Third, ask an open-ended question. I recommend that you ask The Question if it is your first meeting with the teacher. The Question would be asked right after reviewing the purpose of the conference and would go something like this:

But first, I’d like to ask you this question. When you think of the kind of readers and writers you’d like your students to be, and the kind of teaching you’d like to do, and the classroom you’d like to have, what gets in the way?

The value of this question is that it can be answered by virtually every teacher, because virtually every teacher wants to be doing more and has some frustration which prevents him or her from doing it. What’s more, The Question does not imply that any problems facing the teacher are the teacher’s fault. (Note: A teacher may not answer The Question in the same way that a literacy coach would wish, because the teacher may perceive different obstacles than the coach, but the teacher’s response enables the pair to begin a conversation. Many other questions which the coach could ask have the potential to shut down the conversation. This one probably won’t, and it is likely to provide useful information for the literacy coach.)