Monthly Archives: March 2012

Academic Coaching: Making it Work!

By  Jan Hasbrouck, Ph.D.

Are you working as a coach? Are you a classroom teacher who receives coaching? If so, you are part of a growing trend! Many schools today have coaches who work with their teacher colleagues to help improve the academic and behavioral outcomes of students. Academic or instructional coaches work in the areas of reading and math, as well as science, social studies, history, etc.

Coaching is becoming widespread, even in these challenging economic times. This may be due to the fact that teachers are being asked to significantly raise the bar on student achievement with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), or to help schools meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), or simply because educators are deeply committed to helping every student be as successful and ready as possible for college or a rewarding career. Regardless of the reason for the growing popularity of coaching, teachers need support to achieve these ambitious goals, and coaching is acknowledged as a process that can bring effective professional development into the classroom with individualized and sustained support (Hasbrouck & Denton, 2005; 2010).

However, coaching is not always successful. Some teachers resent having someone in their classroom “telling them what to do.” They might be concerned that a coach could be serving as “a spy for the principal.” Coaches have expressed concerns and even discomfort about their role: should they be acting as supervisors and evaluators of their colleagues? Is it their job to “fix” teachers who are struggling?  In my work with coaches over the past several decades, I have found a key to making coaching work is to carefully define the role and the tasks that a coach should undertake (and—those they should not!).

Role definition for coaches begins with getting clarity about what kind of coaching is going to be implemented. There are many models for coaches to follow, such as Cognitive Coaching™ (Costa & Garmston, 1997), peer coaching (Showers & Joyce, 1996), and instructional coaching (Knight, 2007). Some coaches may approach their work using models that originated in school psychology (consultation) (Kampworth, 2003) and special education (collaboration) (Cook & Friend, 2003).  Although they may use different strategies, the purpose of all these models is to provide effective professional development and support to teachers with the ultimate goal of improved outcomes for students.

To create the coaching model that I developed with Dr. Carolyn Denton—called Student-Focused Coaching or SFC—we drew on the research on coaching, collaboration, and consultation, as well as on our own practical experiences in the field.  SFC is an eclectic, responsive model in which coaches work to provide services by taking on three key roles: (a) Facilitator, (b) Collaborative Planner, and (c) Teacher/Learner.

The coach as facilitator literally helps “facilitate” or support the work of skillful and successful teachers. And as we all know, there are a lot of them out there! When coaching is viewed simply as a process to “fix teachers” what would a teacher likely start to think when the coach walks into her classroom? “Uh, oh…what have I been doing wrong?” and perhaps resentful that “the coach thinks she knows more than I do.” Coaches who help and support teachers are both valued and valuable!

SFC coaches also learn a process called “collaborative planning” where they work shoulder-to-shoulder with a peer colleague to help them devise a successful strategy to help a student (or group of students) with academic and/or behavior concerns. Coaches in this role are truly partners with teachers, sharing a focus on student success.

All teachers need to have the most up-to-date and effective strategies available to them. They need both the knowledge of these tools and the support to learn how to implement them effectively in their classrooms. A coach, serving in the role of Teacher/Learner can design and provide trainings to their fellow teachers (as the “teacher”) and provide follow-up support in the classroom, but should remain open to acquiring new information and widening their own set of effective teaching tactics by continuously looking for ways to be a “learner.”

What are some of the things that a SFC coach should not do in their role? The primary restriction is that no SFC coach should ever be involved in the evaluation of their peers—in any way, shape or form. Coaching must be kept completely separate from supervision and formal evaluation in order for it to be fully effective. Making this separation clear to all parties (the coaches, the teachers receiving coaching, and the principals) is an essential but too often neglected step in defining the role of coaches in the classroom.

Coaching is very challenging, and, when someone is asked to take on this role, it is essential that they have clarity about what the role entails. Teachers who receive coaching also deserve to know what the role of the coach is and what their own role is when they work with a coach.

When we keep our focus on the success of every student, we can achieve great things.


Cook, L. H., & Friend, M. (2003). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Costa, A., & Garmston, R. (1997). Cognitive Coaching: A Foundation for Renaissance Schools, 3rd Ed. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

Hasbrouck, J., & Denton, C. (2005). The Reading Coach: A How-to Manual for Success.  Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Hasbrouck, J, & Denton, C. (2010). The Reading Coach 2: More Tools and Strategies for Student-Focused Coaches.  Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Kampworth, T.J. (2003). Collaborative consultation in the schools: effective practices for students with learning and behavior problems. Upper Saddle River. N.J. Merrill.

Knight, J. (2007). Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin Press

Showers, B., & Joyce, B. (March, 1996). The Evolution of Peer Coaching.  Educational Leadership, 53 (6), p. 12-16.

About Jan Hasbrouck

Books by Jan Hasbrouck: The Reading Coach

Categories: Professional Developement, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

First Rule of Reading: Keep Your Eyes on the Words

By Linda Farrell

I’ve worked with hundreds of struggling readers ages 5 to 81. Almost all students I meet who have decoding weaknesses share a common behavior. Can you guess what it is? They look up from the page before they finish reading a word or sentence.

Many just glance at the word and guess what it is as they look at me for approval. Others may look at the word more carefully, yet they still look at me for approval after they say what they think the word is. A few look at the word before staring at the ceiling or somewhere in space while they try to figure out what the word is. Every elementary school teacher and every reading interventionist I meet recognizes these behaviors and can associate them with specific students.

Teachers often ask how to help their struggling readers. My first response is, “Make sure all students keep their eyes on the words the entire time they read.” I also suggest that teachers avoid saying things like “good job” or “nice work” when the student looks up for approval. The only time a student should look up from the page when reading is to say, “I need help with that word.” In that case, the teacher either helps the student sound out the word or gives the word if it is too difficult for the student to decode.

Many teachers tell us they need to give students, especially struggling readers, positive feedback for the student’s self-esteem and confidence. At first blush that seems reasonable because beginning and struggling readers want to know if they read correctly, and teachers want students to feel good about reading. In reality, teachers are training students to rely on them for affirmation rather than helping students develop confidence in their emerging skills. Instead of saying “good job” or “nice work” when a student looks up, the teacher can reinforce the importance of looking at the words by saying, “Remember to keep your eyes on the words when you read. I’ll let you know when I need to help you.”

Recently I was in a school to work with students, and the reading coach was with me all day. I started with four students in a low second-grade reading group who were working on phonics at the silent “e” level. These students had scored between 28 and 42 words-correct-per-minute on mid-year DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency (benchmark is 68). Their accuracy ranged from 76 to 91 percent. They were reading decodable text focusing on words with silent “e.” All four students had the habit of looking up for approval at the end of each sentence. And, not surprisingly, all four often misread the final words in the sentence. I had them practice keeping their eyes on the words for all four or five sentences that were on the page. Their habit of looking up was not easy to change. By the end of 25 minutes, albeit with conscious effort on the students’ part, all four were keeping their heads down and their eyes on the words while they read. Just this small change in behavior noticeably increased their accuracy.

The reading coach and I spent the afternoon working one-on-one with four third-grade and fourth-grade students who had the lowest reading scores in their grade. They were all receiving decoding intervention. We assessed the students’ decoding skills by having them read words in isolation. None of the students did more than glance at words and look up before saying the word, and none read more than 18 of 30 decodable and high-frequency words accurately. It was apparent that these students weren’t looking at the words long enough to apply any decoding strategies. We worked with each student for about 20 minutes, reviewing the short vowel sounds and encouraging them to keep their eyes on the words. After this short time, they were all able to read with greater accuracy and more confidence. None had fully overcome their habit of taking their eyes off the words before finishing reading, but all were catching themselves every time they did look up.

Early in the day, the reading coach remarked that she was surprised at my “fixation” on teaching students to look at the words until they finished reading. At the end of the day, she told me she fully understood why I was such a zealot about insisting students keep their eyes on the page. Yes, I am fixated on having students look at the words when they read because we can only read when we look at the words.

I implore all kindergarten, first-grade, and second-grade teachers—as well as reading interventionists—to teach students to keep their eyes on the words so that they do not have to later struggle with breaking a habit that hampers effective, efficient reading. After all, the first step good readers take is to look at the words they are reading. In my experience, many struggling readers have difficulties partly because they never mastered this first step.

Linda Farrell is a founding partner of Readsters, an Alexandria, VA-based firm that helps schools implement research-based reading instruction. She is committed to helping struggling readers become strong readers and to helping strong readers achieve their full potential. Linda is a former English teacher and has coauthored several publications and videos on effective reading assessment and instruction, including Teaching Reading Essentials (2006), DIBELS: A Practical Manual (2006), and Colleague in the Classroom (2003). She can be reached at

About Linda Farrell

Books by Lindar Farrell: Teaching Reading EssentialsDIBELS: The Practical ManualColleague in the Classroom

Categories: Assessment, Literacy | 10 Comments

Ideas to Help the Bright ADHD Child Succeed Socially

By Steven A. Richfield, Psy.D.

Bright children with ADHD may succeed in the academic world but have trouble socially. Knowing the right answers, even when attention drifts in and out of focus, is not as challenging as figuring out how to appropriately direct their behavior in the presence of others.

As ADHD compels children to seek social stimulation—be it from peers, siblings, or adults—they may appear needy and annoying, and embarrass themselves and family members in the process. Doors of social opportunity close, and friendships erode; emotional pain and social exclusion result. Parents and teachers watch helplessly as the book-smart ADHD child unwittingly sabotages his or her social standing.

If this circumstance resonates with the dramas and dilemmas facing a child you know, read on for coaching tips.

Build a dialogue that blends sensitivity to their circumstances and confidence that they can improve their people skills. Observe how aware these children are of the disapproving signals sent from others when their social approach oversteps boundaries. List the ways they may overstep: talking too much, voice volume too loud, interrupting conversations, imposing self-serving topics, ignoring obvious cues to show interest in and listen to others, physical restlessness and verbal impatience with delays, etc. Reassure them that these social errors can be corrected, just as they can correct problems on assignments and tests in school.

Most ADHD children know their diagnosis but do not comprehend the social struggles related to their condition. Educating a child about this issue does not offer an excuse to escape from responsibility. In contrast, it reinforces the vital importance of learning social intelligence to ensure that ADHD does not inhibit their climb to happiness and success in life. Explain how the task of managing feeling states (frustration, eagerness, happiness, impatience, boredom, excitement, etc.) affects all kids and teens, but that ADHD makes it harder due to the trouble with impulse control. Liken impulsivity to fuel that pushes feelings into verbal and physical behaviors.

Emphasize that the first step to being more “socially smart” is building a pause button in their thinking when they feel the early signs of impulsivity starting to push them into behaviors. Help them identify these physical precursors to impulse discharge, such as finger tapping, hand drumming, fidgetiness, bodily warmth, chest heaviness, queasiness, or some other warning sign. Gently tell them what you have noticed about their impulsivity issues and offer observations from other teachers, coaches, instructors, or caretakers.

Develop a simple and practical plan for them to have at their disposal when social events threaten to trigger the costs of impulsivity. Delineate the various social groupings they come across, such as peer group, peer one-on-one, adult one-on-one, adult with peer group, family, extended family, etc.  List the behaviors that others expect from them based on the implicit rules of these groupings (i.e., greater or lesser talking, elaborate answers, listening with interest, relevant questioning, etc.). Review their success after encounters and brainstorm ways to further improve.

Steven Richfield, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA. He has developed a child-friendly self-control/social skills-building program called The Parent Coach. He can be reached at

About Steven Richfield

Products by Steven Richfield: The Parent Coach

Categories: Family, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

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