One of the things that I am most excited about this year is returning to my work as a literacy coach. Over time, I’ve found myself doing fewer and fewer single-event workshops and devoting more time to sustained initiatives like coaching because they provide me the opportunity to create consistent, job-embedded learning opportunities for teachers without removing them from their classrooms. I find that coaching keeps me grounded as well. The strategies and practices that we advocate for as trainers tend to work far differently than we might expect them to upon implementation! Coaching keeps me honest. It’s validating for teachers as well. The fact of the matter is that all teachers have incredible knowledge and experiences to share. They have expertise that I may not have. I find that when it’s done well, coaching illuminates the collective wisdom of the teachers involved and provides opportunities for them to grow and share what they know.
As a coach, I divide my time between two different districts. I’ve worked in each for a number of years now, but doing so in this particular capacity is still relatively new. I’m fortunate to work with teachers and administrators who are eager to make substantial changes in the way they do business, in order to do what’s best for kids. Even more importantly, I get to work with people who know that this sort of change doesn’t happen over night or merely because folks are inspired. It requires tireless collaboration, strategic planning, problem-solving, and vision.
In my experience, none of this can happen effectively without assessment.
In preparing for the year ahead, I spent last spring and much of the summer working with students, teachers, and administrators to define what our coaching work should attend to. State assessment data provided one measure that helped us as we began our conversation, but that’s all this information really gave us: a clue about where we might begin. I worked with various people to gather other information as well. We used annotated records, student writing samples, and details gleaned from surveys and interviews with teachers, kids, and administrators to establish a meaningful focus for our work together. Defining this focus was essential, too. Coaches aren’t secretaries, substitute teachers, aides, or teaching-tutors. Unless learning targets are established for the work that they will engage in with teachers, it is far too easy for sessions to run amok. In these cases, everyone discovers that the resulting learning was really shallow at best.
Assessment enables coaches to do better. I have to admit– I’m mystified when this gets a bad rap in any setting. However, I really question the work of service providers who design learning experiences without capturing meaningful assessment data in order to align, evaluate, and improve their own practice. I often wonder if my definition of assessment differs from the one that others may be using, because I can’t imagine why anyone would overlook the need for it. It happens all of the time, though. If we aren’t able to discern what students need, plan around that, and measure whether or not our efforts are paying off, how can we be certain if the investment we are making is even worthwhile? And unless we use varied measures to define what students need, how do we know if our assessment is as accurate as it can be?