Identifying an educator to train as a literacy coach is among one of the most important decisions a building principal has to make. Our Center has been training literacy coaches and teacher leaders for over 30 years through which we have identified a number of characteristics and dispositions of successful literacy coaches. Some may be obvious and a few may surprise you! All the characteristics fit into three broad categories of intellectual curiosity, strong interpersonal skills, and stance as a team player.
Characteristics of Effective Literacy Teacher Leaders and Coaches
Successful literacy coaches/teacher leaders are devoted to continuous professional learning both for their colleagues and themselves. They take the stance that there is always more to learn for themselves as well as for their peers. In their work, they exhibit the desire to always learn and understand more about literacy learning and teaching and they work to understand the reflections and insights of their teacher colleagues. Successful literacy coaches are keen observers of student reading, writing, and speaking behaviors and are motivated to invest time and energy to ensure their coaching work is focused on improving equitable outcomes for every child.
You may find this surprising, but effective coaches/teacher leaders do not view themselves as literacy experts. They work to develop expertise in literacy and pedagogy, but they remain humble no matter how knowledgeable or experienced they are. The most highly respected literacy coaches keep a tentative stance, always open to new learning, new ideas, and different perspectives from their own. They develop deep theoretical knowledge, but are not rigid in their thinking. Their intellectual curiosity compels them to reason and consider new perspectives without abandoning their values, beliefs, and knowledge of literacy learning.
Strong Interpersonal Skills
To be successful, literacy coaches/teacher leaders need to be effective communicators who develop strong professional relationships with their colleagues. Communication and relationship skills can always be developed in individuals. However, it helps for literacy coach and teacher leader candidates to possess strong interpersonal skills before they step into their new role.
Earning the trust of colleagues is fundamental to building effective coaching relationships. In order to grow, teachers need to feel comfortable taking risks with their teaching and their professional learning. They need to be assured that the coach believes in them and will always maintain confidentiality as they share their thinking and invite the coach into the classroom to observe their teaching. Coaches also earn trust by being sure to follow through with all that they promise to do. Trust is soon broken if the coach/teacher leader does not fulfill promises made.
Literacy coaches/teacher leaders gain the respect of their fellow educators by staying focused on the strengths and needs of the students. Effective coaches/teacher leaders remain collegial while also confronting and challenging beliefs and/or instructional practices that are ineffective, unproductive, or detrimental to children.
It is also essential that literacy coaches and teacher leaders demonstrate a strong desire to work with and teach adults. Many successful classroom teachers and literacy specialists have not been happy in the role because they were unprepared to support adult learners and/or they did not find the same kinds of satisfaction in their work as they did from working with children. The characteristics of adult learners are distinguished from those of children. Educators must understand those differences to meet with success as coaches and teacher leaders.
Stance as a Team Player
Many of the qualities of being a team player are closely related to strong interpersonal skills and to intellectual curiosity. As team players, literacy coaches know how to learn side-by-side with their peers. They form collaborative relationships, listen carefully, work hard with their peers, and believe in the collective responsibility of all to work together to improve the literacy outcomes for each and every student. As leaders within the team, literacy coaches/teacher leaders work to ensure that all voices are heard and use their facilitative skills to advance the work of the team.
No matter how knowledgeable and experienced a teacher may be, it is extremely difficult for a person to succeed as a literacy coach/literacy teacher leader without specialized support and professional development.
Our Center offers a variety of options for expanding the expertise of literacy coaches and literacy teacher leaders through coursework, and short-term and long-term trainings.