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Literacy Coaching Models in the Southeast

March 2020

Literacy Coaching Models, Alabama

Literacy coaching initiatives have been implemented in states, school districts, and individual schools for a number of years, and we know that this embedded professional development can be effective if coaches engage in evidence-based activities. These include activities such as lesson planning with teachers, modeling, co-teaching, and engaging in reflective conversations and data chats with teachers (Matsumura, Garnier, & Spybrook, 2012; Walpole, McKenna, & Morrill, 2011, Marsh, et al., 2008).

The states in the REL Southeast region have implemented a number of coaching models, but the goal of all of them is to improve the quality of literacy instruction and to ensure that it is evidence-based. States seem to prioritize coaching most in the primary grades in high-needs elementary schools. We describe below the various coaching models implemented in the Southeast region along with some of the ways that REL Southeast provides support.


Literacy Coaching Models, Alabama

The Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) implemented by the Alabama Department of Education has been in place for 22 years. Most recently, the initiative has re-focused on grades K-3 in an effort to bolster reading instruction in those grades and increase the percentage of students who are on grade level by the end of third grade. Regional ARI literacy specialists provide tiered coaching support to 140 school districts across the state. In addition, the initiative provides funding for K-3 school-based reading specialists in each school. Regional staff provide monthly coaching communities for reading specialists supporting them in deepening their literacy knowledge and analyzing data to make determinations for classroom coaching support. ARI is playing a large role in providing professional development throughout the state, promoting strong instruction based on the science of reading.


The Florida Department of Education has had large scale coaching initiatives in the past and is considering adding a component to train literacy coaches as part of the rollout of the new Florida BEST standards. The Just Read, Florida! office at the Florida Department of Education strongly encourages district leadership to allocate reading/literacy coaches for schools determined to have the greatest need. This need should be based on student performance data, especially achievement gaps. Districts are required to answer questions regarding reading/literacy coaches as part of each district's K-12 Comprehensive Research-Based Reading Plan.


Literacy coaches are hired locally in the state of Georgia and models vary by school district. Although it is not required that districts or schools have coaches, many of them have chosen to do so. The Georgia Department of Education conducts literacy institutes and conferences regionally throughout the year which are designed to provide professional development for literacy coaches along with teachers and administrators. REL Southeast staff routinely provide sessions at the institutes and conferences that are primarily focused on IES practice guides and REL Southeast tools. Sessions at the most recent institutes were based on the Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers practice guide and the Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively practice guide.


In 2014, the Mississippi Department of Education began providing state-wide early literacy professional development to K-3 educators through online modules and face-to-face workshops. The department also began providing literacy coaches to schools identified as being most in need based on the percentage of students in the lowest two achievement levels on the state-wide literacy assessment. The state literacy coaches receive the same professional development as the target school teachers. The literacy coaches meet monthly for additional professional development and problem solving. Monthly meetings include topics such as the research-based role of literacy coaches and making data-based decisions for literacy instruction. The state literacy coaches spend an average of two to three days per week in each school they serve. The state literacy coaches participated in the REL Southeast study, Educator outcomes associated with implementation of Mississippi's K-3 early literacy professional development initiative, which trained them to use reliably an observation tool aligned with the professional development and provided findings aligned with their work. The Mississippi Department of Education believes in a logic model that posits that providing teacher professional development and literacy coaching for target schools will improve teacher knowledge/skill in the near term and improve early childhood literacy in the midterm, which will also lead to better education and life outcomes in the long term.

North Carolina

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) is working to improve their Read to Achieve Initiative implementation across the state by focusing on professional development, high-quality curriculum, support for evidence-based reading instruction through coaching, and enhanced summer literacy instruction. Plans are being developed now to address these areas. In addition, the Wolfpack WORKS project, funded by NCDPI and conducted by North Carolina State University, provides literacy coaches for first, second, and third year grade K-2 teachers in high-needs schools. This coaching is provided in large part virtually, with some face-to-face interaction between the coach and the teachers. The goal of the project is to help beginning teachers gain confidence in delivering high-quality literacy instruction.

South Carolina

The South Carolina Department of Education has a Read to Succeed Team, which includes the Director of the Office of Early Learning and Literacy, a Team Leader, and 21 Literacy Specialists who support literacy coaches in the field. The Palmetto Literacy Project began during the 2019/20 school year. This project involves members of the Read to Succeed team and the Literacy Specialist team supporting specific schools through research and collaboration with district and school staff to strengthen literacy outcomes. Palmetto Literacy Project Research School support is provided by Literacy Specialists in schools that have one third or more of students in the Does Not Meet category on the 2018 and 2019 SC Ready ELA assessment. This support consists of regular job-embedded professional learning through onsite visits and monthly Professional Learning communities (PLCs) with reading coaches. A data-based problem solving approach is utilized to identify strengths and possibilities for growth around student achievement for all stakeholders. Literacy Specialists support schools in creating goals and implementing action plans. REL Southeast has partnered with the Read to Succeed Team and the Literacy Specialists to provide professional development based on the Professional learning communities facilitator's guide for the What Works Clearinghouse practice guide: Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade to teachers, coaches, and administrators in the Palmetto Literacy Project schools.

Coaching can be an effective way to provide just-in-time professional development to teachers as they work to improve their instruction in literacy; however, there does not seem to be one way to implement a coaching initiative. The states in the Southeast demonstrate that a variety of approaches can be taken to provide coaching services to districts and schools in the state, all of which may be effective as long as coaches spend their time performing the roles that are grounded in evidence.


  • Marsh, J. A., McCombs, J. S., Lockwood, J. R., Gershwin, D., & Martorell, F. (2008). Supporting literacy across the sunshine state: A study of Florida middle school reading coaches (Vol. 762). Rand Corporation.

  • Matsumura, L. C., Garnier, H. E., & Spybrook, J. (2013). Literacy coaching to improve student reading achievement: A multi-level mediation model. Learning and Instruction, 25, 35-48.

  • Walpole, S., McKenna, M. C., & Morrill, J. K. (2011). Building and rebuilding a statewide support system for literacy coaches. Reading & Writing Quarterly 27(3), 261-280.

Alabama Reading Initiative
Just Read, Florida!
Georgia Department of Education English Language Arts Program
Mississippi Department of Education - Literacy
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction - K-3 Literacy
South Carolina Department of Education - Read to Succeed