Literacy Coaching is relatively new to our region, and while schools outside of our area may have established coaching models long ago, the opportunity to support teachers in this capacity is something that many districts in our area are just beginning to make happen. It’s exciting to be on the ground floor of this work in WNY. This week’s strand of posts have been written at the request of teachers and administrators who are interested in learning more about coaching and how they might begin this sort of work in their own schools. My experience isn’t every coach’s experience, though. There are many others who have stories and tips of their own to share. Take a peek here, for starters.

In my experience, literacy coaching begins with assessment. I’ve worked with teachers to identify and prioritize their needs, and together, we created aligned objectives and learning targets. Last summer, Giselle Martin Kniep and other fellows of Communities for Learning coached me in the development of theories of change, and a collaborative study of Joellen Killion’s book, Assessing Impact: Evaluating Staff Development helped me learn more about this sort of planning and ways to assess the effectiveness of our efforts. I’ve studied many other texts as well, but that book in particular is one I’ve come to value.  As I reflect on the work behind me, I can honestly say that beginning my learning and my work in this place was essential. Conducting a thorough self-assessment was even more so.

One thing I’ve realized is that coaches of all kinds need communities of their own to learn and grow within. Communities help us identify what we may not know. The most effective communities also provide sustained and rich connections to those who don’t merely share their own expertise and resources, but provoke us to help ourselves by pursuing research and study ourselves. What I’ve appreciated most about Communities for Learning is that I am rarely given “stuff” or simple answers to complex problems. More often, I’m provided support in defining better questions to pursue on my own. I’m also provided clarity around the gaps in my own learning so that I know where I might want to forward. It’s up to me to do that though.

All of this speaks to the important role that self-assessment plays in literacy coaching. One of the first suggestions given to me early on in my coaching work was to figure out what literacy coaches do before I went about designing grand schemes (thank you very much Giselle and Carol Weintraub). Okay. So……..that’s a big question. Here’s how I handled it: I looked for standards. Then, I looked to others who had expertise in this in order to learn more. Over time, I created and asked for feedback on a self-assessment that helped me identify where my areas of strength and need were as a coach and learner. Through my research and practical experience, I discovered that effective literacy coaches have expertise in the following ever-evolving intelligences (for lack of better phraseology).

  • The Foundations of Literacy
  • The Use of Data
  • Assessment Types
  • Assessment Practices
  • Reading and Writing Instruction
  • Varied Coaching Models
  • Adult Learning Theory
  • Strategies for Facilitating the Work of Adult Learners
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Systems Theory
  • Strategic Planning
  • Acting as a Change Agent Within Larger Reform Efforts
  • Networked Learning and the Use of Web Technologies to Facilitate That
  • (and to a lesser degree) Tech Tools
  • Dispositions of Practice and Habits of Mind
  • Frameworks that Sustain Learning and Growth

These criteria were informed by the work of Jim Knight, Nancy Shanklin, Learner-Centered Initiatives, the fellows of Communities for Learning, and Katherine Casey. My network on Twitter offered much insight and great support too (thanks, guys)! For my purposes, this is a list-in-progress, but building a self-assessment around it helped me clarify my own learning targets, and I feel that I’m better able to serve others as a result. Mine is an imperfect science, I know. Turns out, I’ve discovered that defining what coaches need to know and be able to do well can be overwhelming. This is what I’ve learned, and it is what I’m assessing myself against in order to frame my personal learning targets. If you are a literacy coach, please jump in and suggest elements that I may be overlooking. Carol? Linda? Angela(s)? Nina? If anyone would like a copy of the rubric I’ve developed or other resources, feel free to email me at



  1. Well, now I have a list to measure my knowledge against. This will give me direction as to what areas I need to research and develop. I am a trained peer coach but we don’t have a coaching set up in my school, although I am working closely with a number of teachers. I also have teachers from other schools visit. Today I had three come in for a morning, so I really need to get ‘my head around’ some of this stuff. I’ll also purchase any books you say are useful.
    I do have a question that I hope you can help me with. We have been discussing how best to teach commas. Some teachers say put a comma in when you pause to their writers. I have discussed that I believe it’s not when a writer pauses, it’s about meaning. What and how do you teach a young writer to use commas? Once again there is much discussion about this.
    Cheers Nina

  2. Your list looks pretty thorough to me. I have been using a Professional Development Continuum for Literacy Specialists that was designed by the North Clackamas School District in Oregon. It was shared at a Literacy Coaches Network meeting; like you said, being a part of a community of supportive peers and having the opportunity to learn with has been invaluable. You can find a PDF of this rubric on their website under “Literacy Specialist Evaluation Materials.” ( ) It may be helpful to you in refining what you’ve created.

  3. Hi Nina–I’m glad it’s helpful to you, but also keep in mind that this is just my approach. There are other coaches (like Susan, for instance!) who may have other tools that might be useful to you, and this is how I was hoping people would respond to this post. Thanks for sharing Susan! I’ve bookmarked this page, and I’m looking forward to perusing the materials there. Got your emails too–will send!

  4. Carol Kimmerle Reply

    Although I never “officially” was a literacy coach, I felt it was part of my job as a building reading specialist, and the staff of my school was for the most part very receptive to any help I could give them. Your list looks extremely comprehensive, but one piece might be missing–reconciling administrative expectations with classroom realities. What does the principal/superintendent/curriculum leader want from your efforts, and how does that correspond with your personal vision of literacy coaching? This leads, for example, to the issue of mandatory participation, and in my case to being asked to “fix” a teacher. Other issues arise as well. Some attention to the politics of literacy coaching must be paid.

  5. Yikes–I’m fortunate in that I’ve never been asked to “fix” a teacher. You’re right, Carol. Having clear expectations in place and a common vision is key. I’m thinking teachers should be included there as well? I offer a lot of different opportunities to get their input and feedback, and we make changes in response to their needs. Another piece I’ve found important: defining the roles of all of the stakeholders and the tasks they will perform.

    Coaching is an expectation in both of the schools that I work in, but there is tremendous choice provided around how the work unfolds, and this meets teachers needs well (for the most part, of course). I think that everyone involved works hard to promote and sustain the understanding that this is a self-directed opportunity for everyone and not in any way evaluative.

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