Kasey has always had a passion for trying new things in the classroom. In her current role, she is thriving as a literacy coach who has worked hard to earn the respect of her colleagues and school leaders. In this interview, Kasey offers an invaluable tip to aspiring instructional coaches and insight into how she manages to balance her many responsibilities.
Join Edupreneur Today as we share insights from Literacy Coach, TpT Author, and blogger, Kasey Kiehl of “Middle School Teacher to Literacy Coach.”
ET: Tell me about your career in education before being an instructional coach.
KK: My career in education began as an 8th grade language arts teacher. As a full-time classroom teacher, I had a passion for trying new things and creating resources specifically for the students in my classroom. I have been at the same school my entire career, and my school has the middle school model, which allows for daily collaboration time among teachers. Having this time to collaborate with my colleagues about curriculum, student behavior, and everything in between really helped me grow professionally because of the amazing support I had around me.
ET: What inspired you to become a literacy coach?
KK: When I started teaching, the curriculum that was shared with me consisted of whole-class novel units, whole-group grammar activities, giving students exact writing topics to write about, and having students respond to reading through question and answer format. Early on in my teaching career, I had this gut feeling that there had to be something more to teaching reading and writing than this. When my principal approached me about becoming a literacy coach and doing three years of training and then eventually training other teachers in a balanced literacy framework, I almost said no because it seemed like such a daunting commitment. In my heart though, I knew change was coming, and I told myself, “Why not?” and decided to take the plunge into being a literacy coach.
ET: What is the most rewarding aspect of coaching teachers?
KK: The most rewarding aspect of coaching teachers is the relationships that are built. My literacy coach position is structured so that I provide professional development and then coach around the specific professional development topic that was taught. It is the true definition of ongoing professional development. The language arts teachers that I have worked closely with in my role as literacy coach over the last four school years are the people I have learned with, struggled with, and ultimately succeeded with. Changing how we taught reading and writing to students was a huge undertaking, but we accomplished the implementation as a team. Knowing that I had a part in building that team and those relationships is what I am most proud of.
ET: What do you find most challenging about coaching?
KK: The challenge in coaching is knowing how hard to push. My ultimate goal in my role is to help increase students’ reading and writing abilities. However, pushing that initiative can never come at the expense of ruining a relationship with a colleague. Of the twelve language arts teachers I coach, I have a unique relationship with each one. Some have the personality of wanting to dive in and immerse themselves in change all at once, and others just want to dip their toes in the water. Once I realized that wherever teachers landed on that continuum was okay, it made my job a lot easier. My goal each time I go into a classroom is to create at least one small shift in how that teacher views his or her students as readers and writers. Letting go of it needing to be perfect helped me to see that there are many routes to reach any destination.
ET: What is your typical day like?
KK: A typical day for me consists of a combination between teacher duties and literacy coach duties. I still teach one section of middle school language arts. Each year, I teach a different grade level so I can work closely with a new group of teachers and learn about student readers and writers at various grade levels. Giving up being a teacher is something I am not willing to do as a literacy coach because it keeps me grounded in reality and also gives me credibility in the eyes of the teachers I work with. My day always consists of teaching my students, collaborating with my grade level colleagues, and all of the things that go along with being a teacher (lesson planning, grading, etc.) The other part of my day consists of coaching teachers one-on-one in their classrooms, planning professional development sessions, meeting with language arts grade level teams during their collaboration time, analyzing data, managing resources, leading our literacy leadership team, and everything else in between. What I love about my day is each one is new and different. I’m never bored.
ET: What advice would you offer any teacher wanting to be an instructional coach?
KK: For any teacher wanting to become an instructional coach, my biggest piece of advice would be to work on building relationships with your colleagues and to be a phenomenal teacher. Other teachers are not going to receive an instructional coach well who they do not like or respect. That may sound a bit harsh, but it’s the truth. In order to be successful as a literacy coach, you need to have positive relationships with colleagues who respect you as an innovative and engaging teacher.
ET: What is your best productivity tip for balancing life as a coach, blogger, and TpT author?
KK: The advice I would give to balancing it all is to remember that your first responsibility is to your colleagues, your students, and your school. If you are a great teacher and coach, the time you spend involved in this incredibly important work will give you the inspiration and the knowledge to do blogging and TpT product creation. I think the reason my blog and my TpT store have been successful is because I love what I do, and when I share what I know, it’s because I want to change the way reading and writing is taught at the middle school level. There are stretches of time where I don’t blog or write products for my TpT store as much as I would like, but I have learned to not compare my journey to anyone else’s journey or get down on myself. There is no magical formula for success. Being a coach, being a TpT author, and being a blogger are all hard work, and in order to stay passionate about that work, I need to live my life freely and not burn myself out. If your “why” for doing all of this is about money, that’s not good enough. All three roles hold responsibility because they all involve influencing how a teacher is going teach a classroom full of students. Make your why about changing education for the better, and the balance will fall into place for your own perfectly unique journey.