This post is part of a larger series based on the book Coaching Approaches & Perspectives edited by Jim Knight. Visit the Coaching category for other related posts.
I’d initially skipped Chapter 2: Literacy Coaching by Cathy A. Toll but I went back to read the chapter to see what I could glean. Although the chapter focuses on literacy coaching, which is a subset of instructional coaching, it presents ideas and concepts relevant to all types of coaching.
The chapter begins with a discussion of the landscape of literacy coaching in the USA. It shows that coaching has been a growing field, which first gained widespread popularity due to the Reading First program in the USA in 2002. It also looks at the work of literacy coaching, the opportunities that it presents in education, and its challenges.
Literacy coaching evolved as a new role which encompassed existing tasks such as monitoring a literacy program, providing PD for teachers, and demonstrating how to use purchased material. As the role has grown, literacy coaches have joined various associations, which have developed standards for literacy coaching. Toll argues that there was no need to define a new role for existing jobs, and that the real opportunity of literacy coaching is to have teachers partner with coaches to share data, needs, interests and questions for goal setting, planning and reflection to improve teaching practice. As in other forms of coaching presented, coaching starts with the identification of the needs of teachers. Toll shares that this is done using discourse so that the coach learns the current status for the teachers as well as his challenges, ideas, questions, goals, ideas and experiences.
In this chapter, the metaphor of coach as vehicle for change/transformation is revisited (as in chapter 6). The goal of coaching is to build efficacy and capacity through supporting teachers’ thinking and learning. Unfortunately, little research has been done on literacy coaching specifically, but research exists on the positive impacts of broader types of professional development which include literacy coaching. One of the challenges of research on the effects of literacy coaching is the difficulty of establishing a cause and effect relationship between coaching and student achievement. This problem may be of little issue since coaching focuses more directly on teacher growth rather than student achievement.
In the realm of teacher growth, literacy coaching can explicitly change behaviour, thinking, collaboration and feelings. An implicit effect occurs on teacher identify. Toll identifies four identities for teachers: “The Obedient Teacher”, “The Good Teacher”, “The Problem-Solving Teacher”, and “The Teacher with Agency” (Knight, 2008, p. 63). There is a reciprocal relationship between coaching teachers and the identity of teachers.
The challenge to literacy coaching is the lack of clarity around the term and the role. The term literacy coach is sometimes used to refer to someone who works with students; Toll defines the role as someone who works with teachers so there is a confusion of duties. She defines three duties for literacy coaches: one-on-one conferences with teachers, small group discussions of teachers with the coach, and demonstration lessons (Knight, 2008, p. 65). Unlike the other authors in this book, she stresses that teacher observation can be stressful for teachers and should only be done upon teacher request. Another problem of clarity is that a literacy coach may be given one of many titles which results in confusion about who performs the role. The third confusion is that some people confuse programs and models. A model is derived from theories and concepts and while some programs may do the same and can be used to derive a model, other programs are developed whimsically and do not correlate with a model. In conclusion, Toll provides some guidelines for examining coaching programs.
I’m not so concerned about the terms and roles of coaching but I think that it’s important that each organization ascribe to a particular definition or create a well defined role. Are you in a coaching position? What is your title? Is your job well defined? How could it be clarified?
The issue of teacher observation has been the most challenging component of coaching to me; it feels like evaluation. However, some colleagues have been discussing co-teaching and this could provide a useful model for teacher feedback and reflection for professional growth. Co-teaching can be tricky when it comes to coaching teachers; depending on how it is structured, it can either be part of teacher coaching or student coaching. I think that the differentiating elements relates to teacher reflection, and discourse.
The issue of evaluating coaches is an important one, I think. As we define the role of a coach, we should make sure that evaluation and assessment matches that definition.
Book Citation: Knight, J. (Ed.). (2008). Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Corwin Press.