Last week, I invited a fellow of the WNY Young Writers’ Studio and literacy-coach-in-training to accompany me on a visit to Long Island, New York, where we met with junior and senior high school writing teachers. A portion of this visit was spent exploring the Studio model and some of the more powerful practices that guide our work with teachers and young people. On the last day, we had the opportunity to co-teach inside of classrooms. This was an incredible learning experience for me.

As a literacy coach, remaining connected to teachers during demonstration lessons remains one of my greatest challenges. Often, teachers are uncertain what they are supposed to be doing while I am at the front of the room, despite the protocols we’ve put in place and the pre-planning that happens prior to my visits. Sometimes, teachers will find themselves distracted by learners who aren’t engaging me with me in the exact way that they would like them to. Sometimes, teachers will find themselves consumed by the phone or the students who wander in late from lessons or a thousand other disruptions. And once in a while, teachers will even turn their backs to me to surf the net, grade papers, or take care of prep work during the spare moments that my demo lessons seem to provide. Whatever the reason, it makes for a less than meaningful experience.

Enter collaborative literacy coaching.

Last week, while one of us was leading a demonstration lesson, the other was coaching on the sidelines. When it was my turn, I found myself able to explain the purposes behind certain practices in real time. I was able to point out formative assessment moments, and I could illuminate interventions that may not have been evident had teachers been left to observe on their own. More importantly, I was able to listen to the teachers as they reflected on what they saw and ask questions that prompted better connections and deeper thought. Talk about powerful!

Afterward, I actually had someone to engage in reflective practice with. We each noticed, felt, and assumed different things about the lessons that we taught and observed. Sharing our perspectives and the evidence that we were able to collect about these events, the needs of teachers, and student performance was clarifying.

Last night, I found further inspiration in this piece by Jan Miller Burkins and Scott Ritchie. I may never coach solo again.

Now, to figure out how to make that a reality…….has anyone else out there done so already? Ideas?



  1. Kristin Sm ith Reply

    Angela –

    I am so heartened to hear that you have had this experience and truly hope that your “co-teacher” had the same experience! Isn’t it interesting that we know co-teaching is a wonderfully enriching experience for all of our kids – and now you have experience to demonstrate the effectiveness of teaching the teachers by co-teaching …. (that a LOTTA teaching!) …

    At any rate, yes, co-teaching is fantastic and I can’t give it enough props, when it is done correctly. Those who feel as though they are now “on break” when I enter are missing so much!

    Co-planning and co-teaching (at least in my station) allow the melding of an instructional, learning expert and a content expert. They combine ideas and create activities and lessons that bring the best of both worlds together … some of my gen ed colleagues look forward to our coming together and a few beat down my door on a regular basis to say, “I want to do this with my kids, but I’m stuck with an idea and just want to boune it off of you!” …. and together we are able to create an engaging learning experience for all kids of all levels!

    It is those times, in fact, that I must be alone in my room without a colleague that make me feel lonely, wishing for someone to bounce an idea off of!

    Congratulations and welcome to the club …. I, too, wish never to have to teach alone again!

    • Your energy makes me smile, Kristin : )) I felt much the same way at the end of the experience. I co-taught middle school ELA for a number of years with Kristen Marchiole (hey, perhaps all good sped teachers are named Kriste(i)n. I was fortunate to have been able to work with her for as long as I did, and I *still* miss collaborating and teaching with her….for the same reasons I shared in the post. I loved co-planning–she taught me a great deal about how to modify my work appropriately, and I know that we were able to help more students in better ways because she was there. We worked hard to learn and apply DI in ways that were meaningful, and often, it came down to creating a learning target, teaching, and studying how well we were meeting the needs of the learners in the room. There was a good deal of experimentation there, and I was fortunate to have administrators who supported us. It wasn’t always smooth sailing–hard but very rewarding work. In my experience, co-teachers often struggle to establish and maintain productive working relationships. Challenging stuff! It’s nice to hear the enthusiasm in your voice : ))

      Collaboratively coaching works a bit differently, I think–but the potential to study the effects of instruction closely, to reflect together, and to gain access to evidence you might not be able to collect independently was definitely a plus. I think it could be helpful to have a co-coach present to help the teachers involved in the experience engage in deeper ways and attend to elements of demo lessons that they might otherwise overlook.

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