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Shape Literacy Coaching Through an Asset Lens

by Gravity Goldberg
 | Feb 03, 2015

When we set out to create a literacy coaching model we spent time thinking about why coaches were important and how they ultimately could impact teacher learning. We sat around tables and discussed articles about the importance of coaching in a variety of fields such as in medicine, in sports, and in business. One pattern that emerged from our initial research was how the most elite and already accomplished athletes and surgeons had coaches. Coaching was not about remediation in these fields. In many schools and districts educational coaching, on the other hand, is viewed as an intervention for less effective or early career teachers. It was as if the message was implied, “Coaching is for those who need extra help.” Our conclusion from the research and from speaking with a variety of professionals who have coaches led us to a different message: “Everyone can benefit from a coach.” It became important as we began to think through the logistics of the model to keep this in mind.

Take for example, a principal who is concerned about one of her teacher’s effectiveness. We did not want coaching to turn into fixing this perceived problem, where the principal would come to the literacy coach and ask her to help this teacher. As soon as coaching becomes about fixing problems, it takes on a deficit lens. A deficit lens is one where the support is viewed as an answer to a problem and focuses on something wrong that needs to be changed. In schools where coaching is created around a deficit lens, it is embarrassing to work with the coach. It means you are ineffective.

Taking on an Asset Lens

It became clear we wanted to create an asset lens rather than a deficit lens with the literacy coaching model. We wanted the literacy coach to be sought after, to be viewed as a collaborator, and to be appreciated as a support for all teachers. In order to do this we needed to clearly articulate and create a model with the belief teachers were already effective practitioners, and every one of us can learn and grow. We took on this asset lens in a few intentional ways:

  • Make coaching available to all teachers, encouraging veterans as well as early career teachers to take advantage of the resource.
  • Start from strengths, assume the best, and work with what is successful in each teacher’s classroom.
  • Commit to offering teachers choice in coaching and not having administrators force or nominate teachers as candidates.

Offering Choice

At the start of the coaching model a digital invitation was sent to all literacy teachers in the district letting them know they could sign up for coaching, every six weeks a new set of teachers would be selected for this support. Not surprisingly, teachers were not signing up. We realized many teachers held deficit beliefs about literacy coaching or were unsure about what it was and why it would be helpful. They were nervous and apprehensive.

In an effort to build momentum and teacher enthusiasm, we considered who would be strong candidates for the initial rounds of support. We made a list of teachers who were already viewed by their colleagues and the school community as strong teachers. Some had dozens of years of experience and some had only a dozen months in the district. A short list of ideal candidates was created and we invited them to a meeting to discuss the literacy coaching model. When the teachers arrived and sat around the long, rectangular table, they seemed to be taking in who was there and asking the question, “Why me?” So, the first topic we addressed was why them. We explained coaching meant collaboration and that we wanted to offer all teachers the opportunity to work with a coach to deepen their already strong practices. We went on to explain that a coach was a gift, a support system, and an opportunity they could choose. Every teacher at that first meeting signed up for coaching on his or her own.

When word spread that teachers did sign up for the first round of literacy coaching, their colleagues were surprised at the names on the list. In a deficit model the weakest and least experienced teachers would be given a coach. In this instance, the names represented the most experienced teachers who were viewed as leaders and experts. Teachers began to ask, “How can I get a coach, too?” After the first round of coaching, when the sign-up went out again, many teachers added their names to the list. 

One of our biggest take-aways from the creation of a literacy coaching model was the importance of taking on an asset lens. If you are in the midst of creating your district’s literacy coaching model ask yourself, “How can I create a culture where literacy coaching is viewed as a resource for all teachers?”

In our next post, we will share our second take-away: the role and purpose for the coach must be clearly defined.

As a literacy consultant, Gravity Goldberg, helps districts create and sustain effective professional development and literacy coaching models, in addition to managing her blog. In one mid-sized school district, she collaborated with Gail Cordello, a classroom teacher, Chris Fuller, a literacy coach, and Grace White, a district administrator,  to establish a literacy coaching program, and years later, the team continues to meet and share. This post is one in a series from the educators to share their greatest take-aways from their collective experience. You can reach Goldberg at gravity@drgravitygoldberg.com.

 

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