The Literacy Coach's Handbook: A Guide to Research-Based
Sharon Walpole and Michael C. McKenna
Published in 2004 by Guilford Press
have worked as a consultant helping struggling schools for the better
part of a decade, and there are three lessons that I have
learned over and over again in every school and district where I have
worked. First and foremost, I have learned that improving reading
achievement for all students in a struggling school is a long, arduous
process. There are no quick fixes and there are no easy answers
-- the whole system has to work together for sustainable improvement in
reading instruction, and it
takes several years for changes to really take hold. When schools
me up and ask me to give a talk for a day, the answer is almost always
emphatic "NO." I prefer not to work in a school that is not clearly
working on a long-term improvement process.
I have learned that struggling schools almost always need an external
person to come in and offer guidance, at least in the beginning.
If struggling schools could have improved on their own, they would have
done it a long time ago. People who work in struggling schools
want their schools to improve -- they just don't know how, and
sometimes a skilled, knowledgeable
person who is external to the system must step in and help to move them
a common direction.
Finally, I have learned that if struggling schools are to
truly improve, they MUST, I repeat, MUST have a person on their staff who
is a reading "expert" who is empowered to sustain improvement efforts over
time. The single best thing that I can do as an "external" person is
help a struggling school to identify and support a reading expert -- a reading
instructional leader -- a "literacy coach" for the other teachers.
Then, I can train and mentor that literacy coach and gradually work myself
out of a job by shifting more and more leadership responsibility onto the
Low-performing schools that evolve into high-performing
schools always have a person on their staff who is filling the role of that
"literacy coach." That person provides job-embedded professional development
to the other teachers, offers support in reading instruction, facilitates
planning and learning meetings, observes and models instruction, organizes
and shares reading assessment data, helps teachers set and reach learning
goals for students, etc. That coach is essential for true, sustainable
Sadly, there are thousands of literacy coaches out there
in low-performing schools who really are not very effective. There
are some awesome coaches who are really making a lot of progress with their
schools, but there are a lot of other coaches who are not so effective.
In my work, I am finding that the ineffective literacy coaches have never
really understood the role they are supposed to play, and they have never
really been supported by their school administration.
This book by Walpole and McKenna is a wonderful resource
for schools where literacy coaches are being used to help improve reading
achievement for all students. The Literacy Coach's Handbook offers
some very concrete guidelines for both the coach and for the school administration
that is supporting the coach. This book is very useful for literacy
coaches who are struggling to identify their roles and responsibilities --
it is also very useful for school administrators who want to use the literacy
coaches most effectively to improve their schools.
No Quick Fix: Rethinking Literacy Programs in America's
Edited by Richard L. Allington and Sean A. Walmsley
Published in 1995 by Teachers College Press
Most low-performing schools in this country are low-performing
because of the literacy achievement of their students. To get off
of the "low-performing list" a school need only raise literacy scores --
other scores will follow.
The importance of reading and language arts in the high-stakes
world of school improvement has led many schools to clamber and clutch desperately
for any quick-fix solution that they believe will quickly raise literacy
scores. Unfortunately, these quick-fix solutions very quickly become
part of the problem. School systems that I work in are often clogged
with a motley collection of reading programs -- some of them are being used
by a few teachers, some are being "modified" by others, some are simply sitting
in boxes. Money is thrown at the problem every year, and teachers eventually
become jaded because whatever program is being touted as the cure-all this
year is sure to be replaced next year.
The way some schools look for the magic, quick-fix solution
that will finally improve reading scores is a lot like the way some people
look for the miracle drug that will help them lose weight. There is
no quick-fix. There is no magic pill. And some of those "cures"
can kill you.
There is only one solution -- a long-term, focused, well-planned
improvement effort. You start with framework for improvement -- a
general plan and set of guidelines. You examine your resources and
curriculum in light of this framework, and cut anything that doesn't fit.
You invest heavily in professional development (again, focused on the goals
outlined in the framework), and you put your energy into teaching children
to read well in the first place, reducing the need for remediation programs
for older struggling readers.
It sounds simple. It's a wonder more schools aren't
No Quick Fix is a wonderful collection of research on school
improvement peppered with stories and case-studies of schools. Chapter
1 provides a simple framework for improvement -- six principles that, if followed
-- will result in high achievement for all students. Subsequent chapters
provide information that is useful for following those principles.
I started working on school-improvement efforts shortly
after this book was published, and it was enormously helpful for me to read
and re-read this book as I worked to help low-performing schools improve.
I have shared many of the chapters in this book with colleagues in my field,
and often those people have commented that what they read made them think
differently about beliefs about school improvement they had never really
putting these two books together because they really do complement each
other seamlessly -- reading one without the other provides a very
incomplete picture about school systems and classroom systems.
Allington and Cunningham both understand reading and have made enormous
contributions to reading research. But more importantly, they
both understand the environments and systems where reading instruction
and learning takes place. They have spent their careers studying
high-functioning and low-functioning schools and classrooms. They
know that good instruction requires a healthy school system that
cultivates and supports knowledgeable, highly-skilled
Highly effective teachers are rarely found in sick, dysfunctional
school systems. Improving instruction begins with improving the school
system. Allington and Cunningham imply that starts with the campus
principal, but I know in my work that actually starts with the district superintendent
and the school board. Cultivating healthy schools where healthy teachers
teach all children to be proficient readers starts at the top. Every
school administrator and school-board member should read these two books,
and then take deliberate steps to improve their schools.