Educational Leadership: Superheroes at the Axis of Transformation, Part 2
“How Can I Get My Leadership Team on Board With the Science of Reading?”
Although much is now known about the reading brain and what can (and should) be done to help all students reach their potential as readers and writers, the chasm between research and practice remains wide (Moats, 2014; Seidenburg, 2017). Among the barriers impeding progress is the challenge of creating change in educational systems. In order to create significant and sustainable change in any system, a well-planned, long-term effort by knowledgeable leaders is an absolute. Because educational systems are complex, the need for informed educational leaders is even more critical.
Non-negotiables in creating high-quality systems change
At the very heart of school transformation is solid Tier 1 instruction with commensurate professional development based on high-quality, research-based curricula. Well-chosen screening, benchmark, and progress monitoring assessments should drive data teams’ decision-making and subsequent placement of students in appropriate interventions, and the resultant informed decisions should lead to effective and structured universal instruction based on the essential components of literacy.
Voyager Sopris Learning’s Reading Rangers® is designed to work at all tiers to improve the essential skills of reading instruction through individualized and independent work. For students requiring more targeted intervention and feedback, Voyager Passport® K–5 literacy intervention provides increasing amounts of explicit and systematic instruction, including writing—all while students embark on a fun adventure!
Universal instruction and informed interventions are just two of the major components of rebuilding a school system to align with best practices. But where to begin?
First things first: Get the leadership team on board!
Perhaps you are a classroom teacher who understands the power of professional development and a well-chosen curriculum based on the science of reading. You clearly see the potential that exists in your students, and you are beginning to understand the kinds of decisions that need to be made in order to create a transformation within your classroom. You may be aware that your leadership team must be heavily involved in this transformation, but how can you even begin to talk with administrators about this kind of major systems change?
- Be prepared.
- There’s strength in numbers, so find your peeps! Start building capacity immediately by sharing articles, blogs, and professional development opportunities. You could even start a book club or professional learning community (PLC) with a focus on the science of reading.
- Set aside some time to dig into your school’s data with an objective eye for overall proficiency. When tracking data from kindergarten to the upper grades, look for trends such as discrepancies among subgroups and increasing numbers of students who struggle with the demands of higher-level texts. Are there consistently high-achieving schools in your area that have successfully implemented the science of reading? Find out more about their approaches and use what you learn to build your case.
- Take action.
- Request a meeting with your administrator in the spirit of inclusiveness and positivity (garnished with a measured sense of urgency), and focus on the fact that any changes proposed in accordance with the science of reading are about students first and foremost. Come ready to present what you learned from digging into your school’s data and be prepared to explain what can be done to improve those numbers for all students. You may wish to front-load or follow up the meeting with a few choice resources to open the door to meaningful conversations, such as the suggestions presented in the table below.
- Early intervention is four times more cost-effective than later intervention (Wanzek & Vaughn, 2007). With this in mind, explain how implementing high-quality Tier 1 instruction for all students—combined with targeted interventions in the early grades—can dramatically reduce the need for special education services. According to Principal’s Primer, closing the gap in kindergarten requires dedicating 15 to 30 minutes per day over a short period of time, whereas getting students caught up in grades 3 and above necessitates an investment of 90 minutes to three hours per day over a much longer period of time.
- If you are met with a positive response, offer to form a team to build a vision and accompanying timeline. What administrator wouldn’t welcome assistance in developing a schedule conducive to successfully cultivating a renewed focus on best practices in reading and writing instruction?
- No matter the initial response from your leadership team, remain patient, persistent, and resourceful. Continue your own learning journey, develop your knowledge base with your peers, and persist in planting seeds of change—after all, you never know which will grow. Ultimately, you should always be ready to start the ball rolling toward a complete systems change.
Suggested resources for opening conversations
As noted in the first part of this series, today’s school leaders must navigate high-stakes testing, shifting legislation, and, most recently, COVID—so these superheroes among us are likely quite busy and overwhelmed! With that in mind, you might consider using the resources outlined in the table below to help get the conversation started by presenting time-efficient yet powerful information to create a sense of urgency and excitement.
|Emily Hanford’s “Hard Words”||This powerful 52-minute podcast clearly and concisely creates a sense of urgency.||https://www.apmreports.org/episode/2018/09/10/hard-words-why-american-kids-arent-being-taught-to-read|
|Ernesto Ortiz blogs||An excellent follow-up to the Hanford podcast, these blogs are focused on how to take those first steps.||I Embraced the Science of Reading and Why You Should Too – Decoding Leadership (decodingedleadership.com)|
|Reading Rockets article: “What Can Principals Do to Help Students Become Good Readers?”||This very quick read starts school leaders on the right path to ensuring that every student receives high-quality literacy instruction.||https://www.readingrockets.org/article/what-principals-can-do-help-students-become-good-readers|
|Stephanie Stollar’s “An Introduction to the Science of Reading” video and website||This 13-minute video and accompanying resources are packed with the big ideas regarding the science of reading.||https://www.readingscienceacademy.com/intro-to-science-of-reading|
|“Narrowing the Third-Grade Gap” – EAG Research Brief||Be sure to point out Chapter 5, which features several examples of schools that have dramatically increased their literacy proficiency scores.||https://pages.eab.com/rs/732-GKV-655/images/Narrowing%20the%20Third-Grade%20Reading%20Gap_research%20briefing.pdf|
|Reading for Life by Lyn Stone||This standalone text delivers comprehensive yet accessible information in a no-nonsense manner.||https://lifelongliteracy.com/books/reading-for-life/|
Additional in-depth resources for leadership teams will be discussed in an upcoming Edview 360 webinar with Melody Ilk, co-author of LETRS® for Administrators, and me.
The road to sustainable change is rarely an easy one. However, meaningful change can accelerate exponentially with informed decision-making at the leadership level. Now more than ever, teachers, students, and the communities in which they live are worth the commitment—in fact, for many subgroups of students, this commitment is an absolute lifeline. For a deeper dive, join us on Thursday, May 13, for the webinar “Help! How Do I Get My District Administrator or School Principal on Board With the Science of Reading?”
Moats, L. (2014). What teachers don't know and why they aren't learning it: Addressing the need for content and pedagogy in teacher education. Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 19(2), 75-91, doi:10.1080/19404158.2014.941093
Seidenburg, M. (2017). Language at the speed of sight: How we read, why so many can’t, and what can be done about it. New York, NY: Basic Books.Wanzek, J., & Vaughn, S. (2007). Research-based implications from extensive early reading interventions. School Psychology Review, 36(4), 541-561. doi: 10.1080/02796015.2007.12087917