An Interview with Cheryl Dozier: About Responsive Literacy Coaching

Michael Shaughnessy Senior Columnist
Eastern New Mexico University

Cheryl Dozier is the author of " Responsive Literacy Coaching : Tools for Creating and Sustaining Purposeful Change" published by Stenhouse Publishers out of Portland, Maine. The book also has a forward by Peter H. Johnston, many appendices and references and resources. IT also contains guided reading observation forms for learners and teachers, websites and some children's literature resources. 

Cheryl is an assistant professor in the Department of Reading at the University of Albany. She has experience teaching kindergarten, and second and third grade in urban schools. She received the Reading Educator of the Year Award in 1996 from the New York State Reading Association and has also written Critical Literacy/Critical Teaching published by Teachers College Press which was co-authored by Peter Johnston and Rebecca Rogers. In this interview, Cheryl discusses the book, and the concept of " responsive literacy coaching".

1) First of all, how do you define "responsive literacy coaching"?

Responsive literacy coaches focus first on the strengths of the learner and then use these strengths as anchors to extend and reconsider literacy and literacy instruction. Responsive literacy coaches respond to the needs, interests, and developing understandings of the teachers they are supporting. As coaches engage with teachers and build from teachers' strengths, teachers, in turn, then focus on students' strengths. Responsive coaching leads to responsive teaching.

2) What do you mean by sharing our literacy lives?

When teachers engage in a dialogue and share their literate lives, together they examine how their literacy histories inform and influence their teaching. By investigating our literacy experiences—both positive and negative-- we consider and analyze how these varying experiences shape both our teaching and our expectations for learners. Through these conversations, we explore and examine teaching and learning from the lens of learners and come to recognize the diversity of learners and needs. These conversations then lead us to consider literacy practices in our classrooms and ways we support (or don't) student engagement.

3) Joint productive activities are referred to quite often in your book. What do you mean by this?

Joint productive activities are shared experiences or events between coaches and teachers to collaboratively generate new learning. These can include teaching side by side, analyzing student work together, sitting side by side to administer and analyze Running Records. Through joint productive activities, coaches and teachers work side by side and learn together, inquire together, co-construct knowledge, and share their understandings of literacy and literacy development.

4) Why should teachers and parents "examine their language?"

We use language to make sense of our selves and our world. Our language choices can empower or disenfranchise learners. Does our language invite teachers to participate?
We also want to support students' strategic learning by noticing and naming their literate behaviors and competencies. In this way, our careful and deliberate language choices will extend students' strategic knowing. When we engage in sustained dialogue about our language choices, we can make more purposeful instructional practices.

5) What are self-extending systems?

Self-extending systems generate and sustain learning as teachers engage in problem solving to make ongoing strategic and powerful teaching decisions. Through collaborative inquiry and conversations, coaches and teachers build sustaining learning communities to envision new possibilities and new instructional practices. Teachers then transfer these understandings from their coaching exchanges to new contexts. When teachers' self-extending systems are in place, the learning is generative as they discover, question, wonder, challenge, and engage in continuous deliberation. As coaches, we want to assist teachers to develop self-extending systems just as we ask teachers to foster self-extending systems for children as learners.

6) What are some of the most frequently asked questions that you encounter about coaching?

Some of the questions I am routinely asked include how to build relationships with teachers and how to gain teachers' trust. Coaches often ask how to get invited into teachers' classrooms and how to schedule time efficiently and effectively to work with teachers. Many coaches want to know how to avoid evaluating teachers and want suggestions for working with administrators who may have a different view of a coach's role.

7) I love the first line of your forward. "These are trying times for teachers". How will your book help some of these exasperated teachers, and what do you see as some of the things that have contributed to these "trying times"?

In many schools, teachers are being asked to engage in instruction that is prescriptive. Teaching is complex and cannot be simply reduced to scripts. I've heard from readers that the book has sparked renewed interest in and support of their professionalism. I think the book offers a range of ways for coaches and teachers to engage thoughtfully and deliberately to develop a repertoire of instructional practices to meet the needs of learners in classrooms. Each learner is unique. Each teacher is unique. As coaches and teachers we want to start first from each learner's strengths. The book offers multiple ways to do this.

8) What do you hope readers will walk away with after reading the book?

First, I hope readers engage with this book as a conversation. Responsive literacy coaching is about learning together and creating learning communities – collaborating with colleagues, reflecting on our teaching, and creating spaces for continued and sustained inquiry. Responsive literacy coaching involves starting first from learner's strengths and placing the learner at the forefront of literacy instruction so all learners can be successful.


January 31st, 2007

Michael F. Shaughnessy

Senior Columnist

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