School administrators provide the structure, framework and support for all teaching activities. As an administrator, you can plan, develop and implement strategies designed to improve student literacy and resulting test scores. Given that early literacy is critical for academic success, starting literacy initiatives as early as possible is crucial.
Start With a School-Wide Action Plan
With the implementation of Common Core State Standards, literacy no longer falls solely under the language arts category. Reading and writing skills must be incorporated into math, science, history and enrichment courses. By creating an action plan, you offer guidance to teachers who may never have incorporated literacy skills into their lesson plans. You also help ensure all instructors are on the same page and know how to meet your expectations.
When planning, incorporate data collection, strategy implementation and results gathering as part of the process. This lets you isolate potential problems early, implement trial solutions and assess those solutions for success.
Elements of a Comprehensive Action Plan
A literacy action plan incorporates several elements, including:
- Strengthening development in all classes
- Creating and implementing interventions for struggling students
- Revamping policies and culture to support literacy efforts
- Developing a shared leadership foundation
- Offering instructional support for teachers
Each of these areas forms part of the foundation necessary for implementing a comprehensive plan of attack on low literacy levels.
Strengthening Literacy Development
Basic skills instruction starts in language arts classes, but practice and enrichment activities are unlimited. This may cause some confusion in the classroom. Teachers whose primary focus has no immediate relationship with literacy may react negatively to adding writing assignments to classes, so be sure to create clear goals for teachers unused to literacy instruction. Explain that essays and projects are not the only tools for adding reading and writing skills to a lesson plan, but target literacy issues in a more holistic fashion. Word problems address the issue well in math, while lab reports and process lists can help in science courses. Frequent department meetings help track progress and let teachers share lessons learned as they work to meet defined metrics for success.
Adding Interventions for Struggling Students
The next steps to take after identifying literacy levels are skills tracking assessments and interventions. Struggling students might benefit from additional tutoring time or master classes designed with an in-depth focus on literacy and highly skilled instruction. By creating frameworks designed to address these students’ literacy issues head-on and give them the help they need, you create a structure in which they can achieve success.
Revamping Policies and Administrative Culture
Culture and policies may act as roadblocks if they are not in line with current initiatives. Be prepared to reassess existing policies to bring them in line with the literacy plan. For example, scheduling department meetings does not work well in schools where instruction is team-based. For these schools, schedule time for team meetings and talk about cross-subject support while incorporating the new rubrics for literacy skills.
No principal can successfully implement a change in instructional technique that crosses all subjects without extra support and assistance. You must identify instructors who can act in a leadership role for the new action plan. Developing demonstration classrooms and classroom-based research helps all teachers gain functional knowledge of how to put literacy strategies in place, but only if there are teachers who are willing to take ownership of these programs.
Including the teachers at your school in the planning of literacy initiatives can lead to a more cohesive implementation of the program. Creating a shared leadership foundation allows for thorough consideration of the overall mission as well as consideration of the day-to-day of teaching. Acknowledging both of these aspects is more likely to result in a program that is realistic in its goals and keeps the teachers and administration involved and active in the process.
Offer Instructional Support
The final element of instructional support is arguably the most important. Many teachers are struggling with new literacy initiatives as they attempt to build trackable assessments into their existing lesson plans. Some teachers have been resistant to the Common Core due to the perception that it may create more work that is not subject focused. Teachers need professional development and instructional support that focuses on the creation and implementation of literacy-focused lesson plans. This can come in the form of collaborative planning, peer coaching or professional conferences.
Putting the Pieces Together
As an administrator, it is your job to put all of these pieces together into an overall plan. You need to create timelines and measurements for success. What are the key performance indicators for literacy skills development? How will they change under the new action plan? Clear performance definitions help teachers focus on the right instructional material and develop lesson plans that work. You can also develop community relationships and leverage untapped volunteer opportunities to give teachers and students the extra help they need.
You need to make assistance options public and available to all instructors. Offering collaborative instructional planning and peer review is an excellent start, but make sure it is built in to the process of planning. No teacher should ever wonder if these tools are available. They should be a part of the culture of the school. No child should be left to fall through the cracks. Objective testing identifies children with literacy struggles so they can get the extra help they need. The battle for literacy for every student starts at the top and extends down.