Targeted Literacy Coaching

a guest blog post by Laurie Elish-Piper and Susan K. L’Allier, 2013 Literacy for All Conference Speakers

Erin, an elementary literacy coach described her frustration with too much to do and no clear way to prioritize and focus her coaching work. “I feel like I’m running as fast as I can, and at the end of the day, I ask myself, ‘What have I accomplished?’  Most days, I don’t really have a good answer.”    She went on to explain, “I feel like I’m just doing random acts of coaching here and there without any rhyme or reason to what I’m doing!”  We were working in Erin’s school district to provide professional development for the literacy coaches, and we responded by sharing the Targeted Coaching Model to help Erin focus her coaching work.

Coaching graphic

The Targeted Coaching model focuses on student achievement and is based on over six years of research.  The outer ring shows that the expertise and certification of the literacy coach matter.  Coaches, like Erin, who hold certification in reading have the knowledge, skills, and expertise to work with teachers to produce greater student gains.  In addition, the amount of time spent working directly with teachers is another key aspect of the model.  When we shared this part of the model with Erin, she responded by asking, “Does this mean that the time I spend sorting assessment materials or the time I spend re-shelving books in the book room each week are not good uses of my time?”  We smiled and nodded our heads.  Yes, those are important tasks that need to be done in schools, but they are not activities that will lead to improved student achievement in reading!  We then explained to Erin that how she spends her time with teachers is another important aspect of the model.  The four coaching activities that produce the greatest student gains are:  conferencing with individual teachers about curriculum, instruction, and/or students; assessing students and talking with teachers about assessment results; modeling lessons; and observing.

Once we had shared the Targeted Coaching Model with Erin, she asked the most important question, “How do I do this in my day-to-day work as a literacy coach?”

We offered a four-step process to implement the Targeted Coaching Model.

  1. Meet with your building administrator to discuss the Targeted Coaching Model and to reduce time-consuming activities from your duties that do not directly support teachers and students.  Develop a plan to explain to teachers how and why the Targeted Coaching Model will be used.  Be sure the “roll out” of the Targeted Coaching Model comes from the building administrator to ensure that all teachers understand what the literacy coach will be doing, and more importantly, not doing!
  2. Determine an initial focus for coaching such as a specific grade level, a group of newer teachers, or teachers implementing a new approach or initiative.  By focusing your coaching on a smaller number of teachers for a specific amount of time such as a grading period or month, you will be able to work more intensively and productively with these teachers to produce greater gains.  At the end of the time frame, you can reduce the amount of coaching time you are spending with these teachers so you can move on to provide more in-depth coaching to another group of teachers.
  3. Log your coaching work so you can make sure that you are spending at least 1/3 of your time working directly with teachers and that the bulk of that time focuses on the four research-based coaching activities from the Targeted Coaching Model.  Review your log at least monthly and make changes so that you are continually increasing the amount of time you spend working directly with teachers.
  4. Work with your building administrator and teachers to monitor how well the Targeted Coaching Model is working in your school.  Make adjustments to ensure that you are spending your time in the most effective and productive ways possible.

We are happy to report that Erin used this approach during the spring semester, and she immediately found that she was able to spend more time working with teachers.  She reported that it was challenging to determine where to focus her efforts and which specific teachers to work with and for how long.  However, she found that by reviewing student assessment data, the school improvement plan, and the school and district goals, it was very clear where she needed to focus her coaching efforts.  She also reported that coaching went from “informal” where she was working mainly with teachers who came to her for help and with questions to “official” where coaching became a more intentional and public aspect of her school’s climate.

While no single approach to coaching will work in every school with every teacher every time, the Targeted Coaching Model provides a simple, research-based approach to focus on the ultimate goal of all coaching – improved student achievement in literacy!

Laurie and Susan are presenting at this year’s Literacy for All Conference in Providence, R.I., November 3–5, 2013 (Sunday–Tuesday), sharing coaching strategies that contribute to improved teacher practice and increased student achievement.  They will discuss ways to embed coaching into the literacy professional’s established responsibilities (e.g., data team meetings, RtI coordination, push-in instruction) as well as how coaching can support the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  In addition, one of the sessions will focus on literacy coaching from the teacher’s point of view.

4 thoughts on “Targeted Literacy Coaching

  1. I so agree! As we begin the next school year, what can building level administrators hear (specifically) to hear the importance of leaving behind some of the administrivia to coach?

    Thanks.

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  2. I am currently the Reading Specialist in my elementary building (K-4). I am responsible for pushing-in to 1st and 2nd grade classes for 1 hour each daily, as well as have a pull-out caseload of 20-25 students. My administrator this year has said that i should now be coaching teachers on how to effectively teach our new reading series, McGraw-Hill Wonders. As much as I LOVE my job in working with students and staff, I feel that I am being stretched way too thin this year. How do I fit the coaching into my already crammed day?

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    • We hear from lots of coaches that they just don’t have enough time for coaching due to their other responsibilities. As we read your comments, we thought of four ideas that may be helpful to you and others who are in a similar situation:

      1. Look at your duties and identify times when you can infuse coaching into what you are already doing. For example, if you attend grade level meetings, you could discuss aspects of the new series during these meetings. You could ask the teachers on the grade-level team to share ways that they have been successfully implementing the new series and some of the obstacles they’ve encountered. If you are on the RtI committee, you could discuss relevant modifications of the series to address students with special needs. By using a “coaching eye” you can identify opportunities to embed coaching during other duties in your work.

      2. Use the push-in time to model the use of the new series – modeling a mini-lesson to the whole class (which would still be providing push-in service to the students on your case load) or modeling a small group activity that includes your assigned students with the teacher watching (the other students could be doing independent reading or literacy centers or Daily Five or whatever is being used in the classroom).

      3. Ask your administrator to designate a time at each faculty meeting to focus on the new series. You can address specific aspects of the series that are new or challenging to the teachers.

      4. Show your administrator your current schedule and brainstorm ways that you could have more time for the type of coaching that the administrator wants you to do.

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