This position statement was written for K–12 teachers in order to focus on the role and importance of literacy coaches. The NCTE Executive Committee commissioned this work by approving a recommendation to archive Standards for Middle and High School Literacy Coaches (2006). A literacy coach is positioned as an individual who serves both teachers and students in an effort to elevate their voices in literacy learning. Relationship building must be foremost for literacy coaches, as coaches should understand the learning styles and needs of each teacher and student in order to provide a differentiated, equitable approach to coaching and instruction (Morgan et al., 2019). The current statement highlights the following messages: (1) Literacy coaches support a collaborative learning process with the K–12 teacher to create an inspired environment of learning for the teacher and students in the classroom. (2) K–12 literacy coaches center student voice, rather than assuming a deficit approach. (3) Literacy coaches reach students across grade levels and a range of language levels, incorporating technology throughout their work, when applicable. (4) Literacy coaches balance the various roles of a literacy professional. (5) Literacy coaches elevate the work of content-area teachers. (6) It is important to create a culture that values a literacy coaching framework across a range of educational settings. Insights gleaned from previous NCTE position statements—including The Act of Reading: Instructional Foundations and Policy Guidelines; NCTE Position Paper on the Role of English Teachers in Educating English Language Learners; Position Statement on Indigenous Peoples and People of Color (IPOC) in English and Language Arts Materials; Definition of Literacy in a Digital Age; and Shifting from Professional Development to Professional Learning: Centering Teacher Empowerment—as well as Jim Knight’s (2004) and Cathy Toll’s (2005) literature on instructional/literacy coaching, along with disciplinary literacy scholars Elizabeth Moje (2008), Timothy Shanahan and Cynthia Shanahan (2012), Peter Smagorinsky (2015), Michael Manderino (2017), Paula Di Domenico (2017), and Regie Routman (2018) guided its creation.
- Job-embedded professional learning
- Partner in the process = literacy coach + teacher + students
- Interchangeable roles in co-mentoring
- Collaborative and continuous conversations
- Shared vision for teaching and learning
- Adaptive and responsive teaching
- Centering student and teacher voices
- Reflective practice
- Strengthening a culture and community of learners
- Creating an environment that facilitates literacy coaching and a commitment to collective responsibility and ongoing improvement
- Flexibility of coaching to support diverse twenty-first-century learners who span a range of educational contexts and settings
Educators who work collaboratively to assess, differentiate, and provide meaningful feedback have a greater ability to move learners forward through reflective practice and meaningful instruction. It is from this place of collaboration that we can truly raise the expectations for lifelong learners. Rather than focus solely on the standards, we remind ourselves to unite the whole school community in a way that develops “collaborative expertise” (Hattie, 2015, p. 5). When this happens, the whole child, the teacher, the leader, the parent, and the community become even more passionate about growth of readers, writers, and thinkers.
As John Hattie notes, we should avoid the distractions and intermittent solutions that pull us away from a long-term, system-wide focus on student learning. By keeping our eyes, minds, and hearts focused on identifying the varied expertise in our schools, we can then nurture and capitalize on that expertise. A literacy coach “partners with teachers for job-embedded professional learning that enhances teachers’ reflection on students, the curriculum, and pedagogy for the purpose of more effective decision making” (Toll, 2014, p. 10).
Literacy coaching has been proven successful as a personalized professional development framework that can assist teachers in meaningful implementation of literacy instruction (Biancarosa et al., 2010; Elish-Piper & L’Allier, 2011; Matsumura et al., 2010).
Literacy coaching is a personalized form of professional development that spans K–12. During literacy coaching, the teacher and the literacy coach come together to have conversations about classroom instruction and student achievement. In addition, a literacy coaching model includes opportunities for the coach and the classroom teacher to collaborate on beliefs about instruction and pedagogy (Toll, 2005). The literacy coach may model lessons for the classroom teacher, serve as a co-teacher, and assist in the planning and implementation of explicit literacy instruction to help students become independent thinkers, readers, communicators, and problem solvers. As a result of these meetings, the literacy coach and the classroom teacher may engage in continuous dialogue throughout the school year. Through dialogue, both educators may craft thoughtful questions and responses to approaches, leading to reflection on practice. This reflection is essential if educators are to create new meaning and draw conclusions regarding their pedagogy (Berliner, 2001).
Research supports that teachers value collaboration with a literacy coach (Pomerantz & Pierce, 2013), and that coaching can make a difference when it comes to the implementation of literacy instruction (Vernon-Feagans et al., 2012; Elish-Piper & L’Allier, 2011; Matsumura et al., 2010; Biancarosa et al., 2010).
Key Components of Professional Learning Role
- Literacy coaching draws upon adult learning theory. According to Rohlwing and Spelman (2014), adults learn through experience, reflection, dialogue, and context. Literacy coaching involves coaches and teachers interacting socially within the larger context of a school, drawing upon specific cultural beliefs and practices of educators. Those social interactions include dialogue and conversation meant to foster meaningful reflection and discovery of new ideas, resulting in the transformation of teacher beliefs and practices.
- A literacy coaching program must include time for long-term, one-on-one dialogue between the teacher and literacy coach in order for reflection to occur(Pletcher et al., 2019).The coaching conversations must be collaborative, establishing the coach and teacher as a team working toward specific literacy goals. The ongoing dialogue should include the literacy coach and teacher focusing on identifying essential skills required to read, write, and communicate in the teacher’s particular discipline; in addition, the dialogue should prompt teacher reflection on explicit literacy instruction that includes communicating clearly to students the purpose of studying a particular subject and modeling how the experts in that subject approach text, think, speak, and do the discipline.
- Literacy coaches who are knowledgeable about discipline-specific literacy skills are an essential part of the K–12 literacy program. Literacy coaches need to understand the literacy demands of each academic domain in order to challenge the content-area teacher’s thinking with appropriate questions and suggestions (Spires et al., 2016). The literacy coach can help the teacher see how literacy instruction should emerge out of the need for students to comprehend complex texts, engage in specialized writing practices, and learn the language of that discipline (Smagorinsky, 2015). The literacy coach must be knowledgeable about resources they can provide to teachers as they work to implement this specialized instruction. Finally, the coach should establish an environment where the teacher feels safe to ask questions and take risks in the classroom.
Recommendations for Implementation of Literacy Coaching in the K–12 Classroom
Dimension 1: Literacy coaches support a collaborative learning process with the K–12 teacher to create a successful learning environment for the teacher and the students in the classroom.
- Literacy coaches should first build trust and a relationship with the classroom teacher and students within a classroom to effectively create an environment for learning (Morgan et al., 2019). Cultivating these relationships will allow each participant to engage in a meaningful learning experience.
- The role of the literacy coach is to facilitate and encourage deep thinking within the classroom teacher and to allow for the teacher to reflect on their own literacy practice (Hudson & Pletcher, 2020).
- Daily techniques, such as questioning and reflection, should be modeled by the literacy coach rather than expressly stated to allow for teacher introspection and individualized growth (Hudson & Pletcher, 2020). These practices can then be replicated by the teacher as they instill these same skills in their students.
- Constructive feedback should be modeled at each level of the process, as providing assessment is a critical part of learning and growth (Morgan et al., 2019). The literacy coach, teacher, and students should create a symbiotic system of learning within the classroom environment.
- Literacy coaches must acknowledge and focus on the different strengths of each teacher they serve (Morgan et al., 2019). Just as we differentiate learning for students, a differentiated approach to coaching is paramount for teacher growth.
- The experience of expert, veteran teachers should be considered and utilized by the literacy coach, as one-to-one coaching is not always tenable. The literacy coach should cultivate internal leadership to empower teachers and allow for the coach to tend to novice teachers and other responsibilities of their role (Pletcher et al., 2019).
- Literacy coaches themselves must receive coaching, just as the teachers with whom they collaborate do. Professional development of literacy coaches can occur inside the building through collaboration with administration and expert teachers, or externally through courses and training specific to their discipline (Pletcher et al., 2019).
Dimension 2: K–12 literacy coaches center teacher and student voices, rather than assuming a deficit approach.
- An integral part of coaching and learning ensures that educators honor the lives, cultures, languages, and histories of every reader and writer in our classrooms (Souto-Manning & Martell, 2016). The NCTE position statement on Expanding Opportunities: Academic Success for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students affirms this statement.
- Teachers and students work collaboratively to define the criteria they will use to assess the work. This may involve co-creating with a teacher, with peers, or with experts who work in the field of their study (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017).
- “As coaches study the process or products of student work, they develop the capacity to describe and observe the work before making judgments” (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017, p. 102). Students need to build a habit of “striving for accuracy, with the full realization that they are also striving for excellence” (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017, p. 103).
- Culturally responsive coaching is based upon being in partnership with teachers, helping them see what they can enhance to help students step into their learning in powerful ways. The coach needs to understand what truly makes instruction “responsive,” ensuring that affirming and validating texts and practices are represented, as described in the Position Statement on Indigenous Peoples and People of Color (IPOC) in English and Language Arts Materials.
- This process involves an assessment of how the teacher is igniting intellectual curiosity and chunking content, ensuring that there are cognitive hooks that draw upon students’ understanding and current experience (Hammond, 2014).
- When establishing a culture of coaching, the role of the coach is to empower and collaborate with teachers and students, espousing a belief system that is steeped in improvement rather than remediation. Routman (2014) states, “Schools that are high achieving have a culture of ‘each one, teach one’ . . . as the level of teaching expertise in a school varies . . .” (p. 210).
Dimension 3: Literacy coaches reach students across grade levels and a range of language levels, incorporating technology throughout their work, when applicable.
- Literacy coaches provide opportunities for teachers to reflect upon their practice, which, in turn, supports students in their progress in the area of reading, as discussed in The Act of Reading: Instructional Foundations and Policy Guidelines. Questioning provided by the literacy coach supports the teacher in specifying which areas of their practice they may want to focus on or alter to best meet the needs of their current students at that time. This is especially important for students who are ELLs—see NCTE Position Paper on the Role of English Teachers in Educating English Language Learners.
- Literacy coaches offer reflection and observation of ELL learning and the methods employed by the teacher. “Capturing teacher language and the instructional interaction helps create an overview and record of the lesson,” which can be used as a tool for teacher reflection in a later conversation (Morgan & Bates, 2020, p. 679).
- Hudson & Pletcher (2020) note that “when focused on authentic data collected by teachers in their classrooms, the conversation’s emphasis is on instructional strategies that would best support students’ growth in reading. This concrete set of data helps the teacher and the coach work together to determine where the needs exist” (p. 3).
- Literacy coaches can further leverage technology to record a portion of a lesson via video or voice recorder, which allows the coach and teacher to later revisit the lesson in a manner that allows the teacher to reflect as they observe themselves.
- Literacy coaches use multiple sources of data, including anecdotal records, stories, literacy snapshots, photographs, video, and social media to capture moments of learning and growth through transparency and celebration of learning.
- Literacy coaches support diverse levels of learners by encouraging “educators to consider the effects and side effects of the learning environments we embody and the instruction we enact . . .” as student needs are changing continuously with a range of skills, competencies, and dispositions (Morgan et al., 2019, p. 386). The Definition of Literacy in a Digital Age supports this statement.
Dimension 4: Literacy coaches in a K–12 setting need to balance the various roles of a literacy professional in order to effectively meet the needs of students, teachers, and administrators.
- Time spent in the classroom with an individual teacher could be for a model lesson, observation, planning, or co-teaching.
- Additional pockets of time should be devoted to planning for and facilitating coaching conversations in order to guide reflective practice in teachers’ literacy practices and beliefs. Coaching conversations provide a forum for teachers “to think deeply about their students, reflect on their classroom practices, and take ownership of problem solving for issues that arise in their literacy block” (Pletcher et al., 2019, p. 689).
- It is important that K–12 literacy coaches stick to a schedule while remaining flexible. While a consistent schedule is key to developing purposeful work with teachers, it is important for coaches to remain flexible, as tasks may change throughout the year.
- K–12 literacy coaches must balance their professional development agenda with those of teachers. A teacher survey that offers teachers opportunities to choose what they want to study can be quite powerful. In addition, inviting teachers to complete instructional support forms and to choose from a coaching menu empowers teachers to contribute to their own professional development. Shifting from Professional Development to Professional Learning: Centering Teacher Empowerment further discusses this lens.
- Administrators need to support K–12 literacy coaches to create a schedule that allows the literacy professional with the flexibility to alternate between their respective roles. Formulating a job description with their administrator and revising it, as needed, to best match their given role on their campus is important.
Dimension 5: Collaborative coaching conversations can enlist a range of conversational elements to empower and honor all voices.
- Language that affirms the classroom teacher’s knowledge and expertise causes deep thinking and reflection.
- Literacy coaches also engage in student-centered coaching conversations that reflect continuous study and improvement for all learners.
- Language that is nonthreatening and does not pressure the classroom teacher to implement too many instructional strategies or lessons at once is recommended (Heineke, 2013), as is language that expresses empathy for the teacher’s busy schedule.
- Use language that establishes the coach and teacher as an equitable team (Knight, 2004): We are in this together. I am working with you and am there for you. I will follow through for you—”partnership at its core is a deep belief that we are no more important than those with whom we work, and we should do everything we can to respect that equality” (p. 33).
- Use language that addresses the larger purpose of studying a discipline: What are the essential skills/thought processes required for students to read, write, and communicate in a specific academic discipline (Moje, 2008; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2012; Lee & Spratley, 2010)?
- Use language that prompts the teacher to reflect on the student perspective: What questions will students ask when engaging in disciplinary literacy (Di Domenico et al., 2017; Hudson & Pletcher, 2020)? How will students react as they analyze this visual? What will students find challenging? What will students find engaging about the texts in a specific discipline, including print and nonprint texts? Can students relate to an author’s perspective?
Dimension 6: The universal role of the teacher as a literacy leader should be recognized and valued.
- Affirm teachers as students and learners, with an emphasis on learners who assume increasing responsibility for self-directing learning and elevate teaching and learning for all (Routman, 2018, p. 137).
- Teachers who do not have access to a literacy coach through their school can utilize literacy coach guidelines as outlined in this document, as well as from other professional articles, to participate in guided reflection on individual teaching practices. Questions from Morgan and Bates in the section “Examining Notes” would be a helpful place to begin. Particular attention to the organization and “well-captured” nature of the notes will impact usefulness during reflection (Morgan & Bates, 2020, p. 680–81).
- Teachers can locate additional professional development resources in the form of books, websites, blogs, and videos that they personally curate (Morgan et al., 2019).
- After a goal has been established, a teacher can work on achieving small incremental increases toward the goal over a period of time. This makes the goal more achievable in gradually shifting the literacy culture of the classroom. Morgan et al. suggest the 1% model, moving 1% closer to the goal each day. “Teachers may decide on a goal to increase the volume of reading for students. The teachers identify 1% improvements that could help them reach the larger goal in a manageable and systematic way. An agreed-upon 1% improvement may include adding minutes incrementally until a designated time is reached. Another 1% improvement could be offering book talks once a week to generate student interest and motivation” (2019, p. 386).
- Teachers working with each other in lieu of a literacy coach should focus their reflections to be shorter and focused. Pletcher et al. noted “a 12–15-minute conversation can be just as powerful as a 30-minute coaching conversation” (2019, p. 696).
- School members subscribe to the belief that “everyone in the community needs to excel, and that requires doing what we can to support each other every day to improve teaching and learning for all” (Routman, 2014, p. 210)—and that values the literacy coach as a lifelong learner.
Research Basis for Recommendations
Berliner, D. C. (2001). Learning about and learning from expert teachers. International Journal of Educational Research, 35, 463–482.
Biancarosa, G., Bryk, A. S., & Dexter, E. R. (2010). Assessing the value-added effects of Literacy Collaborative professional development on student learning. The Elementary School Journal, 111(1), 7–34.
Di Domenico, P. M., Elish-Piper, L., Manderino, M., & L’Allier, S. K. (2017). Coaching to support disciplinary literacy instruction: Navigating complexity and challenges for sustained teacher change. Literacy Research and Instruction, 57(2), 81–99.
Elish-Piper, L., & L’Allier, S. K. (2011). Examining the relationship between literacy coaching and reading gains in grades k-3. The Elementary School Journal, 112(1), 83–106.
Hammond, Z. (2014). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain. Corwin.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.
Hattie, J. (2015). What doesn’t work in education: The politics of distraction. Pearson.
Heineke, S. F. (2013). Coaching discourse: Supporting teachers’ professional learning. The Elementary School Journal, 113(3), 410–433.
Hudson, A. K., & Pletcher, B. (2020). The art of asking questions: Unlocking the power of a coach’s language. The Reading Teacher, 74(1), 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1911
Kallick, B., & Zmuda, A. (2017). Students at the center: Personalized learning with habits of mind. ASCD.
Knight, J. (2004). Instructional coaches make progress through partnership. Journal of Staff Development 25(2), 32–37.
Lee, C. D., & Spratley, A. (2010). Reading in the disciplines: The challenges of adolescent literacy. Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Matsumura, L. C., Garnier, H. E., Correnti, R., Junker, B., & DiPrima Bickel, D. (2010). Investigating the effectiveness of a comprehensive literacy coaching program in schools with high teacher mobility. The Elementary School Journal, 111(1), 35–62.
Moje, E. B. (2008). Foregrounding the disciplines in secondary literacy teaching and learning: A call for change. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(2), 96–107.
Morgan, D. N., & Bates, C. C. (2020). Coaching notes: Considerations and possibilities. TheReading Teacher, 73(5), 678–681. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1892
Morgan, D. N., Bates, C. C., Aker, L. D., Dawson, J., Doswell, B. D., Lancaster, P., Puig, E. A., & Williams, J. L. (2019). Coaching and professional learning: Looking for inspiration. The
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Pletcher, B. C., Hudson, A. K., John, L., & Scott, A. (2019). Coaching on borrowed time: Balancing the roles of the literacy professional. The Reading Teacher, 72(6), 689–699. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1777
Pomerantz, F., & Pierce, M. (2013). “When do we get to read?” Reading instruction and literacy coaching in a “failed” urban elementary school. Reading Improvement, 50(3), 101-117.
Rohlwing, R. L., & Spelman, M. (2014). Characteristics of adult learning: Implications for the design and implementation of professional development programs. In L. E. Martin, S. Kragler, D. J. Quatroche, & K. L. Bauserman (Eds.), Handbook of professional development in education: Successful models and practices (pp. 231–245). Guilford Press.
Routman, R. (2014). Read, write, lead: Breakthrough strategies for schoolwide literacy success. Stenhouse.
Routman, R. (2018). Literacy essentials: Engagement, excellence, and equity for all learners. Stenhouse.
Shanahan, T., & Shanahan, C. (2012). What is disciplinary literacy and why does it matter? Topics in Language Disorders, 32(1), 7–18.
Smagorinsky, P. (2015). Disciplinary literacy in English language arts. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 59(2), 141–146.
Souto-Manning, M., & Martell, J. (2016). Reading, writing, and talk: Inclusive teaching strategies for diverse learners, K–2. Teachers College Press.
Spires, H. A., Kerkhoff, S. N., & Graham, A. C. K. (2016). Disciplinary literacy and inquiry: Teaching for deeper content learning. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 60(2), 151–161.
Toll, C. (2005). The literacy coach’s survival guide. International Reading Association.
Toll, C. (2014). The literacy coach’s survival guide (2nd ed). International Reading Association.
Vernon-Feagans, L., Kainz, K., Amendum, S., Ginsberg, M., Wood, T., & Block, A. (2012). Targeted reading intervention: A coaching model to help classroom teachers with struggling readers. Learning Disability Quarterly, 35(2), 102–114.
Anne Katz, Chair, Georgia Southern University, Savannah
Kaitlynn Cooper, McQueen High School, Reno, NV
JoEllen McCarthy, Northport, NY
Bilal Polson, Northern Parkway School, Uniondale, NY
Kathy Smith, Downers Grove North High School, IL
Caitlin Spears, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
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