Challenges of New Literacy Coaches

The journey of life is learning to define yourself by who you are, not who others expect you to be.

Meeting new people in general and teachers in specific is fascinating.  Often you meet an individual who by my account is preemptive.  By this I mean,  she clearly sees what she perceives is her deficit and is quick to point it (or them) out.  My protege, by her account, took her job not knowing that coaching was part of the role.  She has never coached adults before and was content being a reading interventionist alone.  She specifically doesn’t like to speak in front of groups where she is presenting the information.  She also sees herself as someone who is a specialist in reading recovery.  I waited and listened.

When reading the mentoring information and the ‘challenges for new teachers’, they rarely completely apply in the role of literacy specialist.  I have coached two literacy specialists in three years.  Both came with experience teaching or working with student for many years, however both were transitioning to a new ‘hybrid’ role of literacy specialists.  When the concerns are extracted, they amount to ‘being an expert to other adults’ and the one many don’t consider at first, the self direction and lack of peers.  In my own practice, I address my practice by leading with my strengths.  That is the nature of my coaching as well.

What is the essence of coaching? As Jan Burkin states in Coaching for Balance: The content or the technical aspects of a coaching position may vary significantly, but the role of the coach is the same in every domain. It is the coach’s job to bring out the best in the student, the athlete, the singer, the teacher, or the dishwasher. If you were my coach, you would need to develop a relationship with me, develop expertise so that you would know how to help me, plan for my success, communicate your confidence in me and my potential, help me find the very best in myself, and, in the end, step out of the way so that I could claim the change as mine.  So, I talk with Dorothy.  Does she understand what it takes to develop a relationship with students (or their teachers), develop expertise so they that she knows how to help the teachers and students, etc.?  In talking with her over the last month, she is very relational.  She sees situations and reads them well and is supportive to others. So where’s the crux?  Developing expertise, planning for success, and communicating confidence to others.  

Certainly, she has expertise.  Her expertise lies in her ability to diagnose reading (and writing?) difficulties in students, develop a plan for their progress and communicating goal setting, progress monitoring, and success with the students.  Her difficulty might lie in seeing this as her pathway to successful coaching.  How to translate her ability to accomplish this with students to accomplishing this with the students’ teachers?  The answer is complex, but surmountable.  Develop relationships, expertise, credibility, and rapport through your strength,  your work with students.  The rest will come with developing more and more expertise regarding specific assessments, curriculum initiatives, and data collection.  Lead with your strength,  your expertise will become apparent, teachers will develop relationships with individuals who are helping their students and in the process themselves.  By goal setting with students and teachers, these goals will translate to professional practice with teachers.  In the background, developing some ‘go-to’s in her tool kit :  resources,  articles, quick fixes/helps.  These will go a long way in building rapport, which is the primary step to coaching well.  

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