Literacy Coaching: The Essentials

Check out what Katherine Casey says about effective coaching

Hi, I'm Jennifer!

I'm a full time classroom teacher, studying to earn my Master's in Reading from East Carolina University. Since beginning my program in January of 2014, I have read many articles, books and blogs regarding best practices for reading instruction. However, I've been hooked on a specific book for the past few weeks.

The book is titled, "Literacy Coaching: The Essentials" by Katherine Casey. To say it's been beneficial would be an understatement. I have begun to imagine myself more as a leader in my school and potential literacy coach while reading this text. Woah! That's big.

Follow along to hear all of the great things I've read about and taken to heart. I bet you'll enjoy this so much you'll want the book for yourself! (And if you do, there's a link at the bottom for purchasing.)

Who is Katherine Casey?

Katherine Casey is a former elementary school teacher who has transitioned into a coach of teachers, other coaches, administrative staff and school districts. She works with school districts around the country to support the improvement of instruction, and professional knowledge.

Interested in learning more about Katherine Casey and the consulting work she does? Take a look at her site:

now about the book...

Big image

What is a Literacy Coach?

Katherine Casey begins her book with a wonderfully honest start. She explains that the transition between a classroom teacher and literacy coach was tough and there were times she was overwhelmed with self-doubt and she heard others thinking the same. From the start, she defines the role of a literacy coach as a quite flexible one. “Literacy coaching involves creating and sustaining relationships and, like any relationship, it is dynamic” (p. 5). Depending on the principal, school, teachers and most importantly, the students, the role can look different ways. However different our situations may look, being a literacy coach should embody the following:

- helping design and facilitate professional development sessions tailored to address issues facing teachers and students;

- working alongside teachers in classrooms, demonstrating instructional strategies and guiding teachers as they try on the strategies;

- evaluating students’ literacy needs and collaborating with teachers to design instruction to meet those needs;

- providing teachers with ongoing opportunities to learn from and with each other.

Katherine reminds the reader many times that when working with teachers, it's crucial that communication stay open and the teacher remembers you are there for support, not evaluation. Trust is the foundation of the professional relationship. This role should be to SHOW teachers, not simply talk about effective teaching. Begin by asking for a time to come in and model a few things for a teacher who wants more support.

Literacy Coaches as Learners

Katherine Casey reiterates that effective literacy coaches are continuously learning.
  • Strive to improve student achievement by supporting teaching and learning
"If we believe it is our teaching, and not "teacher-proofed" curriculum materials or programs, that produces student learning, then improving our teaching to improve student learning is part of the act of teaching itself" (p. 23).
  • Learn and teach effective decision making
  • Learn and teach literacy content knowledge
  • Learn and teach pedagogical content knowledge
  • Learn how to be effective teachers of adults
"How on to what you know about good instruction as you begin your coaching work... like children, adults thrive when they are motivated and actively engaged in learning opportunities that meet their needs, which is why so much of our coaching work focuses on determining what teachers need next for their learning and how to design effective learning opportunities." (p. 28).
  • Strive to build teaching and leadership capacity
Katherine incorporates beneficial examples throughout her book. In this particular section, she reflects on a time when she was coaching one kindergarten teacher on interactive writing. Because she was responding to the needs of a teacher in an effective, motivating way, the outcome was quite fruitful. "Building the capacity of one teacher helped build the capacity of an entire grade-level team" (p. 29). The kindergarten teacher soon shared her newly conquered challenge at her grade-level team meeting and it was then that others expressed interest in the instructional approach.
  • Embrace resistance
The role of a literacy coach is to hear the concerns of the teachers but also recognize that like students, adults will actively or passively vocalize what they need for their learning. Tuning into teacher's conversations, comments, interests, will pay large dividends.
  • Effective communicators
  • Communicate beliefs and provide rationale
  • Inspire and lead

Getting Started :: Teacher Strengths and Needs

Prior to this section in the book, Katherine Casey reminds us that coaching is all about relationships, relationships, relationships; relationships with your principals, relationships with your teachers and relationships with their students. Building upon the foundation of trust, knowledge and communication is the action of getting to the "meat" of the coaching.
  • Gather Information
By having one-on-one conversations with the teacher, the coach is able to identify what the teacher's strengths and needs are. During this meeting, it's important to ask the teacher questions about their teaching strengths (reading, writing, etc.) as well as their areas of need.
  • Observations
  • Test Scores
Although test scores have a lot of information that benefit instruction, it's better to refrain from discussing data until further into the coaching relationship. Since the working relationship is still developing and trust is still building, bringing up data may end up setting things back. However, once the foundation has been set, discussing data can be very healthy for the coach and teacher. By studying the data, the coach and teacher become more comfortable with analyzing it and creating hypotheses about what needs to be done next. The idea is for the coach to see trends in the students' growth as well as the teacher's.
  • Soft Data
Observations = Soft Data. Getting into the classrooms and observing the students and teacher will offer a lot of great insight for future dialogue regarding a teacher's practice and perhaps even professional development ideas, etc.
  • Leverage Point
Once a coach has begun to build a relationship with the teacher and has gained insight on their strengths and needs, it's time to determine a leverage point. "A leverage point can be understood as the point in a process where an intervention can have the greatest effect (p. 86). A key point to ponder, just like we wouldn't expect a kindergartener to know 15 x 15, we must keep a teacher's leverage point within their zone of proximal development (ZPD). By taking the list of strengths and needs brainstormed with the teacher at the initial meeting, the coach can begin to take the soft data into consideration while establishing the objective for the coaching relationship.

  • Debrief
Once the coach has had an opportunity to have the initial discussion with the teacher, observation in the classroom and time spent deciding the leverage point, there needs to be a debrief where the conversation switches toward the future and what both parties want to see happen.

Studying Instruction

Studying one's instruction can take place through many different avenues. Here are a few that are my favorite from the book.

  1. Co-planning lessons (PLC - Professional Learning Communities) - teachers gather to think thoughtfully through lessons regarding a subject. This does not mean each teacher plans a few lessons and comes together to share with the rest of the grade-level.
  2. Professional Development Sign ups - Allow teachers a voice in which professional development session they want to be apart of.
  3. Professional Development Follow Up - It's been found in numerous research studies that it's important to plan for the teachers to gather after a professional development session and debrief about what was discussed and what will the next few steps in implementing the new ideas.
  4. Professional Inquiry Groups - This is a group where teachers focus on specific problems of practice and together they build solutions. In turn, this strategy will also build a stronger sense of community between the teachers and over time, the group will become self-sustaining.

The Promises of Coaching

For many of us, we know the hard work during the school year is always worth it. By the end of the year, we are a witness to the joys of our students when they conquer their goal and the pride they have in themselves. Now they are convinced they can do anything!

Imagine this feeing but attach it to a relationship with a teacher. These are the same feelings coaches feel as they observe the successes of the teachers they have worked alongside of all year.

"The work of teaching and learning, the work of literacy coaching, is among the most challenging work we can do, making the results all the more satisfying" (p. 193).


Literacy Coaching - The Essentials by user300592696

Additional Resources:

Below you will find websites that will help support your journey becoming a strong literacy professional.
Click here to see : Balanced Literacy Diet Website

Are you an educator? This website is a strategy-rich resource for you in your classroom or literacy facilitator role.

Click here to see : Literacy Coaching Clearinghouse

This website offers tools used by Literacy Coaches, Reading Coaches and Instructional Coaches

Click here to see : Literacy Coaching on Pinterest

This one is for those Pinterest lovers out there!


Casey, K. (2006). Literacy coaching: the essentials. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.