National Writing Project

Coaching and the Summer Invitational Institutes

By: Susan Bennett
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 6, No. 3
Date: May-June 2001

Summary: The director of the Redwood Writing Project shares some tips and insights about the role of coaching in helping prepare teachers for their summer institute demonstrations.


Last November at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting in Milwaukee, Susan Bennett, Director of the Redwood Writing Project at California's Humboldt State University, along with two other site directors, conducted a workshop that focused on the invitational summer institute. The session was a huge success, attracting 200 site directors and co-directors, twice the number that had been expected. Bennett devoted her own part of the workshop to a presentation and discussion on coaching, a key ingredient of writing project summer institutes. Coaching is the process by which a summer institute director, site director, co-director, or experienced teacher-consultant helps a summer fellow prepare to share his or her best practice with institute colleagues. 

As part of her Milwaukee presentation, Bennett distributed the coaching guide used by her writing project at its summer institute (see below). "Coaching as a strategy," says Bennett, "is generalizable to many of the tasks writing projects encourage. We ask TCs to reflect, deliberate, and make choices about their practices. Good coaching encourages revision and conversation on how to share practices with peers in professional, engaging ways. Coaching doesn't tell a teacher how to organize or present a workshop; rather, coaching elicits possibilities and reflection from the coached." A good coaching session, says Bennett, is like a positive writing response group. "The creator of the piece should leave with positive encouragement, more possibilities to consider, alternate suggestions for revision, and a clearer understanding of his/her goals."

Beyond these general concepts and the open-ended questions provided in her guidelines, Bennett is not about to cast coaching rules in stone. "Teacher demonstrations and coaching sessions intended to prepare fellows for these demonstrations may require different strategies from one site to the next. We need the opportunity to visit other sites and experience different coaching options that can serve us best." --The Editors

To the Coached:

The relationship between you and your coach is one of support and consultation, not evaluation and critique. Your workshop is like the draft of a manuscript--up for revision and fine-tuning; your job is not to defend your workshop, but to think about how to best reach your audience. This is your workshop, and final decisions rest on your intentions and experience; your coach is an experienced respondent but is not responsible for your feelings of success or failure. Your workshop should be viewed, even after its presentation, as a "work in progress." 

To the Coach:

The relationship between you and the teacher you coach is one of support and consultation, not evaluation and critique. Rather than provide suggestions, ask probing questions. The final decisions rest on the presenter, not you; you are not responsible for the success or weaknesses of the workshop. 

Questions for the Coach to Ask: 

  1. What do you want the audience to know about your best practice? 
  2. How does your demonstration showcase your best practice rather than your best lesson? 
  3. What do you want your audience to take away from your demonstration that can improve their practice? 
  4. How much of your demonstration actively involves the participants? 
  5. Have you acknowledged the experience and knowledge your audience brings to your presentation? 
  6. What would happen if: 
  7. a. you rearranged the order of your workshop? 
    b. you left out parts and emphasized a narrower focus? 
    c. you relied more on participant involvement? 
  8. How else might you accomplish your goals? 
  9. What is the most important information you want to impart? 
  10. How long do you think this will last? 
  11. What time constraints have you acknowledged? 
  12. What strategies do you plan to use to rehearse and check your timing?

About the Author SUSAN BENNETT is the director of the Redwood Writing Project at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, where she is an English educator.

PDF Download "2008 Coaching Guide from Redwood Writing Project"

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