Tuesday, January 3, 2017

How Literacy Coaching is Like Driver's Ed

How Literacy Coaching is Like Driver's Ed
written by Jeff Barger
photograph by Ian Poellet

“You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen, it said 'Parking Fine.” 
― Tommy Cooper from Quotes About Driving (Goodreads)

When you are riding with a teenager who is logging hours toward getting her driver's license, you look forward (not at your phone) with one hand near the parking brake. My daughter is a good driver who has taken well to my coaching. It occurred to me as we were riding today how this can translate to my work as a literacy coach. Here's a few similarities that I think I noticed:

1. As much as you can, try to take emotion out of the coaching. It's not about the person, it's about the practice. Being cool and still offering coaching points to my daughter allows her to feel more at ease behind the wheel of a 3,400 pound piece of metal. Gasping does not help. Not that I would know. When coaching a colleague, stick to focusing on their practice and not all of the personalities in the classroom.

2. Feedback needs to be specific. I tell my daughter what she is doing well instead of just saying "good job." I will mention that she kept a safe speed as we went around a curve or that she cut the wheel just the right amount as we leave a parking space. This allows her to process what she is doing well and where we need to do more work. Feedback in literacy coaching needs to be specific as well. Tell what made a mini-lesson strong in addition to saying "great job!"

3. Coaching needs to be frequent. I haven't been the best at logging consistent hours with my daughter's driving. She has remarked that she does better when we have more frequent practice. I think this translates to the classroom as well. This is one reason why I don't like the "once a quarter" drop-in method. You need to work side-by-side with your colleague on a frequent basis to see improvement. It's one of the frustrations of my teaching career that I didn't experience this kind of coaching early on.

4. Keep your eyes open. I point out things like potholes and slight jogs to the right to my daughter as we travel along. As you are coaching a colleague, are you picking up on small data in the classroom? It's hard as a teacher to see everything, so it's nice to have another set of eyes that can spot things like student engagement in stations.

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