Friday, February 6, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Literacy Coaches

10-second review: Literacy coaches work with teachers to help them improve their instruction in literacy—and that includes teachers in disciplines beyond English, i.e., math, science, social studies, etc. This article is the report of a survey completed by active coaches, including their needs. The biggest problem appears to be lack of a job description.

Title: "Middle and High School Literacy Coaches: A National Survey.” KL Blamey. CK Meyer. S Walpole. Journal of Adolescence and Adult Literacy (December 2008/January 2009), 310-323. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: One finding stands out from the survey: the role of “coach” is undefined. The intention is good: work individually and collectively with teachers to help them improve their instruction in literacy—and that means teachers in every discipline that requires reading and writing. It’s obvious that coaches need good communication skills. These active coaches expressed a need for data analysis in order to define what the students need. Finally, the goal is to prepare the teacher to do themselves what the coach has demonstrated or encouraged.

Comment: The role of the coach in a secondary school is daunting. I worked for twenty years as a K-12 language arts coordinator/supervisor without any authority. However, I had no responsibility for teachers of subjects other than language arts. I can say without reservation that combined teacher/supervisor cooperation and problem solving were highly rewarding professionally. But I would also warn would-be coaches that they are likely not to receive credit for their success because the teachers, naturally, will believe that they are the ones who did the work of implementing the recommendations from the coach.

I cannot emphasize enough the need to define the role of “coach” in secondary literacy education. Evidently the role does not include evaluating teachers’ performance. After defining the role, the biggest problem will be gaining the teachers’ confidence and respect. The third problem is providing techniques based on assessment of students’ and teachers’ needs. The fourth problem is to encourage the teachers to use independently what the coach has recommended.

I also think that “coach” is a misleading term to describe the role in secondary literacy education. One naturally thinks of the coach on the playing field. Coaches in athletics teach, but they also evaluate. They have the authority to tell the players what to do on the playing field. Coaches in secondary literacy education will not have the authority to tell the teachers what to do. The analogy breaks down further. Players compete to start. And the goal is clear-cut: to win, a quantifiable goal that might not be so clear to the literacy coach. I think “counselor” would be a more apt description of the role. RayS.

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