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Building Capacity with a Literacy Coaching Endorsement

Starting a new program at a large comprehensive institution of higher education can be a daunting but rewarding task. This program took place in the College of Education at an institution with more than 17,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university is located about 25 miles west of Philadelphia and has a dedicated Literacy Department. The Literacy Department created a coaching endorsement program focused on literacy and based on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s guidelines for a coaching endorsement.

Building capacity

One of the most important things to consider when creating a new program is building capacity. Since the Literacy Department already had a reading specialist certification and a highly successful MEd in literacy, this is where the work began.

As a first step, the department researched which other colleges/universities in the area had a coaching endorsement program for licensed educators. This research led to the conclusion that while two local universities had an instructional coaching endorsement, none had one focused on literacy, so a niche could be established in that area. During the spring semester of 2015, the department assembled contact information for the past 10 years of graduates of the MEd program.

Next, a survey was developed to assess interest on a possible coaching program, asking about when it should be offered (traditional format, Saturdays, summer, etc.), and how it should be delivered (completely online, blended format, traditional face-to-face). After collecting and analyzing the results, a cohort program comprised of four courses was developed. The survey participants indicated interest in a traditional format with some online options for flexibility, since most of the students would be working full time as educators while earning this endorsement. They wanted to be able to complete the program in a relatively short amount of time and preferred practical application of the content.

As a result of this survey, an endorsement program comprised of four three-credit courses taken over a 16-month period was created. Licensed reading specialists in the state of Pennsylvania were eligible to enroll in this post-graduate endorsement program. The program included a course on the theories of literacy coaching, a course on the analysis of data to inform coaching, a leadership/change theory course, and a hands-on practicum course.

Program development

Once the format was established and reviewed with administration, we had to determine the content. After a review of current research on literacy coaching, syllabi for each of the four courses were created by one full-time faculty member and one adjunct faculty member in the Department of Literacy and one full-time faculty member in the Department of Education. A lead professor from the Department of Literacy coordinated efforts to match the content of each course to the guidelines for instructional coaching set forth by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). This process took place concurrently with the student survey in the spring semester of 2015. Once syllabi were completed, the lead professor completed a packet that included a matrix of content, faculty vitae, and the required application for PDE. This packet was submitted to the associate dean of the college of education, who shepherded the proposal through the PDE requirements. Endorsement approval was received from PDE by the end of spring semester 2015 and the program was slated to start in spring semester 2016.

Organization and recruiting

In order to launch the program, the lead professor collaborated with the Literacy Department chairperson and graduate coordinator during fall semester of 2015 to add these courses to Literacy Department course offerings. This process included developing catalog language, recruiting materials, application procedures, and an advising document. Because this program was so new, the dean of the College of Education relaxed class enrollment requirements until the program was firmly established.

Recruiting efforts began with collaboration between the lead professor, the graduate coordinator, and the College of Education graduate recruiter. The lead professor and college recruiter worked over the fall semester to collect emails of principals and certified reading specialists in the five-county area surrounding the university and sent email blasts with recruitment flyers. The College of Education and Literacy Department websites were updated with a new page for post-graduate students highlighting the literacy coaching endorsement program and the program was advertised at the university’s graduate open house. Throughout the fall semester, email requests for more information were managed by the lead professor and application materials were reviewed by the lead professor and graduate coordinator on a rolling basis. In the Literacy Department, constant communication about enrollment was necessary between the lead professor, graduate coordinator, and chairperson to determine if the first course in the program would take place in spring of 2016 and it was confirmed before the semester began with 10 enrolled students.

Initial cohort

The first course in the 16-month literacy coaching endorsement is titled Literacy Coaching and Professional Development and was first offered in the spring semester of 2016. In this course, the 10 literacy coaching candidates in the first cohort examined the roles of literacy coaches, approaches to coaching, and their underlying conceptual frameworks. Topics included conducting coaching cycles, collaborating and providing support to teachers, analyzing and designing literacy programs, and designing and implementing needs-based professional development.

The next course, Literacy Program Evaluation and Data Analysis, was offered online over a five-week summer session in 2016. This course taught the literacy coaching candidates how large-scale reading assessment data could be used by school personnel to make instructional and administrative decisions. This course focused on the collection, analysis, interpretation, and communication of assessments administered at the school, state, national, and international levels.

In fall 2016 of the next academic year, literacy coaching candidates took the third course in the program, Educational Leadership and Change Theory. In this course, literacy coaching candidates studied the school change literature that speaks to the importance of schools as communities of learners while learning to work collaboratively with school leadership and colleagues to promote common goals and vision in the school. Topics included: use of educational technology and its integration into instructional practice, establishing directions for school improvement and reform, promoting shared leadership in the school, and communication with internal (administrators, etc.) and external (parents, foundations, etc.) audiences about school change efforts.

The last course, titled Literacy Coaching Practicum and Seminar, was taken by the students in the first cohort during spring 2017. This capstone practicum taught literacy coaching candidates how to conduct model lessons, collect data on teachers’ professional development and students’ instructional needs, and apply the coaching cycle to promote continuous improvement of literacy instruction in a supervised practicum setting. This course was coordinated with the Literacy Department’s MEd course for reading specialist candidates titled Literacy Practicum and Seminar II, which is a practicum course in assessment and instruction of independent readers/writers. Using formal and informal measures, the reading specialist candidates completed a case study of an independent reader/writer, analyzed strengths and areas of need, and designed an individualized plan for literacy growth. Using this plan, reading specialist candidates tutored children and evaluated the results. As a result of the collaboration between the Literacy Coaching Practicum and Seminar, reading specialist candidates were coached throughout the semester by coaching candidates.

Second and third cohorts

Recruitment efforts for the second and third cohorts continued throughout the year but became more focused during fall leading up to the start of the next cohort. The lead professor, the graduate coordinator, and the College of Education graduate recruiter again emailed principals and reading specialists in the five-county area surrounding the university. Email correspondence continued to be monitored by the lead professor and application materials were again reviewed on a rolling basis.

The second cohort of the Literacy Coaching Endorsement program took place from spring 2017 to spring 2018 and had seven students enrolled. Based on feedback from the first cohort, one major change to the courses was made. The second (completely online) course focused on data was offered during summer 2017 rather than winter session. Participants in the first cohort reported that the five weeks in between fall semester and spring semester were very difficult because many had personal commitments during the holiday season. The participants in the second cohort appreciated this change because the summer class took place during the last two weeks of their school year and overlapped into the first three weeks of their summer vacation.

The third cohort of the Literacy Coaching Endorsement program took place from spring 2018 to spring 2019 and had 14 students enrolled. As of summer 2018, they had completed the first two courses in the program and are scheduled for the third course, Educational Leadership and Change Theory, in fall 2018. It should be noted that this is the largest cohort so far and this information will impact recruiting efforts for the fourth cohort to begin in spring 2019.

Lessons learned

Tina Selvaggi, EdD, is associate professor, Literacy Department and Coordinator of Field Experiences, Early & Middle Grades Education, at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.