Coaching Foundational Skills

Tuesday, October 05, 2021 | 11:53am

By: Carissa Comer, K-2 Literacy Coach, Putnam County


One of the key components to ensuring all students are proficient grade level readers is professional learning and coaching for our teachers.

The Reading 360 training has given our teachers the knowledge and the tools, but do they know how to put those tools into practice to move their kids forward? Do they have the protected preparation and collaboration time to improve their instruction? Do they feel supported in their efforts to grow as educators?

As leaders and coaches, we have a responsibility to help them by defining what the successful practice of foundational skills looks like, sounds like, and feels like in our schools. Only then can we empower teachers, which will be the key to impacting student learning and student outcomes.

What does coaching foundational skills look like?

There are three visible components to coaching: relationships, collaboration, and organization. You have to have all three to ensure student success and equity across a district.

Building relationships looks like standing shoulder to shoulder with your teachers. It begins with trust and empathy and the reminder that we are all in this together. We must be willing to listen to teacher feedback, to act on our teachers’ needs, and to follow through on what they say. Implementing foundational skills in the classroom is hard, but as leaders, we can help to share the load.

Collaboration looks like classroom visits, attending and presenting grade-level PLCsS with teachers, observing teaching and providing productive feedback, and being cognizant of their problems, concerns, and challenges.

Ask yourself: What are some tangible ways I can ensure my teachers are effectively using materials and resources available to them?

What does coaching foundational skills sound like?

The sounds of successful coaching are loud, if you listen for them.

Do you hear students engaged in speaking, listening, writing, and reading in the classroom? Are they all exposed to the same content and skills? And are the expectations the same for all students and each classroom?

More importantly, are you hearing teachers move away from asking themselves, "Did I teach it?" to instead asking, "Did all my students master it?" Are all your teachers speaking the same language when it comes to the importance of growing their and their students’ knowledge of foundational skills?

Finally, it sounds like discussion. Leaders and educators alike benefit from talking through issues, ideas, and implementation strategies. Teamwork -- in both the classroom and across  administrative teams -- is the only way to hear that necessary engagement come to life in the classroom.

What does coaching foundational skills feel like?

It feels like empowerment. You want to empower teachers so they can translate that confidence and excitement into everything they do.

Empowered teachers can speak to the research on teaching foundational skills and can ask questions, in collaboration with their colleagues, about how best to support their students. They also know how, in any moment, to respond to a given childkid's learning needs.

It also feels reflective, every single day, all day long. Are we constantly asking ourselves how we can change our instructional practices to lead to more positive student outcomes and learning?

Consider how powerful it is to have both the confidence to be able to be collaboratively reflective, doing so against a backdrop of possessing the necessary knowledge that’s grounded in research-based, high-quality instructional materials. There's really nothing like it.

How can we support teachers?

Now that we know what successful coaching looks like, sounds like, and feels like, what are some tangible steps we can take to support our teachers through this lens?

We first need to understand the research ourselves. We can’t appropriately support our teachers and answer their questions if we don’t possess this information. For example, if teachers are discussing data from their classrooms, and notice deficits in phonological awareness, we must know how to support them in what they need.

It's also imperative to have an appreciation for the process and prioritize professional learning time that focuses on student outcomes and fulfills teacher needs. Teachers put students first. Our job is to put teachers first!

Finally, protect teacher prep time. Our mantra should be “We don't find the time -- we make the time.”

As leaders and coaches, we cannot expect change if we aren’t willing to do the hard work too. And we cannot do the hard work without rolling up our sleeves and collaborating side by side with our teachers and fellow administrators.

Always remember:  We are all on the same team, working toward the same goal-: for our students to be reading, writing, listening, and speaking proficiently by the third grade. Only if we work together will we get there.