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Edupreneur Resources, Uncategorized   |   May 20, 2010

A day in the life of a literacy coach

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

I’m doing a variety of consulting work in New York, and get a lot of questions about what it is, exactly, that I do. In some schools I do math coaching, but here’s a summary of a typical day for me when I wear the Literacy Coach hat. All identifying details are changed, of course, and the teacher profiles I describe below are fictionalized constructs.

8:30 am:

Arrive at the school after an hour commute and check in with the principal. She tells me they’re short-staffed today and there will be limited classroom coverage for me to work privately with the teachers. I smile and tell her it’s no problem, I’ll go into their classrooms. Flexibility has always been the name of the game in education. The fact that she ever finds classroom coverage is pretty miraculous in my eyes.

8:45 am:

Meet with the 2nd grade teacher. It’s her first year and she’s totally lost on the curriculum. She bombards me with 3,628 questions every time we meet. How do I teach the kids to peer edit? Should I give them the word when they can’t sound it out? Are three reading grades each week enough? How do I get them to understand main idea? I love being her sounding board. Like most new teachers, she’s afraid of bugging her co-workers and keeps a notebook of stuff to talk about when I come. She has a huge, relieved smile on her face at the end of every session.

9:45 am:

Meet with the 6th grade teacher, who is completely on the ball. She has extremely high standards for her kids and gets frustrated when her expectations aren’t met. We look over some work samples and see how well the kids have done with creating appropriate conclusions for their essays. Their grammar usage has improved, thanks to a series of strategies we developed and implemented together, but the essays still aren’t persuasive. We decide to have her class analyze their essays. She selects some student work samples and I type up portions of the essays so that they’re completely anonymous. She’ll put these on an overhead transparency and the class will assess them together. I’ve modeled this for her in the past and she’s really comfortable with the technique. After, she’ll teach the follow-up lessons we planned based on the weaknesses we saw in their work samples.

10:30 am:

The 6th grade teacher is thrilled because now her literacy lesson plans are done for the next two weeks. She goes back to class while I finish typing up the writing samples for her class to to analyze. My hope is to finish this morning so I can show it to her this afternoon, but if I run out of time, I’ll email it to her tonight from home.

10:45 am:

I poke my head into the 3rd grade teacher’s room. The kids start whispering excitedly, “Mrs. Watson’s here! Hi, Mrs. Watson! Mrs. Watson, are you teaching us today?” They’re in luck: this morning I’m modeling how to teach students to incorporate dialogue into their writing. The teacher and I planned the lesson together last time, and today she’ll observe me teaching it and take notes. She understands what to do, but wants me to show her exactly how to facilitate the discussion and expand on kids’ responses. I love modeling lessons–it’s fun to pretend I still have a group of kids to call my own. Since the classes are departmentalized in this school, the teacher will have the opportunity to teach the same lesson to the next group of kids who come in. She used to ask me to stay and observe her, but lately we’ve just been analyzing the kids’ work samples. We mix all the papers up, and if I can’t tell which class of students I taught and which class she taught, then we know for sure she’s internalized the teaching techniques and made them her own. I absolutely love that and am so impressed with how she’s done!

11:30 am:

Lunchtime. I used to think that once I got out of the classroom, I’d be able to kick back and enjoy leisurely hour-long lunches, perhaps at actual restaurants. Eh, not so much. I scarf down a sandwich in the teachers’ lounge and try not to make anybody uncomfortable. Some of the staff who don’t work with me seem innately distrustful of an outsider who’s presumably there to tell people how to do their jobs. I don’t blame them. The more often they see me, the less guarded they are in their conversations, and I really hit it off with some of them. The room empties out around 11:50 when it’s time for them to head to the cafeteria, so I start gathering materials I want to show the next teacher I’ll meet with. It seems that it’s just not possible to enjoy a duty-free thirty minute lunch in a school building.

12:00 pm:

Meet with the 1st grade teacher. Like many students in this school, her class mostly speaks English as a second language and they’re really weak in vocabulary. The teacher has always wanted to use a word wall, but isn’t sure how. I show her some photos of word walls that I’ve downloaded from the Internet and we choose a layout that makes sense for the limited wall space she has in her classroom. We select the words we want to add for this week and I write them on chart strips and alphabetize them for her. I give her a bunch of games she can play with the kids to introduce the words. She’s excited about it, but definitely out of her comfort zone. I promise to do a model lesson the following week to show her how to teach with the word wall.

1:00 pm:

The last teacher of the day comes in just moments after the 1st grade teacher leaves. At this point, I feel like my brain is pretty much fried. I haven’t had much time to just think during the day, and there’s so much gear-switching as I adjust to the personality, grade level, and particular challenges of each teacher that comes to me. Fortunately, this teacher comes right out with what she wants: center activities. She’s used the small group management techniques I’ve modeled and observed in her classroom, and it’s time to try ability grouping during reading, which isn’t mandated at her school. We set up a plan and schedule for what each child will be doing while she teaches small groups, and then when her kids are at specials, we go into the classroom and set-up her center areas. I’m not able to stay for much of this time, but I’ll check back in with her in 2 weeks when I return.

2:00 pm:

Time to make copies of the lesson plans and materials I showed some of the teachers earlier. At this school, I have no copier restrictions, which is a beautiful thing. I organize, paperclip, and sticky note everything with reminders for the teachers, then head around to each of their classrooms to deliver. It’s getting close to dismissal time, so I don’t engage them in long conversations, just hand them the stuff. I realize I could’ve just put the papers in their mailboxes, but I like touching base one more time, and saying goodbye to the kids.

2:30 pm:

I gather up my stuff from my work space and try to catch the principal. She’s crazy busy all day long, but always makes time to talk with me about how things are going and makes sure I have what I need. She signs off on the logs I have to keep for the DOE to pay me, and we talk a bit about when I’m coming next and what I’m hoping to accomplish. We’re going to try introducing some school-wide vocabulary words, which I’m going to email to her tonight.

3:30 pm:

Today the trains were too crowded for me to type up my reports during the trip, but at least they’re running regularly and I’m home within an hour. I spend about a half an hour writing up the professional development logs I keep for each teacher. This is an important part of documenting what I do and the effectiveness of my work. I enjoy seeing a summary of what I’ve done for the day.

I’m tired at this point–it’s a non-stop day and my brain has to be performing at its peak every moment. I think for the thousandth time how I really could not do this as effectively on a full-time basis. 2-3 days a week is plenty, and I feel so blessed that I can arrange that. I need to find resources to share with the teachers next time I come, but I can wait and do it over the weekend since I won’t be back to that particular school for another week and a half.

As I think back about the day, the best word to describe my feeling is exhilaration. It is immensely satisfying to feel like I”m making a difference in education and I’m actually helping teachers. The vast majority of “professional development” I’ve been forced to endure was worthless, and it makes me genuinely happy to know that this coaching format is valuable for the teachers I’m working with, and that (most) of them look forward to my visits and value what I’m showing them. I have earned every penny I got today, and it feels really, really good.

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. I dig the new site / layout. It looks comfortable and professional and creative at the same time.

    It sounds surprisingly similar to a teacher’s day.

    1. Thanks, John. Getting your approval on layout means a lot, since you’ve put so much time into your own blog’s theme. And yeah, the day IS surprisingly similar to a teacher’s day–I hadn’t really thought about it like that, but it probably explains why I enjoy it so much. 🙂

  2. I’m so glad to see that these teachers are getting real coaching. In my former school, we had a “literacy coach” and she was supposed to support me in the work I was doing with teachers and she never did anything. Often I’d see her sitting in her little “office” on the computer. Rarely did she ever engage with children or with teachers. It often upset me. I would love to someday work in a literacy coach capacity because I love working with other teachers and a lot of children and your synopsis of your day is definitely what I would want to spend my time doing if I was coaching.

    1. That’s sad to hear, Sunny….but not uncommon, I suppose. I’ve worked at schools that were assigned a full-time reading coach/specialist and found that those people were rarely doing anything associated with literacy in any way that was meaningful. In most cases, it wasn’t their fault: admin assigned them to cafeteria duty, bus duty, answering phones, getting cumulative records, attending meetings, etc. Actually improving literacy instruction never seemed to be the goal. I’m afraid the same thing might have happened if I were assigned to one school full-time. I wonder if I am actually able to accomplish more by only being at a school a few times a month.

  3. It sounds like you are doing some great things for teachers. It is refreshing to hear that teachers are receiving professional development that works with them on their needs and the specific needs of their students. I can honestly say that the only time I have felt like PD was helpful was when we had consultants come in. They would really listen and were willing to think outside the box. They didn’t carry any baggage that comes with working with someone on a daily basis. School-based PD by administration or coaches is often uniform for all teachers and doesn’t value us as professionals or aim to meet the needs of specific teachers or classroom populations. I think you really are making a difference. I hope I’m lucky enough to work with you someday.

    1. That’s an interesting perspective. I hadn’t really thought of being an “outsider” as an advantage, but it’s true in many regards. I would LOVE to work with you, as well! Most of my work is in non-public schools and I’m really curious about the public system here in the city. Of course, your blog has already shared a great deal. 😉

  4. Wow! I loved this post. I was actually going to suggest you post something like this. Very, very interesting. I wish my school could have you! Someone who’s non-threatening and actually helpful!

    1. Thanks, Amanda! By the way, I checkout out your blog and loved the review of Pyrotechnics on the Page. I review for Stenhouse, too, and am so excited to get started on this book. My initial perceptions were the same as yours–I enjoy reading it through the lense of a writer AND a teacher of writing. The mini-lessons look awesome. 🙂

  5. I am so that 2nd grade teacher! It’s my first year and I have about 50 million questions a day. Thank goodness my coworkers are extremely kind and sharing and allow me to ask a lot of questions. I also have other resource staff that I go to when I can’t seem to figure things out. But I love the questions you put that she might have, those are all things I think about/have thought about at one point.

    1. I hope that reading this made you feel less alone! Somehow new teachers end up feeling like they’re the only ones who “just don’t get it” and have to ask a million clarifying questions…but it’s totally normal!

  6. Hi Angela,
    I left this message on fb, but I thought I’d write it here instead.
    I have 3 years of teaching experience in 6th and 3rd grade. I just got an interview for a K position and I am a little worried about it! I feel confident about my basic interviewing skills and I am trying to find curriculum and information about programs they use in K, but do you have any specific advice for interviewing for the little ones? Any advice is helpful Thanks!

    1. Hi, Rebecca! Definitely research as much as you can about state standards and program expectations for K in your state. You want to be able to frame your responses to interview questions within context as much as possible.

      When I switched from PreK to 3, the principal asked, “How do you know you can manage such a different age group?”. I told him I thought good teaching was good teaching, and that most of the principles that apply to teaching little ones apply to teaching older kids, and vice versa. Good teachers can adapt any concept for almost any age or ability level, because we have to do so on a daily basis in the classroom (after all, it’s not unusual to have a handful of kids 2 years below and a full year above grade level).

      I truly believed that, and I think it was my confidence that won me the job (even though I was definitely nervous and not at all convinced at the time that what I was saying is true!). Convince yourself that you’d be an awesome kindergarten teacher and sell yourself as one. 🙂

  7. I’m starting at a new building in another district after being in one for 20 years. I’m also a literacy coach although my job hasn’t been well defined by administration. I’m having trouble gaining the trust of some teachers because another person there felt like she was the one whom everyone could/should come to with questions. She appears to really resent my being there, but wouldn’t admit it. Any ideas on how to change this? I love doing what I’m doing and have lots of experience doing so but have never run into this situation in the past.

    1. Hi, Cathy. Wow, changing schools and districts after 20 years is going to be an incredibly experience that will really stretch you professionally. Tough, but exciting! Gaining the teachers’ trust will take time, especially if they’ve been trained to think they should go to someone else. Be patient with them. The more helpful you are, the more they’ll seek you out.

      The other person who’s used to being the go-to will need time, too–make sure she feels valued (ask for her opinion a lot and thank her frequently for everything she does to help you get adjusted). See what she needs help with or what she feels is not her strong suit, and try to fill in the gaps there without trying to take over in the area in which she has the most expertise.

      Let me know how it goes, and feel free to post back with more questions. You’re much more experienced in this whole coaching thing than I am, but I’m glad to try helping. It’s often hard for coaches to establish a support network, so I’m glad we found each other. 🙂

  8. Angela, I find your site fantastic and tend to refer it to other student’s in my class when they ask what resources do I find helpful.
    I’m currently student teaching at the moment with a teacher who had just graduate last year. She has a lot of behaviorally disruptive students in her class and I personally find she has trouble managing her techniques on discipline because she doesn’t seem to do a lot of reinforcing by example. I’ve referred her to your chapter 16/17 on behavior and now she seems to have a lot of confidence in managing her classroom!
    After seeing her teach, I’m glad I came across your blog and book as a student teacher because I definitely feel I have the confidence to teach and manage a classroom well!

  9. Our literacy coach seems to get tasked with an incredible amount of paperwork. She seems to spend so much of her time figuring out which students will count for AYP, what skills they need to work on the most, and making graphs to post all over the school.

    In some ways, it’s valuable. I assume that most of these tasks are not what she’d prefer to do, but in any case, she seems to only be present during meetings and an occasional day with a struggling student to give an expert opinion.

    I am glad to see that you work WITH the teachers so much.

    1. That seems to happen a lot with school-based personnel. Unfortunately all that data analysis doesn’t always turn into change in practice. I have a feeling she’s very frustrated, as well.

  10. Wow! This is amazing and truly a part of what I have started to do. I work at a private school and although my title is Supportive Consultant (Learning Specialist), I see a large part of my role is Teacher Collaboration. The information you have shared gives me a better road map on “how” to document and guide me in this process. I have shared your website with my school and colleagues as well. There is great information for all teachers regardless of where they are on the “teacher” spectrum 🙂
    Thank You!

  11. I’m a first year Reading Coach. Your day sounds like my days are looking and feeling like. How do you put it on paper for a schedule?

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