Challenges of Mentoring a New Literacy Specialist-Susan Kennedy
“learning floats on a sea of talk” James Britton
The coaching process is like the sea of talk. The listening, the reflecting, the ripples of ideas are what drives the new staff member forward. While coaching is not a new skill or task for me, each new person who enters this relationship has their own experiences, their own challenges, and their own needs. One must seek first to understand and then be understood, as Stephen Covey so eloquently said. It is always a challenge to hear what a person does not say, to understand their personal dynamic, and to gently coach while respecting the infinite amount of skills they bring to their new situation.
From years of being a reading specialist, it’s clear that staff members are suspicious of any staff member who is in a ‘nonteaching’ position. The role of specialist is unique in the district and the school. Literacy Specialists teach but are not the primary teacher. They coach, but are not evaluators. The role is as varied as the literacy needs of a building. So coaching a new literacy specialist is to tread lightly and encourage the same in the protege.
Coaching is relational. What I hope to communicate: work hard, be open to what is new, and be a good colleague. What I know is that we might not always see those things the same. Again, it goes back to the listening. I like to think about being like water: reflective, fluid, calm. She came from somewhere where she was respected and successful. She had been there a long time. I understand that. I was at my last school a long time as well. However, every place is new. We bring our knowledge, but hopefully not the places where we are stuck. The relational coach helps keep the protege from the stuck places. That’s a challenge.
Coaching is fluid. The new literacy specialist is overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work in the fall. Benchmark assessments, record keeping, professional development, coaching, establishing an intervention schedule, maintaining the literacy center, and establishing a relationship with so many people. To coach someone who has so many responsibilities is to listen and really hear the concerns, the triumphs, and the trials of the new literacy specialist.
The message to the protege is hopefully consistent, how to get off to a great start. It’s everything you might not want to do in the beginning. Get involved. Respect different ways. Don’t whine. Make sure you clearly understand expectations. Avoid the four most dangerous words: “in my old school..,” I say to her, “You’re nearly there. When December comes, you’ll have your sea legs.” When she does not want to listen to that, I just listen to her. Just like the water: reflective, fluid, calm.
Be like water: reflective, fluid, calm.