Review: Coaching Teacher Writers

Each month I review a different text designed to help English teachers and faculty leaders to develop a robust and engaging curriculum. I’ll discus them primarily from the point of view of a teacher or leader in an Australian context and explore the balance between theory and practice. This post contains affiliate links.

Coaching Teacher-Writers, by Troy Hicks, Anne Elrod Whitney, James Fredricksen and Leah Zuidem a provides a detailed and practical guide on how to “encourage, lead, and sustain teacher-writers”. Though the book is not aimed at English teachers per se, I picked it up a couple of years ago after seeing Anne Elrod Whitney speak at a keynote of the AATE conference in 2019. At the time, it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for – I was seeking something to help staff with modelling in the classroom – and it stayed on my shelf. Picking it up recently, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and quality of the advice.

Coaching Teacher-Writers : Practical Steps to Nurture Professional Writing - Troy Hicks

The text is split into three parts, each scaffolding an approach to teacher-writers based on a coaching model. Designed for leaders, writers, and coaches, the book aims to encourage and support teachers in writing for professional purposes, such for as subject-specific journals, education industry publications, blogs, and conferences. Part one outlines the role of the coach, part two provides practical advice on engaging with teachers and encouraging them to write, and part three focuses on the creation and sustaining of writing groups.

In 2019 I had recently switched from my role as Head of English to a temporary position as Director of Studies. My head was still firmly in the English field, however, and I was focused more on professional learning for that specific cohort of staff than in making changes to the entire curriculum. Having moved on from the faculty position to my permanent role as Director of Learning and Teaching and having spent the last two years working as an author, I can now see the benefits of a text like Coaching Teacher-Writers and its place on my bookshelf.

Firstly, Coaching takes an excellent opening position on the importance of teachers as writers. The authors do not immediately focus on the professional learning benefits of writing for, say, a subject journal. Instead, they focus on the personal. Writing, they argue, provides a unique way for teachers to clarify their thoughts on important issues in education. Throughout the text, teacher-writers reflect on personal journals exploring colleagues’ negative attitudes towards students, policy and structural issues, and their hopes and dreams for their school communities.

Beginning with this personal approach not only makes the book feel more approachable and real. It also provides the starting point for the more “professional” discussions that are to come. Using a series of provocations, the authors advocate for a writing workshop model in which the coach encourages the teacher-writers to review their original, personal thoughts, revise them, deepen them, find evidence to support them, and ultimately sharpen them up into something worth publishing.

Throughout, the advice is systematic, practical, and grounded in theory. There are no short-cuts or quick fixes. The methods recommended – including the writing group which dominates the final part of the book – would be slow to establish, and difficult to maintain. Nonetheless, the arguments are persuasive for making the effort.

I have seen the benefits of encouraging colleagues to write professionally, and I will be taking some of the ideas from Coaching Teacher-Writers and using them with my team.

Pros

  • Detailed, practical advice
  • Puts forward clear arguments in favour of teachers-as-writers
  • Well-grounded in theory

Cons

  • Not necessarily suitable for all leaders/teachers
  • No quick fixes here!

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