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How to be an Effective Reading Specialist

As an elementary reading specialist and staff developer for five years in the Elk Grove Unified School District in Northern California, I learned from lots of my mistakes.  In the hope that prospective reading specialists, coaches, and staff developers might learn from someone else’s mistakes, I’ve jotted down a few tips. Administrators might learn a few things about professional development and site support, as well.

1. Get to know the teachers that you are working with outside of their classrooms. The staff room should be your starting point for building relationships. Your first contact should never be a classroom observation with your clipboard in hand and the principal in tow. Also, hang out with teachers while they are doing duties. Offer to take a duty assignment at random.

2. Build trust. Although your boss may be the principal or district supervisor, remind teachers that you really work for them and that what they say/share will remain in strict confidentiality (no snitchin’ to the principal). Never say a negative word about a teacher. For example, “Mr. Brown has no classroom management skills and does not teach to the standards” can be better said as “Mr. Brown really cares about improving his teaching craft, as we all do, and is working on classroom management and teaching to the standards.”

3. Be a classroom helper. Offer to help do short workshops with below level readers IN THE ROOM, so that the teacher can keep an eye on you. All teachers want help with their kids. Do individual reading screenings. Offer to help the teacher complete individual diagnostic and formative assessments. You need to earn the right to be heard.

4. Remind teachers that you are there to help and not to evaluate. Remind teachers that you work for them and that what they say/share will remain in strict confidentiality (no snitchin’ to the principal).

5. Offer to take the teacher’s class, so that the teacher can do a peer observation. Teachers rarely have a chance to see each other in action.

6. Offer to do a demonstration lesson and ask for the teacher’s critique of your own teaching and what you share. Ask for criticism and let the teacher see your vulnerabilities and weaknesses as a fellow teacher. All teachers have insecurities.  By showing that you are not perfect, you will open up the channels of communication and trust. Teachers will ask for your feedback and input on their own teaching, if they see you as an equal with the time and resources to help them.

7. Keep staff presentations short and sweet. Don’t be a know-it-all. When at all possible, enable another teacher to become the staff presentation star. Be a coach and let the players take all the credit.

8. Compliment a teacher’s teaching frequently and direct those compliments to that teacher’s colleagues and to administrators. Make teachers feel good about themselves because of you. A brief note is better than a verbal compliment. Every teacher is concerned about his or her reputation among colleagues. Build up; never tear down.

9. Run a school-wide reading incentive program and build relationships with kids. The more the kids like you, the more they will ask their teachers to have you visit their classrooms. Pop into classrooms weekly with cool reading bookmarks and rewards certificates. Eat lunch with the kids and hang out with them on the playground.

10. Find out who the most influential colleague is and start building relationships there.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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