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What is it you do?

A note to a classroom + inspiration for a minilesson, just one of the things I do as a writing coach.

We were at a family reunion last weekend and had too-few minutes to visit with one of my favorite cousins who I only get to see once a year at the reunion. She asked, “So what exactly do you do?”

The easy answer:

  • I’m a writing coach.

And then:

  • I work with teachers, from kindergarten through secondary, helping them refine their writing instruction.
  • I have a second book coming out in a few months.
  • I write for Choice Literacy.
  • I lead professional development for schools and present around the country.

I don’t usually just lay it all out there, like that. Elizabeth said, “Is that all?” Haha.

Last Monday I was working with some teachers in my school district. A second year teacher asked, “So what is your position?”

The short answer:

  • I’m a writing coach.

And then (after the confused look):

  • I meet with teachers and plan for instruction.
  • I find resources for you.
  • I leave articles in your mailbox on topics you’ve said you want to know more.
  • I help arrange your space, bulletin boards, classroom library, writing center, computer files, the closet where ten teachers before you have stuffed their junk.
  • I observe and offer feedback.
  • I model.
  • I confer with students, alongside of the teacher.
  • I listen.


  • The long and the short of it, is I do whatever is necessary to help teachers grow in teaching writers. I love it, because I’m constantly growing in my understanding of how writers of all experiences work.

There’s also all of the behind-the-scenes work:

  • Meetings with administrators.
  • Meetings with other coaches.
  • Meetings with grade levels.
  • Planning sessions for professional development.
  • Leading professional development.
  • Attending professional development.
  • Organizing a curriculum.

And what I’m not:

  • An evaluator.
  • An administrator.
  • A tyrant.
  • Pushy.
  • Demanding.
  • Black and white.

I think an instructional coach is an amorphous position. It can mean many different things. In addition, often the nuances of the position change from school to school.  Just because there is a writing coach in your school, doesn’t mean it’s the same at my school. Just because I did one thing with the teacher across the hall, doesn’t mean I’ll do the same thing in your classroom.

Like most things in life, this is the best and the toughest all rolled into one.

And what it means for you, readers? As I was answering the same question, two days in a row, I was thinking, there are probably many blog readers who wonder the same thing. What is you do, Ruth?

The final answer:

I inspire people to tell their stories and, in turn, help others share theirs.

Because, you know, I believe story will change the world.

10 thoughts on “What is it you do?

  1. I love this. A perfect description of what I do as a coach.
    And I agree with islands of my soul that sometimes I am a cheerleader.
    And sometimes, especially with the baby teachers,
    I am a mom. I bring chocolate. And kleenexes. And hugs. And encouragement.


  2. I agree with all of you about the job description of a writing coach, but you forgot cheerleader! I am a literacy coach for a large elementary school and some days I commit to just going out there and being a cheerleader for the day. Building school morale is a huge part of what I feel is necessary in our jobs! :-)))


  3. Ruth as I started to read this I thought I can answer that, you inspire and encourage people to tell their story. Although you could always tell them I am a rockstar of writing instruction, because you are! 🙂 Thank you (and Stacey) for sharing yourself with this community.


  4. Hmmm… Robin’s reply gave me an idea. Lots of people need to be “educated” about the powerful work that goes on in classrooms today. I wonder about ways to create visual representations to show other people exactly what we do. Like, what if I kept an album on my phone of pictures I’ve taken of student work, classrooms,etc. Might there be some way to create a “visual portfolio” that would illustrate the brilliance and challenge of my work? (I’m NOT a visual person, but I know visuals can be powerful!)


  5. I agree with Robin – absolutely love this. I enjoyed how you provided a glimpse into how your answer changed based on the audience. The final line to roll it into a short powerful statement was amazing. The first sentence in my dissertation research design section is “Personal stories matter.” I wrote that last summer or fall. Through all the revisions that occurred between my earliest drafts and the eventual final draft that remained the same. Every time I read your posts about the power of story, I smile.


  6. I absolutely love this Ruth! I have had people ask me what I do all day with kindergarten kids. That is always a frustrating question when it comes from someone who is asking because they think all kindergarten consists of is snack, story time, play and nap. I always want to ask, “Excuse me? Have you been in a kindergarten room in the last 20 years?” But instead, I smile and tell them about the wonderful reading and writing and math and science…and and and…that my awesome students do! The cool thing is that just as often, when I tell someone I teach kindergarten, they say how great they think it is because they know how challenging that age can be and they think highly of the fact that I can do it when they would never want to take on that challenge. I love my job and I work hard…as do many other teachers (yes, even during the summer!)…and it’s time others realize all we do for children! I love the last line of your story. It reminded me of your keynote at All Write, “story will change the world.” Story matters. Thanks for the reminder.


  7. As I was reading your answers, I kept thinking where is the piece that describes what you do for this community of writers? And then I found it in your Finally section – “I do whatever is necessary to help teachers grow in teaching writers.” You wear so many hats! Thank you for making time to inspire us on this blog.


  8. I am going to be responsible for working with all the teachers in our school this year, and so the list grows longer, Ruth. Although I also include other literacy plus writing, I enjoyed your list. It is a challenge to explain to those who aren’t in education. I wonder if anyone realizes how all-emcompassing this role really is. But, I especially love those final lines, inspire others to tell stories. Exactly!


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