The University of Iowa

What is a Literacy Coach, and Why and How Should I Utilize One?

You are not alone heart

When it comes to literacy instruction, you are not alone! A literacy coach can help with materials, feedback, professional development, and more.


Posted on: August 23, 2016

I am often asked by friends and family, “What are you teaching these days?” This is always hard to explain. I think all of us in educational careers can attest that others outside of the field will never fully understand all that we do. As a literacy coach, I cannot give the answer of teaching a grade level or content area that would give people a general understanding of my duties. I have realized that it is not uncommon for teachers with a literacy coach in their building to also be unsure of that person’s duties. With the Teacher Leadership and Compensation System now in place in districts across the state, I am hoping this confusion is becoming less common.

Depending on the school or district, literacy coaches will and should have different duties. Mine have altered every year for the six years that I have had the position. The duties change as the needs of the school or district change. The constant is that I am to ensure my teacher colleagues are equipped with all the literacy tools and strategies they will need to be successful to help students improve. Sounds like a lofty goal, but really… what else matters to successful coaching?

For Teachers: Why and How

I remember when I started my career in education. I was shown my room and told, “Everything you should need is in the cabinets.” I just hoped no one observed me for a few months while I figured things out. Even as an experienced educator entering a new building, I was not quite sure of who to ask or where to go for answers. Thankfully, literacy coaches can provide this support. Literacy coaches are not positions created by the principal or district to check up on teachers. Rather, literacy coaches can make your job easier and increase your teaching power. New or tenured, you need your literacy coach.

Why do you need a literacy coach?

Here are some of the reasons you might call upon your literacy coach:

  • Materials: If your literacy coach doesn’t know where it is, it must not exist! They can help you find what you need or put you on the right track so that you can focus on teaching students.
  • Data: Are you seeing a trend in students’ scores or worried about an underreported reading issue? Your literacy coach can analyze this with you, help you understand the results, and get you on the right instructional path. They can also help you place students in Iowa’s Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) in order to intervene as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  • Screening: Literacy coaches often monitor, proctor, or assess students. When it comes to universal screening or diagnostic testing, your literacy coach should know the assessments and benchmarks.
  • Research or evidence: Is it cute, or does it count? Teachers these days must focus on what works. Your literacy coach should be able to help you find the latest and greatest techniques that are backed by research and evidence (not Pinterest) to help your students meet and master standards.
  • Roadblock: Sometimes great techniques don’t work for certain groups of students. Your literacy coach can get you out of that rut by sharing things they have seen, help you network with others, or arrange a time for you to see great teaching in action just down the hall. Don’t just Google it. Most likely your literacy coach can send it your way and save you precious time. We all need more of that!

How can a literacy coach help you?

If you're not already convinced, here is a look at some of the more structured duties that a literacy coach could perform:

  • Observation: This is most effective when the technique has been tried several times but is just not going right. Remember, literacy coaches are not evaluators. They observe to see how you can best implement building and/or district efforts in your teaching. Talking with your literacy coach beforehand will set the stage and prepare them to observe what you are striving to improve.
  • Feedback: As an outside eye, your literacy coach may see things that you do not. This is not a bad thing! With a preconference, they will know what your goals are and how to assist you grow as a professional. Always be prepared for next steps. Teachers are lifelong learners.
  • Modeling: Not quite sure how a strategy should be taught or how a skill or standard is most likely acquired by students? Ask your literacy coach to teach to a group of students while you watch for important components. This is a chance for you to see that specific task in action from the outside.
  • Reflection: This is one of the most powerful parts of the teacher/coach partnership. You often learn from yourself, and your literacy coach can facilitate this. Change is necessary for us to grow.
  • Professional development: Teachers don’t have enough time to prepare and plan—let alone read about all of the latest educational fads. Literacy coaches should know the focus of the district or school. They can provide you with the resources you need for professional growth that will benefit you and keep you on track.

As you might have noticed, all of this cannot take place without relationships. Don’t hesitate to be real with your literacy coach. As instructors, we all need someone to lean on from time to time. Your literacy coach is on your side! As they say, “The more, the merrier,” and the best part is, we all get to work together to increase reading achievement for students.