Education is an all-the-time, around-the-clock kind of profession where educators dedicate themselves to the academic and social success of their students. A school is a dynamic environment with many moving parts, and when you’re a part of this environment, you often find yourself fulfilling many roles, or wearing many hats. Our work as the READ East Harlem team mirrors these “many hats”; in our work with the participating sites of District 4 we fulfill many different roles, distinctly and simultaneously. This blog post explores the roles our literacy specialists took on during the 2016-2017 school year.
Given the research-related nature of our work, much of what we do is recorded to some extent for later analysis that informs our objectives and approach. The analysis from our 2016-2017 work identified three distinct profiles: specialist as resource provider, specialist as coach, and the integrated specialist. All schools function as distinct entities with their own goals and protocols in place. As an external resource, it was imperative to provide services that capitalize on the specialist’s expertise and the needs of the individual schools. These profiles were impacted by what the specialists were “allowed” to accomplish at the sites as well as the broader READ East Harlem goals.
School environments come with their distinct, and often times collective, set of challenges. These challenges, in the context of our work, included but were not limited to: 1) Matters of scheduling discrepancies- when schedules did not coincide, the presence of the specialist was limited, which in turn presented some limitations to the depth of work that would be accomplished, 2) Assessment-driven cultures and environments- many teachers were responding to the high and often distant expectations that the use of assessments can place on content development and classroom culture, as well as the hierarchy that can form in response to assessments, 3) Resources- resources were not just texts used in the pursuit of literacy education, but also time allocated to learning as well as professional supports in place such as co-teachers or paraprofessionals. When teachers were without, or lacked, resources, it greatly impeded the reach of the specialist. With these ‘challenges’ in mind, accomplishing all that we wished to accomplish was difficult. The profiles below illustrate that.
Within the Specialist as a Resource profile, specialists primarily served as a source for materials and goal setting, and had limited involvement in planning (the specialists’ involvement in teachers’ planning was limited to review or light input). This role was common across sites that experienced staff and structural changes, as well as new participants in the program. The resources the specialists provided were often professional reading, supplemental content, and curricular resources to ‘boost’, or strengthen, the strategies and techniques for literacy education that teachers had in place. Goal setting centered on creating explicit literacy-related and professional development goals for both individual teachers and the staff collectively. Despite its more hands-off nature in comparison to the other profiles, the resource role is a contributing party to the school environment, and all specialists were ‘resources’ to some extent.
The Specialist as Coach profile is like one evolutionary step up from the Specialist as a Resource. The coach profile reflected both a willingness and accommodation on part of the sites. In cases of coaching, there was more effort placed into the integration of specialists into the school environment, via a variety of approaches including but not limited to professional developments, scheduling agreements, and frequency of presence at the school. The coaches supported teachers with the selection, administration, and data analysis of assessments, assisted in identifying instructional groups among students, and conducted and scheduled coaching sessions and check-ins with individual teachers. The Specialist as Coach, like the Specialist as a Resource, provided curricular and professional materials, and discussed and set professional and literacy-related goals.
The profile of the Integrated Specialist was a working example of our ‘ideal.’ The Integrated Specialists demonstrated strategies both during class time and during coaching sessions, led vocabulary and other literacy-related activities, and often co-planned and co-taught. Integrated specialists also attended professional developments with site staff and collected student data as well as teacher data, and actively participated in future planning. Like the Specialist as Coach, they also supported the school with the selection, administration, and data analysis of assessments, and like the Specialist as a Resource they provided curricular and professional materials, and discussed and set professional and literacy-related goals.
Across these profiles all specialists made it a goal to acquaint themselves with staff, students, and administration when possible, collected teacher data, recommended materials, and conducted observations and/or visits.
So, what is this telling us about our interactions with teachers and schools? These profiles highlight our best efforts in the environments we’re placed in. Though stronger relationships can always be forged with all of the sites to facilitate our work more efficiently, specialists are filling the space provided to them by the site. The work accomplished in sites where specialists were invited to be an integrated member of the team spotlights the potential for the depth of our work. Our goal is to deepen our connections with staff at each site and successfully integrate the many skills brought to the table by the READ specialists.
In the work that we do, we wear a ton of hats. How about you?