Literacy Coaches and Special Education Teachers: A Dynamic Combination

Nancy Baldree

Special education teachers and literacy coaches with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board have found the rewards of a collaborative and collegial working partnership to be worth the effort. At two schools, Roger Neilson and R.F. Downey in Peterborough, the literacy coach and the special education teacher work together to support classroom teachers as they strive to meet the needs of the wide range of learners in their classes.

“Through  collaboration  we’re  giving  everyone’s  best,  including  the principal’s and all the teachers’, to our students. The sum of our parts is definitely greater than any one of us individually,” says Nancy McFarland, literacy coach at Roger Neilson.

Special education teacher Jennifer Massie agrees. “My specialty isn’t literacy, it’s special education. It’s really beneficial for us to know we have that expertise to draw from each other and to share with our colleagues and, likewise, the expertise our colleagues have as classroom teachers to share with us and each other.”

Working collaboratively to support the 11 classroom teachers in their kindergarten to grade 6 school has also been a positive experience for literacy coach Pat Wade and special education teacher Karen Dillon, at R.F. Downey, “We’re a team and everyone here is part of it. I don’t think anyone feels alone or that they can’t ask for help,” Dillon says.


Time is a challenge

One  of  the  biggest challenges to  overcome  is finding the time to collaborate.

Designated release time that allows for formal opportunities to collaborate has been a big part of  the  success of  this  model. Special funding that has provided time during the instructional day has given teachers the opportunity to discuss the students and their work, and to plan for  improvement.  It  has  also  given  them  an opportunity for professional learning within the school day instead of after hours. Sharing occurs among the staff and grade partners, and teachers help drive their own professional learning opportunities.

The principal plays an important role as leader and partner in this collaborative model, helping to set the tone and demonstrating commitment through regular weekly meetings and by providing release time for teachers to meet. “Everything comes  back  to  the  importance  of  having  an administrator who supports us working together as literacy coach and special education teacher, and  as  a  staff  working  together,”  McFarland states.

Teachers have also found that there is a lot of meaningful collaboration happening on the fly – in lunchroom discussions and hallway conversations, through school email and electronic conferences,  as  well  as  through  more  structured opportunities. In both schools, the literacy coach and special education teacher have scheduled weekly meetings with the principal to discuss the school’s SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-sensitive)


teachers signing in

Education assistants  make up a small fraction of the ETFO membership.

four women sitting at desk working on laptop

Professional learning for teachers has come a  long way from the days of “sit and get” workshops covering topics mandated from on  high.