As we enter into the dog days of summer, principals and instructional coaches may want to carve out a bit of time to talk about the upcoming school year. Oftentimes, effective principal-coach pairs meet toward the end of summer, alone or with their instructional leadership teams, to briefly review teaching and learning commitments and goals for the upcoming school year.
For literacy leaders, we offer a handful of guiding questions as summer “conversation starters.” We review four broad conversational categories that literacy leaders might want to consider at this time of year, before all of the teachers and students arrive back in their classrooms. These conversations might then lead to articulated goals and commitments that will support literacy teaching and learning all year long.
Consider the questions and prompts below, first alone, and then with your coach, principal, or team. Then let us know (perhaps via Twitter: @Jippolito and @rita_bean) what you agreed upon, and later what differences the conversations made in your work.
Questions about Literacy Teaching and Learning Goals
- What are one or two overarching literacy learning goals that you would like to promote across all grade levels, departments, and classrooms?
- How are these goals connected directly to evidence of student learning (or perhaps to their struggles) this past year?
- Who needs to be part of the conversation when articulating and then promoting these goals?
- How are these goals connected to state or national standards for literacy learning?
Questions about overarching goals help principal-coach pairs, and instructional leadership teams, consider their overall focus for the upcoming year. While there are many reading, writing, and discussion goals articulated by standards and districts, each school can be well-served by zooming-in on one or two particular goals each year. This practice helps leaders, coaches, and teachers pay close attention to a subset of teacher practices and student learning outcomes.
Example: A school may choose to focus explicitly on helping students to use academic language more productively in classroom discussions and written assignments. Such a focus on academic language would not preclude lots of great work on reading comprehension, for example, but it would help leaders and coaches to develop a clear professional learning plan for the year (around academic language, in this case). Such a focus might also guide the development or purchase of new teaching materials and the design of related new classroom routines. Finally, it might guide or focus assessment practices to better capture current and future academic language use.
Each leadership team should choose goals that they feel are in reach, but that are not so far beyond the current state of affairs as to produce widespread confusion or frustration for teachers and students. Also, remember to include teacher leaders, coordinators, and specialists in these conversations, as the yearlong goal(s) will need to be championed by these leaders across the school. Chapter 9 of Cultivating Coaching Mindsets, focused on schoolwide literacy plans, may help principal-coach pairs in establishing goals for the year.
Questions about Literacy Assessment Work
- What schoolwide literacy assessment practices do we already have in place?
- Which practices are serving us well and producing regular, actionable data?
- Which practices are not serving us well, and may need to be retooled or abandoned?
- What is our current balance of formative versus summative assessment practices? How might this balance need to shift in order to better inform our practice?
- What new assessment practices might we need to develop, acquire, and implement to better understand how students are performing in reading, writing, and discussion?
After determining yearlong literacy teaching and learning goals, it is critical to consider current and future assessment practices. Setting goals and working toward them, without a robust system of assessment in place, will result in widespread frustration as it will be difficult to determine whether you have met your goals down the road!
Oftentimes schools find themselves with a patchwork of various literacy assessments all stitched together. Many and varied assessments (e.g., state standardized tests, informal reading inventories and screenings, DIBELS, and so on) might be all cobbled together but not necessarily collected, analyzed, synthesized, and reported out in a meaningful way.
This is the perfect time of year for principals, coaches, and leadership teams to reconsider their literacy assessment practices and determine what might need to be remodeled to better understand whether literacy teaching and learning goals are being met. Chapter 8 of Cultivating Coaching Mindsets, focused on schoolwide literacy assessment, may help principal-coach pairs review and revise their assessment plans and procedures.
Questions about Coach / Specialist Roles and Responsibilities
- Are the roles and responsibilities of specialists and coaches clearly defined (i.e., formal descriptions) in the school?
- Do specialized literacy professionals, school leaders, and teachers all have the same shared understanding of the work of specialists and coaches?
- What messaging, or re-messaging, may need to occur at the beginning of the year so that teachers and the wider community have a clear understanding of specialist and coach roles and responsibilities?
- Are there any changes in roles and responsibilities that may need to occur at the beginning of the year?
One of the long-standing challenges in literacy teaching and learning work is confusion about the roles and responsibilities of literacy specialists and coaches. If school leaders, coaches, specialists, and teachers are not all on the same page, then frustration and wasted resources can result.
Effective principal-coach pairs take time to articulate roles and responsibilities clearly, and they share documents with teachers and the wider community that signal exactly how coaches and specialists will be supporting literacy teaching and learning. If a change in roles and responsibilities needs to take place, principals can support coaches and specialists by letting the entire school know right at the beginning of the school year.
Principals and coaches may wish to read “The Multiple Roles of School-Based Specialized Literacy Professionals” by the International Literacy Association, or this brief Reading Teacher article by Rita Bean and Diane Kern (2018) titled “Multiple Roles of Specialized Literacy Professionals: The ILA 2017 Standards.”
These articles will help literacy leaders to learn more about the new International Literacy Association’s standards for specialized literacy professionals and how the roles of literacy specialist and literacy coach are both similar and quite different. The articles and the new standards will help leadership teams better define and utilize coaching in their buildings. Furthermore, Cultivating Coaching Mindsets can help coaches and specialists better define their own work, while Unpacking Coaching Mindsets is a much briefer resource that might better serve principals in articulating coaching roles and goals.
Questions about Communication that Support Schools as Places of Adult & Student Learning
- Is there a professional learning plan that is ongoing, job-embedded, and supports teachers in their efforts to improve student literacy learning?
- Are school leaders meeting regularly with specialists and coaches to ensure that literacy professional learning and teaching goals are being met?
- Does the school have an instructional (or literacy-specific) leadership team that meets regularly to review goals and correct course as needed?
- What feedback loops exist in the school so that teachers, teacher leaders, specialists, coaches, and school leaders are all communicating regularly about shared goals?
- How is the community being involved and kept informed of progress made on literacy teaching and learning goals?
Regular communication among literacy leaders in a school (e.g., principal, coaches, specialists, teacher leaders) is critical to maintaining a focus on yearlong literacy teaching and learning goals and for promoting a shared understanding of coach and specialist roles. Teachers, like students, are learners. Effective school leaders promote professional learning that supports the needs of the organization and the individual goals of teachers.
Clear and consistent communication among literacy leaders in a school establishes and supports job-embedded professional learning. If possible, set monthly or twice-monthly times for literacy leadership team meetings and coach-principal chats.
Take some time during the summer to craft a simple “standing agenda” so that during the busy school year you are not crafting new agendas on the fly.
Leave room in each agenda for new and pressing items, but also make sure to continually revisit the same core items each time you connect (e.g., assessment updates, grade-level updates, upcoming community-literacy events, etc.).
Finally, think carefully about feedback loops in the school. How are you, as a literacy leadership duo or team, communicating regularly with teachers and team leaders, department heads, specialists, and so on, to ensure clear and consistent progress toward yearlong goals. The questions we ask principals and coaches to consider at the end of Unpacking Coaching Mindsets (Chapter 9) will help guide some of this thinking about clear, purposeful adult communication systems.
While there are many more questions to ask and conversations to have, the questions above are the essential ones that we like to ask coach-principal pairs to consider at this time of year. If your literacy leadership team can take up and address these questions now, before the school year begins, then you will be better positioned to achieve the goals you set for yourself and your school.
We hope that both Cultivating Coaching Mindsets and Unpacking Coaching Mindsets can help guide your work this year and beyond. As always, please stay in touch and let us know about literacy leadership work in your school or district!
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