A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Improving Storytime Delivery with Peer Coaching

by Dorothy Stoltz, Elaine Czarnecki, Connie Wilson, Gilda Martinez on May 9, 2013

From the outset, Maryland Public Libraries (MPL) have been striving toward the same goals as the Public Library Association (PLA) and Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) Every Child Ready to Read @ your library® (ECRR) initiative, with a popular 2001–02 campaign called It’s Never Too Early. It wasn’t immediately obvious after the well-received and highly praised emergent literacy training program that many storytime presenters did not implement what they learned. Later, as one enthusiastic participant put it, “it was a fantastic training that excited many of us, but we became caught up in our day-to-day workload and didn’t practice the techniques in a way that made them routine.” Staff development research indicates that as few as 10 percent of staff apply what they learn from a training or workshop.1

Stephanie Shauck, youth services coordinator for Maryland State Department of Education’s Division of Library Development and Services, recognized this training conundrum: How can staff maximize what they’ve learned in a workshop without spending an inordinate amount of time on the transfer of training? In 2006, Shauck recruited a team of Maryland librarians and a consulting firm, Resources in Reading, to pilot an Emergent Literacy Peer Coaching project at Carroll County (Md.) Public Library. The pilot focused on the expansion of several ideas, including:

  1. peer observations from ECRR;
  2. literacy coaching in elementary school settings; and
  3. Maryland’s library reference interview peer coaching. (By using model reference interview behaviors, librarians practice techniques for giving and receiving positive reinforcement.)

The team developed a Peer Coaching Toolkit and training program. The target audience was perspective lead coaches who would use the toolkit with storytime presenters to encourage peer coaching and to improve and continue the use of emergent literacy and best practices in storytimes. At the heart of the project is the idea that peer coaching is a non-evaluative process. It is not a performance evaluation by a supervisor. Staff members reflect on and assess their own presentations with the support and feedback of a peer. Whether you are on the giving or receiving end, the coaching process is offered in a supportive environment to bring out the best in oneself and one’s peers.

What is Peer Coaching?

Peer coaching is “a confidential process through which two or more professional colleagues work together to review current practices; expand, refine, and build new skills; share ideas; teach one another . . . and solve problems in the workplace.”2 The concept of using peer coaching for professional growth is not a new one for university libraries. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, uses peer coaching and mentoring to help “support colleagues in their professional development and growth, facilitate mutual learning, and build a sense of community.”3 In 2003, the Instruction Program at Syracuse University Library launched a peer coaching instruction program for librarians with the goal of “helping librarians develop instructional skills in a non-threatening, non-evaluative atmosphere, and to learn new ideas and approaches from their colleagues.”4

Why Peer Coaching in the Workplace?

In the library workplace, peer coaching for professional growth is a way of providing the type of job-embedded professional development that can strengthen the outcome of training initiatives. Think of the times you have attended a workshop, been excited about the new ideas presented, and then not followed through with implementing them. The reasons for this can vary: being unsure of how to successfully implement the new technique in your own library setting, lack of planning time or materials, the day-to-day demands of your position, and so on. Statistical support for peer coaching can be found in the following data: 5

  • Five percent of learners will transfer a new skill into their practice as a result of theory.
  • Ten percent will transfer a new skill into their practice with theory and demonstration.
  • Twenty percent will transfer a new skill into their practice with theory and demonstration, and practice within the training.
  • Twenty-five percent will transfer a new skill into their practice with theory and demonstration, and practice within the training, and feedback.
  • Ninety percent will transfer a new skill into their practice with theory and demonstration, and practice within the training, feedback, and coaching.

All of Maryland’s training initiatives for incorporating early literacy best practices into storytimes had included theory and demonstration, thus far, and most included practice and feedback. We knew we were moving in the right direction, but were continuously challenged with new staff coming on board and lack of time and resources for consistently providing professional development to keep everyone current, and at the same time energized. Adding peer coaching for storytime presenters seemed to be the answer for providing job-embedded professional development that could accomplish these goals.

The Pilot Project Helps the Initiative Mature

The team of Maryland librarians and Resources in Reading began their work in November 2006. Shauck let it be known that the top priority was to create a quick, non-evaluative coaching process among peers that included a five-minute self-reflection time. This process would not be time-consuming and would not occur from supervisor to staff member. “I could tell the children were really enjoying the story . . . because they were involved in making predictions and were able to make some very good ones,” noted a storytime presenter during her reflection time. This quote blazed with potential as the project team reviewed participant feedback.

The team stumbled early in the pilot by developing a training model that trained lead and peercoaches at the same time. This brief, but challenging mistake helped the initiative mature quickly. The team realized:

  • the critical importance of working first with lead coaches in order for them to be fully ready to lead and to administer peer coaching; and
  • the necessity of making early literacy information and storytime best practices more accessible by using a wiki as an online learning portal.

Backtracking a little, the team developed an assessment tool for lead coaches to gauge the needs of their storytime  presenters. The team quickly moved forward with a series of facilitated study group sessions for lead coaches with a twofold purpose: (1) to fill in knowledge gaps, and (2) to conduct discussion activities for replication in the workplace. By giving storytime presenters an easily accessible wiki with academic and practical information delivered through video podcasts, Microsoft Word docu-ments, and Web links, lead and peer coaches had potentially unlimited tools at their disposal.

Throughout the initiative, staff members who presented storytimes were encouraged to observe one another’s storytimes and to engage in self-reflection on their individual performances. The pair was encouraged to meet shortly after the observation to “debrief” one another. The coaches submitted these written reflections and observation write-ups to the project director (not the supervisor) to earn training contact hours. In addition to observing one another, staff at times engaged in other coaching activities, such as examining storytime materials and rearranging content together. Finally, the lead coaches also engaged in peer coaching by observing each other’s storytimes and engaging in self-reflection on their own performances.

An exciting learning package was developed during the pilot containing several key components:

  • an academic approach and knowledge base from a reading/literacy consultant;
  • expertise from a team of Maryland librarians;
  • lead coach workshop and bimonthly meetings, using Early Literacy Storytimes @ your library® by Saroj Nadkarni Ghoting and Pamela Martin-Diaz as a key resource;
  • observation form and checklist;
  • self-reflection guidelines;
  • approval for training contact hours;
  • a learning community wiki, which contained the content for a peer coaching toolkit;
  • a culminating (year-end) event for all peer coaches, with Ghoting, a national author and ALA consultant;
  • a learning philosophy that each individual is responsible for his or her own learning;
  • peer coaching and peer support; and
  • leadership opportunities for lead and peer coaches to assist others in skill development.

Positive Results

“It’s great to discuss what worked and what might work better next time with a colleague who saw what happened in storytime.”

“The reflection process helped me to focus on making connections for emergent literacy.”

“This (the wiki) is a great catch-all for all of the information that is necessary and helpful when it comes to emergent literacy.”

These comments from the survey tool used to evaluate the pilot program reflect the overall positive tone of the lead and peer coaches by the end of the program. One hundred percent of the lead coaches felt their staff had “grown in their knowledge base and/or emergent literacy storytime delivery as a result of this initiative.” The yearlong effort to respond to participant input and fine-tune the training package had paid off.

Shauck disseminated the training package by launching a series of statewide workshops in the fall of 2008. This full-day workshop, appropriately titled “Emergent Literacy Coaching at your Library,” provided an overview of emergent literacy related to storytime delivery in the morning, and an introduction to the concept of peer coaching as job-embedded professional development in the afternoon.Storytime presenters were invited to “come learn about the newly developed Emergent Literacy Peer Coaching Wiki . . . and be prepared to enjoy the day!”

Multiple presenters delivered the workshops, including two consultants from Resources in Reading and either a lead or peer coach from the pilot program. This combination of hearing from outside literacy experts and inside practitioner experts lent credibility to the idea that literacy coaching was worth the effort. Additional components that made the training a success were:

  1.  modeling and guided practice with the coaching tools and techniques;
  2. sharing the wiki as a resource for implementing the initiative; and
  3. time for feedback and discussion about how the initiative could be implemented in the participants’ workplace.

Workshop attendance included new and experienced storytime presenters, children’s services supervisors, branch managers, and library administrators. The evaluation feedback confirmed that the new training package achieved the overall goal for this initiative. A training coordinator for Eastern Shore Regional Libraries said:

Thank you so much for the workshop . . .I thought it was excellent. What I really appreciate about this workshop is that it reinforced what we all know children’s librarians and storytimes do—support literacy—but in very specific ways. It can be difficult to articulate why storytime is so important and the workshop laid out exactly how public libraries support No Child Left Behind . . . This is powerful information to have both for writing grants and for library advocacy.

The Process of Self-Renewal

Is peer coaching just one more thing to add to the workload of busy children’s librarians? Absolutely not, most children’s librarians already reflect on their storytime performance and most librarians chat with their peers about storytime planning. Many storytime presenters already engage in a process of experimentation and self-renewal to keep their programs fresh and exciting for children and themselves. It seems that we’ve already been doing much of peer coaching, but now we have formalized the process by providing coaching tips and guidelines, as well as consistent support with emergent literacy best practices for storytimes. If you’d wanted to gauge the level of support and enthusiasm for peer coaching, you might have dropped into the puppet room of the library outreach department in Carroll County, Maryland, on a recent winter morning to hear children’s librarians gushing about how to incorporate parent tips into storytimes. This enthusiasm was all the more significant due to the fact that incorporating parent tips into storytime delivery was an idea most librarians were hesitant to embrace, prior to the peer coaching pilot program.

You can find tips, guidelines, and other information and ideas on the Emergent Literacy Peer Coaching wiki (http://wiki.carr.org). Click on “Emergent Literacy” in the left-hand column, and this will take you to the homepage. Feel free to use and modify these guidelines in ways that will best suite your organization. Remember, 90 percent of learners will transfer a new skill when a coaching component is added to your training.5

Peer Coaching Observation Form (With Prompts)
Peer Observed:

Complete this form for each peer coaching observation to share in your reflection conference. Keep your original, and make two copies: give one to your peer in the conference and send one to Dorothy Stoltz for CEU credit and study documentation.

Physical Surroundings
Are the storytime participants sitting comfortably with a clear view of the storytime presenter? Are books, easels, props, etc. displayed so that all participants can see? Give a brief description of the physical surroundings, along with any suggestions for change.

Storytime Content/Presentation
Are books and activities age appropriate for the participants? Were they presented in an engaging manner? Jot down a comment about the match between the books and activities and the age of the children, along with any suggestions for more appropriate alternatives. Add a comment about presentation skills (e.g., “changed voice for characters and kept the children amused”).

Are emergent literacy concepts reinforced throughout the storytime, as described in the Storytime Planning Sheets and other toolkit resources? List concepts you observe being reinforced, and briefly describe how they were reinforced in the storytime. Jot down any ideas you may have for reinforcing additional concepts throughout the storytime.

Engagement of Storytime Participants
Is the pacing or flow of the storytime activities working well? Do you see a variety of books and activities that fit the theme or age group and engage the children? Is the transition between activities smooth? Jot down a few notes about the pacing or flow of the storytime activities, along with any suggestions you think of for the variety of books and activities and/or transition times.

Are the children actively engaged at different points throughout the storytime? If the parents or caregivers are present, are they engaged with their children? List the types of engagement you observe throughout the storytime, along with any suggestions you think of to encourage more active participation.

Appropriate Behavior of Participants During Storytime
Are management techniques being used effectively throughout the storytime so that everyone is enjoying the experience? Are both children and adults behaving appropriately? Give a general description of participant behavior during the storytime, along with any suggestions for encouraging appropriate behavior from children and adults.
—Elaine M. Czarnecki, Resources in Reading, Jan. 2007.

Peer Coaching Observation Example (Short Form)

Peer Observed:

Physical Surroundings
Children all facing you/parents, too!
Easel very effective for big book.
Comment about being comfortable set parents at ease.

Storytime Content/Presentation
Children enjoyed both stories and the poem.
Loved the voice for Mrs. Tweezers, children were mesmerized!
Fingerplays and movement activity might help with fidgeting between stories.
Closing song was really cute—never heard that one before.
Time to say so long.

Storytime Content/Emergent Literacy Concepts
Predicting before and during Owen to reinforce comprehension.
Excellent technique of “thumbs up, thumbs down” to involve all of the children.
Sticky notes worked great for predicting points.
Reinforced vocabulary development with the word binoculars—was perfect to have the prop and pass it around!

Engagement /Behavior of Storytime Participants
Children engaged and attentive during stories.
Parents had a few side conversations, but they stopped when you shared why you were asking the children to make predictions — some even gave you the thumbs up, thumbs down too! Did you ever try asking them at the beginning to model
appropriate responses with you?
—Elaine M. Czarnecki, Resources in Reading, Jan. 2007.

Journaling Ideas for Self-Reflection before Peer Conferencing

Directions: After being observed, choose one or two of these journal starters to complete before you meet with your peer coach.

  • The best activity in my storytime today was ______. I think this is so because . . .
  • Visualize what you did that worked well. Draw or write about what you visualized.
  • The next time I try this strategy/technique [name], I will do this differently because . . .
  • The most important surprise I experienced today was ______ because . . .
  • I feel I am growing in ______ based on my storytime today. [Explain why.]
  • I understand more about how to incorporate this aspect [name] of emergent literacy in my storytimes now.
  • Today I could tell the children were really getting it when . . .
  • I think I should have reinforced this emergent literacy concept [name] when I was . . .
  • I am struggling with ______ in my storytimes. How do I . . .
  • I could tell the children were really enjoying the story [title] when . . .
  • I think it works best when I ______ in my storytime, because . . .

—Elaine M. Czarnecki, Resources in Reading, Jan. 2007.


  1. Beverly Showers and Bruce Joyce, “The Evolution of Peer Coaching,” Educational Leadership 53, no. 6 (Mar. 1996): 12–16.
  2. Charles L. Slater and David L. Simmons, “The Design and Implementation of a Peer Coaching Program,” American Secondary Education 29, no. 3 (Spring 2001): 68.
  3. University of Massachusetts Libraries, “The Peer Coaching Mentoring Process,” www.library.umass.edu/instruction/librarians/peer/definition.html (accessed Mar. 2, 2010).
  4. Syracuse University Library, “Peer Coaching at SUL,” http://libwww.syr.edu/instruction/staff/peer_coaching/peercoach.htm (accessed Mar. 12, 2010).
  5. Bruce R. Joyce and Beverly Showers, Power in Staff Development through Research on Training (Alexandria, Va: ASCD, 1983), www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED240667&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED240667 (accessedMar. 12, 2010).