Investment in Teaching Literacy Begins With Coaches
Many years ago, one of my friends from the medical profession shared an article with me about surgeons gaining a new level of knowledge through the use of coaches. It described a cutting-edge approach whereby surgeons had coaches with them in the operating room to guide them and provide immediate feedback on their technique and surgical procedures.
My friend asked whether this was a method educators used to provide professional development.
I have to admit, years prior in another school district, I had successfully persuaded the school board to hire one literacy coach at the high school level. The coach was extremely talented, but the return on investment was difficult to measure as we did not have a clear plan of how to use the coach and how to schedule time for teachers and the coach to work together.
Further, as districts faced years of difficult budgets, literacy coaches felt like a luxury that couldn’t be afforded.
My friend’s inquiry sparked an interest in me to further research and evaluate literacy coaches at the elementary level. The deeper, real-time learning described in the medical journal detailed benefits that teachers could experience right in their classrooms while working with their students.
In 2011 through the annual budget process, I outlined the intended return on investment of higher reading scores if teachers were provided deeper, real-time learning in their classrooms and with their students. I proposed hiring four literacy coaches to serve our five early elementary schools (preK-grade 3). Fortunately, the board approved the proposal.
Learning from the weakness of my first experience, this time in a new district we set schedules and expectations for teachers and coaches to work together. Coaches provided six-week training cycles with teachers and also taught graduate-level courses after school to update and grow teachers’ knowledge of best practice in literacy instruction.
The coordination and expertise the literacy coaches provided across the district demonstrated immediate results. Reading levels in all five schools increased and since then, benchmark reading levels have been increased to shoot for high-er levels.
The need for greater support at the next level was evident and today, Bangor has five certified literacy coaches who work with eight preK-grade 5 schools. Whenever possible, they also support the middle schools and high school during in-service days.
Our literacy coaches are a combination of homegrown professionals and individuals hired from outside the district. They continue their own professional growth through our partnership with the University of Maine. As one of the professors shared recently, this is one of the strongest literacy coaching teams anywhere.
This can be seen from the return on investment, which has produced higher reading and writing scores, higher math scores, greater teacher satisfaction with professional development, and 80 percent of the preK-grade 5 teachers taking graduate-level courses in literacy within the last two school years.
All because a friend from the medical field shared an article and asked what we do in education!
— BETSY WEBB