Educational Leadership: Superheroes at the Axis of Transformation, Part 1
Complete transparency: I do not have an administration certification in an official capacity. However, I do possess a unique perspective on the power and influence of those in educational leadership. Over my 34 years in education, I have worked as an elementary and secondary classroom teacher, an interventionist, and a literacy coach—and I experienced the effects of leadership decisions every step of the way. I feel immense admiration for today’s school leaders, who must navigate high-stakes testing, shifting legislation, and, most recently, COVID. There are genuine superheroes in our midst!
Let’s come back to earth for a moment to note that the primary purpose of a school system is to educate children. In fact, students and their families depend on school systems to equip current and future generations with the skills they need to become literate, contributing members of society. And although every stakeholder has a role to play in this system, it is typically those in positions of leadership who make educational decisions.
Who makes decisions, and how?
Discouraging statistics on national levels of literacy have been significant drivers in improving teacher preparation programs. For example, a 2020 report by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ, 2019) revealed that the number of teacher preparation programs effectively teaching scientifically based reading content to pre-service teachers has risen to more than 50%, compared to only 35% in 2013. To be sure, a teacher’s skill and knowledge are at the heart of good teaching, but without administrators’ commensurate knowledge, teachers’ efforts to align instruction with the science of reading may be inconsistent, fragmented, and frustrating!
So, just how well are educational leaders prepared to understand and guide excellent literacy practices? Not very, says Gail Lovette, PhD.
According to Dr. Lovette, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, scant expectations exist in educational leadership programs. Indeed, none of the 10 nationally recognized Professional Standards for Educational Leaders mention content knowledge specific to reading and literacy, and state-level licensure requirements fare no better. Among 50 states and the District of Columbia, not one requires knowledge of the science of reading for initial licensure as an administrator (Lovette, 2020).
Now, back to our tireless superheroes. Often, administrators are the primary players in making curriculum choices and subsequent professional development decisions, and they bear sole responsibility for teacher observation and evaluation. School principals in particular have the unique and powerful authority to guide and inform teachers who are in turn tasked with delivering the most effective literacy practices to their well-deserving students. But to put it simply, one cannot apply what one does not know.
A “finishing school” for administrators
In order to understand and apply more than 40 years of literacy research, administrators often embark on their own research in a quest to understand how to help all students meet their potential as readers and writers. And Brian Kingsley, chief academic officer of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, did just that.
More specifically, while serving as principal of Gulfstream Middle School in Florida’s Broward County, Kingsley transformed a school that was in danger of closing into one of the state’s highest performers. So, how did he do it?
According to Kingsley (2019), “There is no finishing school for chief academic officers, nor is there certification on literacy know-how for district and school leaders.” However, he went on to note that 95% of students are capable of success as readers, but the initiation and follow-through of the effective practices required to help students realize literacy success are heavily dependent upon administrators’ informed decision-making.
Even with all that educational leaders have on their plates, the literacy learning of future generations clearly cannot be put on the back burner. But where to begin? LETRS® for Administrators is a great starting point. Simply put, LETRS for Administrators gives our school superheroes access to the “finishing school” that Kingsley referred to, providing administrators the opportunity to learn about the science of reading and how it fits into the realities of implementation within each unique educational context.
Of course, this is just the beginning. How can educational leaders create lasting change and build capacity for the long haul?
Systems change: The key to genuine transformation
At the heart of making a sustainable difference—educational or otherwise—is a process referred to as systems change, and at the very core of systems changing is administrative leadership. Together, systems change and administrative leadership are the recursive and non-negotiable entities necessary to bring the science of reading to every deserving teacher, student, and community.
Coming soon: How can I get my leadership team on board with the science of reading?
National Assessment of Educational Progress. (n.d.). NAEP report card: Reading. Retrieved from https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading/?grade=4#
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Teacher prep review: Program performance in early reading instruction. Retrieved from https://www.nctq.org/publications/2020-Teacher-Prep-Review:-Program-Performance-in-Early-Reading-Instruction
National Policy Board for Educational Administration (2015). Professional Standards for Educational Leaders 2015. Retrieved from http://www.npbea.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Professional-Standards-for-Educational-Leaders_2015.pdf
Kingsley, B. G., (2019, November). Scaling literacy through reading science. School Administrator, 10(76), 23. http://my.aasa.org/AASA/Resources/SAMag/2019/Nov19/Kingsley.aspx
Lovette, G. E. (2020, October). Instructional leadership counts: Why need to know the science of reading. Invited presentation at the 4th Annual Conference of The Reading League. [Virtual Conference due to COVID-19 pandemic]