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Five Tips for Ensuring the Success of Literacy Coaches and Teacher Leaders

Three teachers talking.

Congratulations! You’ve made the wise decision to build professional capacity in your school by investing in hiring literacy coaches or teacher leaders. This is a wise first step in beginning the journey to build systemic improvement that will facilitate student growth for years to come. Investing in building the expertise of the teachers in your school is one of the most lasting decisions a leader can make when choosing how to spend their Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) funds.

How can principals support the work of literacy coaches and teacher leaders to ensure they are successful in their roles? Below are five tips for optimizing the work of the literacy leaders in your school.

  1. Develop the expertise of the literacy coach/teacher leader – Coaching initiatives often falter when teachers are selected to be coaches without providing training for them. The role of the literacy coach is complex and no one is born a coach. Coaches need ongoing professional development and support that helps them to refine their literacy expertise, learn how to lead the learning of adult colleagues, and develop their coaching language to facilitate reflective conversations. 
  2. Communicate the role and responsibilities of the literacy coach/teacher leader –  Administrators should define the roles and responsibilities of the coach and then create a written job description that communicates these expectations. Then it is essential for the coach to meet with teachers (hopefully with the principal in attendance) to introduce the role and provide opportunities for teachers to ask questions so all have clear and common understanding about what coaching is and is not.
  3. Prioritize and support coaching and professional learning opportunities – Problems with scheduling often prove to be a roadblock in making regular coaching sessions and professional learning meetings a reality. Prior to the beginning of the school year, take pro-active steps to ensure there is time in teachers’ schedules and coverage is in place so teachers may participate in coaching and professional learning. A wise person once said, “We find time for what we value.” So be sure to work with as a school team to problem-solve around scheduling challenges. When teachers see that the work is prioritized and not added as “one more thing to do,” they will be embrace coaching much more readily.
  4. Schedule regular meetings between the principal and coach/teacher leader – Meetings with clear agendas can be efficient and are an opportunity for the coach/teacher leader to share general ideas about what the teachers are learning and working on in coaching and professional learning. Principals can learn about the nature of the coach’s work without discussing individual teachers. Be sure to avoid those types of conversations at all costs as they will quickly erode the trust that the coach has built with colleagues.
  5. Communicate and model your commitment to coaching and continuous professional learning – Actions always speak louder than words! Be sure to show your commitment to leading a culture of continuous professional learning by attending professional development sessions led by the coach/teacher leader as your schedule permits. Be sure to read professional articles and share your learning. Celebrate the collective learning and work of the teaching team.

As Elmore Leonard once wrote, the road to school improvement “is hard, it’s bumpy, and it takes as long as it takes.”  Working to support and by partnering with coaches/teacher leaders, principals can make the journey much smoother and enjoyable.

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