Choice Literacy: Coaching the Common Core {Part 1 of 3}

Recently Deb Gaby and I attended a Choice Literacy Workshop called Coaching the Common Core. It was one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended (and I’ve attended a lot of really great conferences!). The workshop was divided into three parts. Jennifer Allen, Heather Rader, and Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan led the three portions. As a way to reflect and share, I’ve decided to write a blog post capturing the way my thinking has been influenced by each of the presenters.

Jennifer Allen is a literacy specialist for grades 3-5 in a school district in Maine. She is also the author of Becoming a Literacy Leader: Supporting Learning and Change (Stenhouse, 2006) and A Sense of Belonging: Sustaining and Retaining New Teachers (Stenhouse, 2009).

Jennifer helped me realize my role as a literacy coach is more about nudging literacy movements than it is about teaching writers. Although I’ve always been a big proponent of empowering teachers, my focus has been on teaching writers. There’s nothing wrong with being enamored by teaching writers, however, this is only a portion of my job. Jennifer helped me see that the role of a coach is more about being a literacy leader.

She shared some of the practical ways she meets the needs of a large number of teachers and helped me to develop a new vision for my role — a vision that is more closely aligned to the expectations my district has for the position.

At one point, Jennifer shared how she helps train and support teacher leaders at her school. A workshop participant said, “That’s great how you can be that kind of leader in your school, but I’m on a teacher contract. I’m not an administrator.”

Jennifer said, “I’m on a teacher contract too, but I still do these kinds of things because it’s what we need. I talk with administrators so they know what we need to move forward. I’d reached a point where I couldn’t support everyone so we needed a new system.”

Jennifer helped me understand that it is the job of a literacy coach to lead the school on a journey toward constantly learning and evolving our literacy instruction. I’ve also realized I’ve reached a point where I’m hampered by the system. We’ve grown as much as we can within our current structure and it is my job, as a literacy coach, to work with administration to help develop a system where everyone can continue growing in their literacy practices.

When I shared some of these realizations with my curriculum director, she breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, she seemed to say, finally Ruth “gets” that she is a literacy leader. She responded with, “We need you being a leader in this area, because principals have so much on their plates and I have even more. It is your job to help us know where we should head to continue growing in literacy instruction.”

Jennifer helped me revise how I see myself and the role I hold in our school corporation.