Using Micro-Innovation to Support Teacher and Student Learning

Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) professional developers are highly trained on the most effective literacy instruction practices, but they also constantly innovate ways to meet the needs of and build rapport with the teachers they coach.

This can be as simple as a CLI professional developer (PD) offering to do a pre-conference meeting over a cup of coffee– to help a somewhat stressed-out teacher to relax so she can plan quality guided reading lessons. “It seems that every year, teachers in urban districts are overwhelmed by new programs, new curriculum, new positions and new co-workers,” said PD Christina Saxton from CLI’s South region. The stress-buster coffee meetings worked, she reported; the teacher soon realized the new district requirements were very similar to the best practices she had been doing with CLI.

Other CLI PDs create documents to help teachers remember and implement the lessons discussed during their coaching sessions. PD Sharon Weldon, working in CLI’s North region in northern New Jersey, reports she and her colleagues use a post-conference template which “guides us through a thorough discussion of the coaching session as well as sets up action steps, or traction until the next coaching session.” The template has PDs reflect on the teacher’s successes. “I have found this reflection piece has led to effective post discussions,” Weldon said.

PD Sara Binnington, also in CLI’s North Region, ends her post-conference filling out a blank calendar page with her teacher. “Together, the teacher and I determine what mini-lessons need to be taught to reach our theme or unit goal.”

“For example, if we were working on Writing Workshop, we would plug in ‘Publishing Party’ on the last day of the calendar,” said Binnington. “We’d then enter mini-lesson titles in the days leading up to the celebration and code our mini-lesson titles with lessons that would be taught in-between coaching visits, lessons that would be taught during visits and identify who would lead these lessons.”

The calendar becomes a ‘visual map’ to help teachers plan their way through an objective and keep working toward that goal independently. Explained Binnington: “During the pre-conference at our next coaching visit, we would begin by looking at the calendar to see what has been taught and if we needed to make any changes to our plan.”

CLI PDs also seek to be very respectful of teachers’ time. For example, Megan O’Donnell, a PD in CLI’s Chicago hub, says that for pre-and post-conferences during coaching visits, “as a general rule of thumb, I only take one part of the teacher’s free time per day, and that may be before school or during a prep period. I almost always post-conference while the children are in the room. The teacher and I will discuss ahead of time an activity that the children can do while we post.”

Many CLI PDs have found that the best way to build a teacher’s trust in a best practice is to let the children lead the way. This can be especially true in Writers Workshops, says CLI PD Gina Molinari-Schiano, “When students are given the opportunity to choose their own topics to research and learn more about, the excitement in a classroom is often, hard to contain,” she said. “The children, even the most reluctant writers, very quickly begin to get excited about the publishing work ahead.”

Young student writing starts “messy,” but Molinari-Schiano helps her teachers plan their unit of study and also gives the students information about what’s next, explaining to the class: “As we think about our writing today, we can see what we want to work on tomorrow, and the days to follow. We are setting the stage for the shape our writing is taking….right before our eyes!”

“There’s success in a Writer’s Workshop that’s tangible,” Molinari-Schiano explains. “The teachers early on begin to see the pride and confidence that the children begin to feel in the workshop.”

CLI professional developers’ ability to establish relationships of rapport and mutual trust with the teachers they coach is a key ingredient to CLI’s impact on teachers’ literacy instruction and students’ literacy learning.

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