Literacy Coaches: Supporting Your Administrators at the Start of the Year

Literacy Caoches
In my work I am incredibly fortunate to work with truly amazing school leaders. Honestly. They are amazing–and I’m not just saying that because I know they’re probably reading this. The best principals, assistant principals, directors, and heads-of-school I have worked with are the kind of school leaders who:

  • visit classrooms frequently
  • learn alongside the teachers and students
  • embrace innovation
  • are excellent communicators
  • are fair, earn their teachers’ trust, and are approachable

And most importantly to my work:

  • have a crystal clear philosophy and vision for literacy instruction in their building that is based on what is best for kids
  • have the skills to bring the staff together to take action around common goals (they can get people to do stuff and be successful, even if people are reluctant at first)
  • they believe every student has the right to excellent literacy instruction, no matter which teacher in the building the child is assigned to

Being a school leader tends to be lonely work. Often they are literally they only administrator in their building. So what can we do, as literacy coaches and teacher leaders to support them at the start of the year? I asked a group of principals I work with what their thoughts were, and here is what they told me:

  1. HELP THEM KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR AT THE START OF THE YEAR

Administrators tell me that the most helpful thing I can do for them is to help them “see with my eyes.” During the first few days of school, I’m careful not to bombard people with too many emails or resources, but after the first week, one or two gentle reminders of a few key things to look for can be helpful. Depending on the nature of your writing curriculum, the amount of experience your teachers have, and the culture in your building, you might want to gently nudge your administrator to walk the building (with or without you) to look for and compliment:

  • Writing centers are set up and accessible to children
  • Student writing is on display by the end of the first full week of school
  • Independent writing is happening every day, and student stamina is steadily growing, even just one minute more each day
  • Anchor charts reflect that routines AND writing strategies are being taught, even in the first few weeks of school

A great administrator need not be an expert in the teaching of writing, but each of these (as you know) are indicators that a lot of other great things are happening, so they are powerful tools for an administrator to have. Of course, in my mind there is a list of 100 more things to look for–but selecting just a few that are tailored to the school will be more helpful than trying to do everything at once.

2. YEAR-LONG WHOLE-SCHOOL GOAL SETTING

You can help the administrators you work with by gathering input from all the teachers you work with to help your administrator set meaningful, attainable goals for your school’s literacy instruction. As a coach, you probably see teachers and students in action across all the grade levels in your building and probably can name 2-3 things (easily) that would support every teacher and student. Perhaps these are based on the 2-3 things you suggested looking for at the start of the year. For example, some of the goals in different schools I work with include:

  • Displaying student work more often and more publicly, especially work in progress, and work that celebrates the writing process — with evidence of revision and editing
  • Using conferring notes during data team meetings along with on-demand writing scores and other assessment information (which also means studying conferring in general, and note-taking in general)
  • Revamping the approach to word study and phonics entirely to be more connected to students’ reading and writing; more transfer from word study to reading and writing

Once the dust settles from the school year, you may want to schedule a meeting with your administrator to discuss year-long literacy goals for your school and come up with a tentative plan for professional learning opportunities to support the whole school. Even if you did some goal setting at the end of last year, a check in is always a good idea at the start of the new year.

3. SUPPORT ADMINISTRATOR CLASSROOM VISITS

Depending on the culture of your building, administrator visits might be either totally NBD (No Big Deal), or might cause people to have anxiety attacks, or maybe somewhere in the middle.

The truth is, an administrator who is regularly present in classrooms has more information to work with when making important decisions. As the literacy coach, you can support these visits in a number of ways.

  • Visit classrooms together, with a clear focus, and a plan ahead for how you will celebrate the work you will see in the classrooms. Maybe you’ll write hand-written notes to the teacher, or send a joint email, or just have a quick group chat with the teacher while kids are writing. At the start of the year especially (but true all year long) it’s important that any classroom visits you do together are a positive experience for all involved. These visits should be kept strictly separate from any kind of evaluative observations.
  • Invite administrators to visit classrooms to do specific things:
    • Read aloud a mentor text for writing workshop
    • Sit with one student at a time to have the student read their writing
    • Confer alongside you
    • Teach a minilesson (!!)
  • You can provide resources, like simple checklists or handouts, that an administrator can use as a “cheat sheet” during visits. If you share a checklist, make sure it’s based on something you’ve already studied together with teachers.  Here’s a classroom environment checklist that I often use first during a training/workshop–and then can give to administrators to use in follow-up visits to compliment the work everybody is doing. I also love to share photos of great classroom examples whenever I find them (which is constantly).

Classroom Environment Checklist

The important thing, I think, is that you reach out to your school leaders often to offer up support in any way you can – just as you do with teachers. The start of the year only happens once, and getting off to a great start with your administrator can set the course for the rest of the year.