What Robert Burleigh Taught Me About Literacy Coaching

Coaching Articles - Essays for coaches

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After several weeks of working with Robert Burleigh, Jan has gathered some ideas that she can apply to her work as a coach for school districts and organizations. Read to explore the ways that coaching can be a creative process, much like writing and painting, and find a fresh way to approach the dilemmas that arise in your coaching work.

What Robert Burleigh Taught Me About Literacy Coaching

What Robert Burleigh

Taught Me About Coaching

by Jan Miller Burkins


Carpe Diem by Robert Burleigh

Over the last few weeks I've enjoyed regular phone conversations with Robert Burleigh as we have put together the first author study issue of Literacyhead. I have learned and thought much from my conversations with him, about my writing, about Literacyhead, and about what it means to be an artist. One of these new learnings in particular translates directly into my coaching work.

Every work of art, whether painting or writing or coaching, has a way it wants you to approach it. This way of approaching or presenting an idea, once discovered by the artist, tends to result in a strong translation of ideas to others. Robert calls this the "treatment."

For example, when he has an idea for a children's book, Robert begins thinking and exploring the topic in search of the treatment that best fits that book. He may think and explore for a long time, and try treatments that are misfits, only to revise and start again. These changes may involve shifts in perspective, voice, narrator, or other elements of the text. He does the same thing when he is painting. He thinks, he tries, he revises, until he finds the treatment he feels communicates his intent.

The dilemmas and challenges that arise in coaching each have their own treatment, we just have to discover them. It is reasonable, even smart, to carry our current challenges around in our heads and hearts for a bit as we consider the best treatment, whether the challenge is helping a whole faculty open up to a new idea or supporting an individual teacher with a particular strategy.

We all know what it feels like to find the right treatment for the art of coaching. We say, "Aha! I know what we can do. We'll have grade level team meetings where we watch videos and look at data and..."So, we hold out for the treatment that lets our coaching translate to classroom practice, for that sweet spot in professional learning contact. And the test of our treatments in coaching, as in writing and painting, is whether teachers on the other end of our messages can see our intent and understand our ideas clearly enough to transfer them to instructional settings and share them with their students.