I want to preface this review by saying that my primary role is NOT as a literacy coach at my school. I mainly work with small groups of students in a pull out setting, so my interaction with other teachers is generally collaborative.
This year, however, my job changed slightly because we implemented Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study in Writing in our K-5 classrooms. Teachers were feeling overwhelmed both because of the amount of reading and preparation that seemed to go into each UOSW lesson as well as the implementation of new math curriculum - our teachers are working hard this year). Our principal was interested in finding a way to use my background with writing as a way to ensure the success of this first year with the curriculum. I was happy to oblige and have loved my new role in the classroom, even if I’m not always sure what exactly it is!
I thought a coaching book might help me to understand how to interact with teachers in this new way, realizing that not all of its components would apply to my day-to-day work.
QUESTIONS: Diane Sweeney clearly has a lot of experience with coaching and compiles list upon list of questions you should be thinking about when it comes to approaching teachers, identifying issues, taking next steps, setting a focus, etc. I found myself thinking about specific situations I have dealt with and asking myself these questions and re-thinking conversations or getting ideas for upcoming meetings. It felt practical and immediately useful for my work.
CHARTS: There were rubrics, protocols, visuals, and schedules, which all helped to make her approach clear and organized. I know I could go back and use those as references for my work.
ORGANIZATION: Each chapter ended with a “Meanwhile… in the Principal’s Office” section that went over how your behind the scenes work with your principal would work. Sweeney makes it very clear from the beginning (even in the title) that this is a joint effort between the coach and the principal and the principal has a responsibility in supporting the coach and teachers in the efforts.
IDEAS: I got a lot of ideas for a future study group for new teachers that I proposed to my principal. He seemed excited about the idea and I would be able to use a lot of this work in that group if it came to fruition.
WHAT I WISH WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER:
REPETITION: Some parts felt a little repetitive. I understand that she was trying to be very specific about different instances and protocols, but for my own taste, it felt like a lot. I would be reading and think Haven’t I already seen something just like this before? That’s not the end of the world and, in fact, might be helpful for someone who is taking on a more full-time coaching role. For me, it was too much.
NO IF/THEN: I’m a sucker for an If/Then section. I love how Lucy does it because I feel like I can used those books with a specific issue in mind and get a quick guide on how to address it. That’s just not the format of this book. I get it. I was looking for something else when I got this book. I’m still pleased with the information I pulled from it, but because I had a different need it colored my overall impression.
I would say examine your role and how active your administration is planning to be first. This book is for a curriculum teacher coach who has influence. It’s for a school where the principal is an active participant (like very active - weekly meetings active) in the process and implementation of the program. It’s for coaches and principals to read together as a guide for initially how they will work together to set up the program and what the expectations will be once it is set up. I think it’s a great book for that, but I think that’s a very specific group.
As a person in a role that’s nothing like what I just described, I was still able to pull some good tips and outlooks out of the text. I didn’t feel slighted, but I did feel like I was missing out because I won’t be using most of the work in the book.
Diane Sweeney was clearly the right person to write this book. She’s a knowledgeable guide and has a lot of experience from which to pull when she’s giving examples for different topics. I hope to have a job like this in the future, so I will definitely be returning to her book someday!