This blogpost is in support of my colleagues who serve in the unique role of "coach". Whether a literacy coach, math coach, instructional coach, or other, there are definitely unique demands to your position that require careful consideration. These are the things that you wish someone would have told you about before you signed on the dotted line. Not that it would have kept you from becoming a coach, but it could help to put things into perspective (and help you to say, "Hey, I'm NOT crazy!").
In a recent article by Hunt and Handsfield (2013), the authors examined how literacy coaches negotiate their jobs including looking at issues of power, positioning, and identity. Through a literature review, the authors point to studies in which coaches struggle to implement district mandated curriculum that conflicted with teachers' practical knowledge. Positioning the coach in this way narrows the role of coaches and positions other teachers as deficient. Other coaches negotiate their identities based on their own and others' expectations of the role of coach. Coaches have a political role "as they navigate the 'complicated intersection between power and learning'" (p.52). Even the language a coach uses can position them as an expert or a learning partner.
In this particular study, Hunt and Handsfield (2013) used a constant comparative analysis to examine three small stories and a vignette of coaches enrolled in professional development for literacy coaches. The study took place in a suburb in the Midwestern United States. The district that was studied was implementing partnerships in comprehensive literacy (PCL). Seven literacy coaches were included in the study.
In reading the coaches responses throughout the study, I found many things that parallel what I have observed in my own career. Perhaps my favorite line was, "You have different expectations from different people telling you different things". I'm not sure if this is worse than no one telling you what to do at all?
There are several implications listed by the authors as a result of their research. First, although roles of coaches can and should be outlined, that is not enough for successful coaches and retention of coaches. Instead, "coaching requires complex negotiations of current understandings of the
purposes of institutional spaces, the meanings of professional development, and the
nature of teacher learning". Coaching should be dependent upon individual teacher need and school contexts.
My favorite implication was that coaches must have time for exploring the emotional aspects and challenges of their work. This was a powerful statement, and something I've never been given permission to do as a coach. Meeting with colleagues is a learning time, focused around Eaker, Dufour and DuFour's (2002) four questions (What should students know and be able to do? How will we know if they know it? How do we respond if they do/don't know it?). Of course, this naturally happens when you are problem solving with another coach, but this usually happens on a weekend phone call. Giving coaches permission to express the emotions related to their position can help them to navigate their position in a healthy way.
I also particularly liked the implication that coaches need more than a "tool kit" of "best practices". Giving coaches time to role-play scenarios (I know my colleagues are cringing at that, but hey- I don't make this stuff up...it's in the research!), analyzing audio and video of teachers and coaches at work, and working through case studies together. Also, giving coaches time to analyze their own small stories can be beneficial.
I absolutely love my work as a coach. I am grateful for the staff I work with. I would love to be able to support my coaching colleagues with this information I've just read. To better serve my staff, I need colleagues who can support and be supported by the implications listed above.
Eaker, R., DuFour, R., and DuFour, R. (2002). Getting Started: Reculturing Schools to Become Professional Learning Communities. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Hunt, C., and Handsfield, L. (2013). The emotional landscapes of literacy coaching: Issues of identity, power, and positioning. Journal of Literacy Research, 45(1), 47-86.