This school year I had an amazing opportunity to become a K-5 literacy coach. It was scary to leave behind a place in the traditional classroom setting, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Below are some lessons I figured out along the way. Some I learned by chance, others in reflection, and more than a few through mistakes.
Lesson 1: Be True to Yourself in the Interview
Your job will be to support the literacy philosophy of the school. Make sure it’s one you believe in.
About 30 seconds into the interview, I could tell I wanted this job at this school. It just felt right. The temptation was s-t-r-o-n-g to say what I thought they would want to hear. However, I reined it in and spoke from the heart. I am passionate about literacy instruction. Because of this, no matter how much I could tell I would love this school and the staff, I also knew I would be miserable if in my role I was supporting instruction I didn’t believe was right for students. Thankfully our literacy stars were aligned, and I’ve had an amazing year supporting teachers in ways that are good for our students.
Lesson 2: Be a Resource, Not an Expert
Nobody likes a know-it-all.
No matter what kind of literacy superstar you are, you’ll never know it all. Be a resource to teachers and not an expert. Saying “I don’t know” is powerful. Besides being true, it creates an opportunity for conversations and gives you opportunities to learn and grow more. And speaking of conversations…
Lesson 3: Be Available (in Places Other Than Your Office)
Every good conversation starts in the hallway, on the way to the restroom, or in the cafeteria.
To say teachers are B.U.S.Y. is an understatement. The reality is that no one has time to find you in your office to ask you to do your job. Nearly every good conversation I’ve had with teachers happened when we passed each other in the hallway or on the way to P.E. or during lunch duty. Get out of your office and be around — in the hallway, in classrooms, and certainly in the line for the microwave in the lunchroom.
Lesson 4: Plan to Plan Differently
New job=new way of thinking and planning
This planner girl was shocked that my planning wasn’t working! It may seem like a little detail, but when you drop the ball on a few things because of a planning mistake on your part, it becomes more serious. As a teacher, I always had a giant, beautiful planner in a binder with a sacred place on my desk. I made the pages myself and knew what I wanted. This year taught me your planner should be ready to grab and easily transportable.
I also learned never to “leave home” without a notebook. All of those wonderful conversations would usually end with me promising to do something. (And then promptly forgetting on the way back to my office.) Bring a notebook.
Lesson 5: Working in a Gray Area
Not a teacher, not an administrator
Instructional coaches live in a weird gray area. Teachers are my people, so it was strange not to exactly be one. You’re also not an administrator. You can be a “suggester” but not a decision maker. A teacher may ask a question, and you’ll want to jump up and down and say, “Yes! That is a wonderful idea. We’ll do that from now on.” It doesn’t work that way.
I’ve learned the gray area can be a powerful place to be. I think teachers feel more comfortable questioning decisions and making suggestions when you’re not the one with the final responsibility of making those choices. When you’re not a decision maker, you can get to the heart of the literacy coach’s job: to be the students’ and teachers’ advocate.
Lesson 6: Be Patient
Be around, be available, be helpful
I could not have started my position as a literacy coach more gung ho. I was on fire for this job. The reality is (especially if you haven’t learned Lesson #3) you’re going to hear crickets in the beginning. Teachers are busy, and they’re never more busy than the beginning of the year. Kindergarten teachers are simply trying to keep everyone in the room. They aren’t worried about discussing best practices for phonemic awareness with you.
Be around and be available, but most importantly — be helpful. Maybe you aren’t discussing best practices, but you can corral a few stragglers as you walk down the hallway. It takes time for teachers to trust that you’re there in a supportive way and not in a “run to the office as a spy” way. You’ll build your new identity over time.
Megan is a literacy coach at a K-5 school and the author of the blog I Teach. What’s Your Superpower? She lives in The Woodlands, Texas with her husband and two daughters and likes to take a break from school by creating digital papers for her Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can visit her on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.