teachers will be reviewing mid-term assessment data in January, then we schedule coaching time for January and February so that we can support teachers in learning how to analyze the data and plan instruction.
When choosing times for coaching, we recommend organizing coaching time with particular teachers or grade levels into blocks that support teaching a particular instructional strategy. If we are teaching interactive read aloud, it makes sense to schedule coaching sessions two or three times per week, so that the coach can model how to help students deepen their thinking as they listen to the read aloud. However, if we are teaching conferring strategies, the coach may work in a classroom once a week for 6-8 weeks to demonstrate how conferences change as students learn new reading strategies.
When possible, we also encourage coaches to work with all of the teachers in one grade level during the same months of the year so that natural collaborations can occur between teachers.
Step 4: Getting Feedback
Once a draft coaching plan is created, we ask coaches to get feedback from administrators and teachers. This way before any coaching begins, teachers can give input about what times make the most sense for them, as well as what topics will be the most helpful. As coaches receive feedback, it is inevitable that every teacher’s priorities will not be fulfilled with the coaching schedule, but hopefully the schedule will work for the majority of teachers.
Step 5: Leave Thinking Time
One thing that we want to make sure coaches leave time for in their busy schedule is a bit of thinking time each week. In the frenzy of completing the items on a long to-do list, literacy coaches need time to think about how to plan and organize meaningful professional development experiences. Coaches almost never give themselves enough planning and thinking time, but it’s essential for creating a calendar that works. As the year progresses and needs change, the thinking time becomes even more crucial as you ponder what adjustments will be needed in the schedule.