Life as a literacy coach can be busy and overwhelming. There are meetings to attend, teachers to sit beside, and students of concern brought to our attention. Many of us juggle more than one school, and some of us support more than one content area. There are new teachers, teachers transitioning to new grade levels, and teams interested in digging deeper into their practice. When I find myself overwhelmed, I try to think of this work like I thought of my classroom practice. Sometimes it seems that everything I needed to know about coaching, I learned in workshop teaching.
What Workshop Taught Me
As a classroom teacher, my first steps in using a workshop were during writing, but it wasn’t long until I found it worked for reading and then it trickled into other content learning. I used the structure of a workshop across our day together. It seemed to me that the structure helped students optimize learning opportunities and allowed me to scaffold learning as needed. Our workshops always had a predictable flow: the focus lesson, independent learning (small-group opportunities and conferring), and then a share at the end. A thread went through this teaching from the focus lesson to the share at the end. It was this thread that brought our community conversations together. It was the “independent learning” time that allowed me to provide differentiated support to the learners in my classroom while allowing them opportunities to try out our new learning and personalize their work.
If I’m not careful as a coach, it doesn’t take long before I feel pulled in a million directions. To help me find clarity, stay focused, and meet a variety of needs, I often think about growing our community in much the same way.
From Workshop to Coaching
Teachers, teams, and learning communities have a variety of needs, yet there are common patterns that help us know the need, set priorities, and make efficient use of our time.
Keep a Community Conversation: In workshop, it always worked best to stay focused on big ideas that allowed everyone to enter where they were. The same is true in coaching.
Advantage Whole-Group Opportunities: Like the minilesson or focus lesson, these opportunities allow me to share a common message with everyone and grow in our shared understanding. The more aligned our group is in conversation, the more growth we can see. Additionally, common conversations allow teachers to learn from one another.
Use Small Groups: Using small-group opportunities can help in managing our time. By working with grade-level teams and small special interest groups, or bringing together those with a common need, we can bring clarity and focus to our work. I have found that data team meetings where we dig into student work, grade-level meetings where we think together around an idea, book talks where we dig into professional reading, or small interest groups help make the work lighter. Often these small-group conversations naturally open the door to side-by-side opportunities in classrooms that don’t feel forced or hurried.
Tailor Individual Opportunities: Just like sitting beside a student in a conference conversation, working alongside teachers in classroom communities provides opportunities to focus our lens on particular aspects of teaching and learning. I feel more focused if we can keep this work tied to the bigger work we are doing as a building community as much as possible.
Think in Bigger Time Frames: When I first started coaching, I often found myself planning week to week. It seemed it was never long before I was struggling to fit in all the little fires that seemed to be burning. Of course, I never felt like I was getting anywhere. Soon I learned that thinking about coaching opportunities like I did units of study helped improve my intention and focus. I also saw more gains in our learning community.
Build Connection and Expertise: One of the best things I learned across time about our workshop was that a good workshop ran without me. When I realized my students learned as much or more from one another, I became intentional about lifting expertise and building connection. The same is true in coaching. Colleagues have different strengths, and lifting those can elevate our community.
Maintain Space for Joy and Celebration: As teachers, we seem to easily fall into patterns of deficit thinking and rush from one task to the next. In coaching opportunities, it can be easy to find ourselves talking about all that learners aren’t doing instead of celebrating all they are doing. When we shine a light on positive steps forward, what is working, and strengths, we bring an energy to the work that propels us forward.
When I find myself feeling like a fish out of water or racing around the building like a firefighter, I try to pull myself back to my foundational understanding of a workshop. From there, I can return to a sense of purpose and balance.